Monday, 13 July 2009

A Nearly forgotten director.........

Fans of English films will know the name of Basil Dearden but critically his credit seemed to have run out in the early Sixties. Dearden was born Basil Dear in the town where I live (other film personalities associated with the area are Helen Mirren and Michael Wilding) and he cut his directorial teeth on Will Hay comedies before finding critical success with the police classic THE BLUE LAMP(1950) which was followed by I BELIEVE IN YOU (1952)which tells the story of a probation (parole) officer. Seen today, these films offer an accurate view of post war London. Other films from these period of Dearden's career (the "den" was added to avoid confusion with Basil Dean, a prominent film-maker of thetime) that are of particular interest are THE DEAD OF NIGHT (Dearden contributed the "linking" story) and the lesser known ghost story HALFWAY HOUSE. In the 1950's Dearden made three comedies, the first of which was the little WHO DONE IT? a star vehicle for Benny Hill. Perhaps more interesting are THE GREEN MAN (1956) a sometimes frantic farce about a professional killer starring the wonderful Alastair Sim and THE SMALLEST SHOW ON EARTH (1957) which lovingly recreates one of the old fleapit cinemas and is a must-see film for film enthusiasts. Oddly, it was the next phase of Basil Dearden's career, which while being commerically successfuland critically acclaimed in some quarters seemed to end real interest in his career. Starting with the race-relations thriller SAPPHIRE (1959) and set in London's Notting Hill district, Dearden embarked on a series of films which balanced a social conscience with intriguing thrillers. As mentioned in my review of the heist film THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEMEN Dearden had portrayed one of the supporting characters as both gay and sympathetic (remember that homosexuals at this time were still open to blackmail and imprisonment and often treated in films, if at all, as figures of ridicule) and in VICTIM (1961) he brought this sensitive subject to centre stage with Dirk Bogarde as a married, respectable barrister, who finds himself blackmailed after the death of a former male lover. The film was a controversial hit and while it received some criticism from those who felt that it was not outspoken enough. However it remains an important film and, given the period of its production, a courageous one. ALL NIGHT LONG (1962) was a somewhat pretentious yet entertaining retelling of Shakespear's "Othello" in a modern jazz setting with the ever watchable Patrick McGoohan as an edgy Iago. LIFE FOR RUTH, the same year, featured McGoohan as a doctor faced with a difficult decision when a Jehovah Witness father refuses a blood transfusion for his dangerously ill daughter. Less successful is THE MIND BENDERS (62), a spy thriller with a background of sensory deprivation, starring Dirk Bogarde. So, with so many watchable movies to his credit why did most of Dearden's subsequent films seem have less than interesting subject matter (I make an exception for the 1966 KHARTOUM which was one of the more intelligent epics of the period) ? The reason seem s to me that Dearden got bypassed in the rush of the film production companies to embrace the rise of the "new wave" of young British film-makers like Tony Richardson, Karel Reisz, John Schlesinger who were the darlings of the critical establishment who, maybe, saw Dearden and a throwback to an earlier and more staid period of British cinema (David Lean suffered a similar critical fate although, thankfully, his great contribution to world cinema is now recognised). Dearden does indeed belong to that earlier tradition where storytelling was not pushed into second place by "style". He was no Michael Powell or Alfred Hitchcock (both of whom put equal emphasis on style and content, but he was a very good teller of tales and deserves to be remembered. Basil Dearden was killed in a car crash in 1971. He was married to actress Melissa Stribling.

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