Behind the Scenes: “Sink The Bismarck!” (1960)

The unexpected U.S. box office success should have propelled star Kenneth More into the Hollywood firmament. The British box office champ of the previous decade, after comedies like Genevieve (1953) and Doctor in the House (1956), war movie Reach for the Sky (1956) and drama A Night to Remember (1958), he had been rewarded by a tie-up between British studio Rank and Twentieth Century Fox. That allowed him bigger budgets and bigger co-stars, pairing him with Jayne Mansfield in comedy western The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw (1958), and Lauren Bacall for historical adventure North West Frontier (1959).

While hits in Britain, they failed to raise his profile in America. That changed with Sink the Bismarck!, his performance highly praised, the movie a genuine and very profitable hit. It should have been the stepping-stone he needed to break into the Hollywood big time. And for a short time it looked as if he would.

He was scheduled to co-star with Gregory Peck in the big budget high adventure war picture The Guns of Navarone (1961), in the part that finally went to David Niven. He lost the role  through petulance.

At a public event, he verbally tore into his boss, John Davis, head of Rank, to whom he was contracted and on whose goodwill he relied to loan him out to Columbia for this movie which would become the number one hit in the annual U.S. box office race. In revenge, Davis blocked the loan-out and in effect stymied his career. Few companies were going to invest in a star whose movies would automatically be blocked from being booked on the Odeon chain, owned by Rank, and one of the two biggest circuits in Britain. As a result of his intemperate, drunken, action, More’s career plummeted.

Oddly enough, Sink the Bismarck! also killed off the career of the German-born Dana Wynter, a rising Hollywood star, leading lady to Rock Hudson in Something of Value (1957) Robert Wagner in In Love and War (1958) and James Cagney in Shake Hands with the Devil (1959) and denoted star of Henry Koster’s Fraulein (1958). After Sink the Bismarck!, and On the Double (1961), she lost out on big roles until the low-budget If He Hollers, Let Him Go (1968).

It seemed almost a contradiction in terms that such a big hit as Sink the Bismarck! could produce no outright winners in the career stakes. And although director Lewis Gilbert had a stab at the Hollywood big budget picture with The 7th Dawn (1964) starring William Holden, he relied on later British pictures Alfie (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967) to give his career the fillip it surely deserved.

Lewis Gilbert was virtually a veteran by the time Sink the Bismarck! appeared, 16 previous pictures including Reach for the Sky, another More-starrer Paradise Lagoon (1957) and  Carve Her Name with Pride (1958).

Kenneth More explaining details to Dana Wynter. In the movie they would have the most buttoned-down romance you could imagine, feelings not pronounced until the end.

Gilbert described Sink the Bismarck! as a “detective story set at sea,” and that’s the picture  he determined to make, focusing on the hunt more than the normal World War Two heroics, the usual battleground endeavours taking second place to backroom tactics that resembled a “psychological chess game” between British and Germans. It was a change of pace for star Kenneth More, his screen persona the opposite of “someone so stiff and buttoned up.” A star of More’s caliber was all the movie needed to be funded.

The bigger problem was the hardware. “If we were to film on real ships, explode old ones even,” recalled Gilbert, “we would need the cooperation of the Admiralty.” Luckily, the wife of producer John Brabourne (Romeo and Juliet, 1968) was the daughter of Earl Mountbatten, the former Governor of India, who happened to be First Sea Lord (head of the Admiralty) who could put in a good word.

“Blowing up ships, or bits of ships, turned out to be not so hard,” explained Gilbert.  Portsmouth’s naval shipyards contained many vessels whose active days were over and who were considered nothing more than scrap metal. So, prior to the commencement of shooting, Gilbert took a crew into the shipyard and began the blowing up. Because these were not models, the use of real ships “gave the film extra conviction.”

Gilbert also received permission to film on HMS Vanguard, the last British battleship of the era still on active duty although it too was due to be scrapped. That permitted filming the ship’s 15-inch guns in action. It doubled for scenes set aboard HMS Hood, Prince of Wales, King George V and the Bismarck, creating greater authenticity.  HMS Belfast stood in for the pursuing cruisers including HMS Norfolk, Suffolk, Dorsetshire and Sheffield. A Dido-class cruiser provided the set for Bismarck’s destruction.

Aircraft carrier HMS Victorious played herself as well as HMS Ark Royal but any actual flying took place aboard HMS Centaur. The destroyers participating in the night-time attacks were HMS Cavalier and HMS Hogue. The bridge of the Prince of Wales was “reproduced down to the last detail.” One of the officers wounded in that attack was Esmond Knight, an actor on the film, who had virtually lost his sight, but from memory was still able to determine that the bridge was “a perfect replica.”

Three Fairey Swordfish biplanes with torpedoes were used.  Three RAF jet pilots volunteered to the fly the biplanes in the movie for the experience of understanding the risks involved in diving at less than the top speed of 138 mph in a machine which was little more than wood and canvas to drop torpedoes on a highly-armed ship, but Gilbert had already hired specialist crews.

Top Hollywood model maker Howard Lydecker (The Underwater City, 1962) was recruited to build the 20ft model of the Bismarck, which, unfortunately, sank on launch. Raising it was not a problem. Long shots were filmed on the massive Pinewood water tank.  It helped the production that during the battle the weather had been foul, so ships could be seen emerging from fog, or rendered invisible because of it.

Gilbert used his own wartime experience to render the battle realistic. He remembered sailing past the Scharnhorst, one of Germany’s three most powerful battleships, being unable to see it because of fog but aware of its presence from the sound of its guns. “We knew it from what we heard and felt, not from what we saw.”

Post-war the sinking of the Bismarck became a cause celebre. The British were accused of a war crime for nor picking up survivors. However, the British claimed that the presence of U-boats in the area rendered this too hazardous.

SOURCES: Lewis Gilbert, All My Flashbacks (Reynolds & Hearn, 2010) p 197-203; Brian Hannan, The Making of The Guns of Navarone (Baroliant Press, 2013) p67.

Sink The Bismarck! (1960) ****

Hard to believe but outside of the Hollywood big-budget Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), this was the biggest British film at the U.S. box office in the previous decade. In fact, the British war films that did so well in the home territory, The Cruel Sea (1953) and Reach for the Sky (1956), sank like a stone when exported to in America while earnings for Ealing comedies,  limited to arthouses, hardly made a dent in the box office.

What makes this so appealing is the very lack of Britishness and the intrusion of a Yank, famed reporter Edward  R Morrow (playing himself), interrupting the action at various points to keep audiences up to speed. The fact that the sinking of the Bismarck, the biggest battleship ever built, was one of the few British actions at the start of the Second World War to be counted a success probably helped. Watching the Brits being lionized for defeat was not an attractive notion for global audiences.

But in the main it is a thrilling docu-drama, very much a departure for the genre, with every nuance of potential consequence spelled out. Dialog and models being moved across maps announce the risks inherent in the British attack: the superiority of the newly-built German battleship, the multiple options the Germans had in 1941 to escape, the difficulties in pinpointing the German vessel in the fog-bound waters of the North Sea, and the devastation the battleship could inflict on the beleaguered convoys on which Britain depended to stay afloat. In addition, even when targeted the Germans could flee to occupied France or potentially summon U-boats or air support.

So in the manner or Operation Crossbow (1965) or Day of the Jackal (1973) the audience is primed for a minute-by-minute enterprise, the battleship deemed so dangerous that the Admiralty is willing to risk its own scarce supplies of battleships, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers in a bid sink the enemy. It is so much a documentary that the beyond the thrill of the hunt there is little room left for drama and certainly little of the stirring kind that had become such a byword for the British version of the genre – and such a turn-off for foreign audiences who could hardly make out what the actors were saying never mind work out why such-and-such a mission they had never heard of was so important.

In any case emotion is forbidden in the subterranean claustrophobic Admiralty War Office where new operational commander Capt Shepherd (Kenneth More) holds sway. A martinet, “cold as a witch’s heart,” on arrival he rids staff of what he sees as the rank indiscipline of addressing colleagues by forename rather than surname, eating sandwiches at a desk to which the workforce have been chained for hours  and various minor offences against the strict code of a uniform.

It was inherent in this type of picture that the land-based unit suffer the casualties of war, husbands dead or missing in action, wives and children killed by German bombs. But the tightening of the stiff-upper-lip ensures that when such revelations become known, they appeared like emotional depth-charges on this otherwise staid ocean. And Capt Shepherd, through his choices, as would be true of many high-ranking officers, might be sending his own son to is death.

This is also one of the first instances in war pictures where the Germans are not treated as stock villains, but intelligent people, like Admiral Lutyens (Karel Stepanek) with his own vanity and a hunger for redemption, and Capt Lindemann (Carl Mohner), as valiant an opponent in the cat-and-mouse duel where outwitting the British enemy could wreak untold carnage and hasten – unusually from the German point-of-view rather than from the Allies – the end of the war.

A few months after launch the Bismarck is spotted leaving its home port, destination North Atlantic to feast on convoys travelling from America with invaluable supplies. There are four possible routes open to get round the top of Britain. To prevent the Germans reaching any of them British ships must be sacrificed, including HMS Hood – three survivors out of a crew of 1400.

It’s David vs Goliath except David is a terrier capable of inflicting tiny wounds that drain the battleship of some of its power, loss of fuel and rudder problems limiting movement. It’s a different kind of war picture, as well as the big guns blasting at each other over huge distances, the British employ biplanes loaded with torpedoes, a weapon also used in some instances by its ships.

To keep audiences more heavily involved, there are snippets of dialog involving characters on board the various ships, some in distinctly un-stiff-upper-lip mode, and montages of the various vessels getting ready for action, as well as shots of devastation should a shell find its target.

But basically it’s  brilliantly-told tactic-heavy war picture that shows the shifting battleground, how the various ships are deployed, with no shortage of telling the audience how crucial success is and how crushing defeat. There’s no reliance on individual heroism, no snappy soldier defying authority, no hunch being played out, none of the usual cliches of the genre, instead, as with The Longest Day (1962) a clear explanation of what’s going on with superb battle scenes for the action-inclined.

It’s fair to say that even on the small screen, the models look a bit iffy, but this is more than compensated by other scenes on real warships, the use of newsreel footage, and fast cutting.  That action never takes place under a clear blue sky but always in murky waters also adds to the realism.

In a role that would have been custom-made for Kenneth More (The Comedy Man, 1964), king of the stiff-upper-lip, rather than simply spouting his lines, he adds considerable emotional depth. Dana Wynter (Something of Value, 1957) is excellent as his equally buttoned-up assistant.

There’s a full crew of supporting British character actors including Michael Hordern (Khartoum, 1966), Laurence Naismith (Jason and the Argonauts, 1963), Geoffrey Keen (Dr Syn, Alias The Scarecrow, 1963) and Maurice Denham (Some Girls Do, 1969) while the Czech-born Karel Stepanek (Operation Crossbow, 1965) and Carl Mohner (Assignment K, 1968) inject humanity into the Germans.

Lewis Gilbert (The 7th Dawn, 1964) does a brilliant job of bringing this all together, adding touches of emotion and humour to what could have been a too-dry concoction, drawing on a screenplay by Edmund H. North (HMS Defiant/Damn the Defiant, 1962) which was based on the book by C.S. Forester of Hornblower fame.

Behind the Scenes: “The 7th Dawn” (1964)

Originally intended to pair Audrey Hepburn with William Holden and entitled variously Wherever Loves Takes Me, Ten Days to Penang, The Durian Tree (title of the source novel), Year of the Dragon, The Third Road, and Ten Days to Kuala Lampur, the picture eventually released as The 7th Dawn marked the entrance of British director Lewis Gilbert (HMS Defiant/Damn the Defiant, 1962) into the Hollywood big-time courtesy of producer Charles K. Feldman (Casino Royale, 1967). Gilbert had already been assured of a step-up from the budgetary confines of Britain to something more substantial after being signed in 1962 to direct Susan Hayward in Summer Flight, but that had fallen through.

William Holden was always interested in making movies outside the United States, in part down to a sense of adventure, in part to avoid paying taxes. He hadn’t worked in the States since 1958. “I’ve got a reputation for going to various part of the world to take advantage of background. There’s always new stories,” he said, adding, “I have to do things that satisfy me.” Actually, he could afford not to work. He had pocketed by far the biggest-ever Hollywood payout – over $3 million from his share of the profits from Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) and his current fee was in excess of $750,000.

Gilbert agreed to take the assignment on the basis of a script by Karl Tunberg (Ben-Hur, 1959) who had adapted the novel by Michael Keon. But what appeared relatively straightforward was soon anything but as the British director became enmeshed in clashes over production, the script and the casting. While Gilbert was tussling with the problems of working on location, where he was expecting the imminent arrival of a film crew, he was summoned to Hollywood and told that two-time Oscar-winning screenwriter Ben Hecht (Circus World, 1964) had rewritten the script.

Feldman was known for playing fast and loose with scripts, much to the surprise of director Edward Dmytryk and the frustration of star Laurence Harvey when new writers were  brought in for Walk on the Wild side (1962), earning the producer a reputation for interference.  On reading the new script Gilbert recalled, “The basic plot was similar, but apart from that it wasn’t like the old script at all. Bill Holden’s part kept shrinking while the part of the mixed race girl kept getting bigger.” This may have been a ruse to attract Audrey Hepburn. Although Holden and Hepburn were due to be paired in June 1962 on Paris When It Sizzles in a part more in keeping with her screen persona, that film was delayed (not released till 1964) leaving both free for the Malaysian picture. Despite Feldman’s assurances,  Gilbert later questioned whether Hepburn had ever been committed.

Gilbert hated the new script so much that he threatened to quit, only placated when Feldman promised he could work with Hecht on a revised version of the new script. But Hecht insisted on working closer to his home near New York. Their flight from Los Angeles to New York was delayed because of engine trouble, but by the time passengers were instructed to leave the plane, Hecht, who was addicted to sleeping pills, was fast asleep and could only be removed by ambulance. Facing a three-day deadline, Gilbert discovered that Hecht refused to work in the New York hotel assigned them by Feldman so they were decanted to the writer’s home in upstate New York. That scarcely improved the script, described by Gilbert as a “cockamamie affair.” However, that would not have unduly worried the producer who was of the opinion that performers with box office clout “can make successes of weak properties.”

Six months before release “The 7th Dawn2 was still being promoted as “Ten Days to Penang.” Incidentally, “The Dubious Patriots” was released as “Secret Invasion” (1964),
although its original title did not go to waste, used as an alternative to the
Charles Bronson-Tony Curtis “You Can’t Win ‘Em All” (1970).

The script in whatever version offered a key role for a Eurasian woman. Initially Gilbert and director of photography Freddie Young planned to scour the Shaw Brothers portfolio of budding stars to fill the role, and if not finding what they wanted in Malaysia aimed to head for Hong Kong and “seek her among the actresses there” according to Holden. However, once the compromise script was approved, Feldman proposed his real-life mistress Capucine (North to Alaska, 1960) for the part.

That was the first difference of opinion between director and producer, not to mention star and producer, and an education for Gilbert on just how little power he wielded when it came to confronting Feldman. William Holden objected strenuously to the involvement of Capucine, his opposition based on his experience of working with her on flop The Lion (1962). It may have counted against the actress that the duo had engaged in an affair on the African set. Holden may have wanted to treat the affair as one of those things that happened on location – and ended once the film is completed. “Whatever you do, Lewis,” Holden advised the director, “you must resist having her in the picture. I’ve just made a movie with her…and she was not very good. I think, really, the picture suffered for it and so if I make my next movie with her I’m going to look pretty stupid.”

Expecting Holden to back him up, Gilbert was surprised when the actor shied away from any confrontation with the producer, only learning later that Holden was somewhat in awe of Feldman, who had given him his big break in Golden Boy (1939) and, in his capacity as agent – the first to demand a $750,000 fee plus hefty percentage for his client – helped oversee his career. Although her three-year contract with Columbia had begun in 1961, Capucine had only made one film for the studio, Walk on the Wild Side (1962), more likely to turn up in pictures for Twentieth Century Fox, United Artists or independents. Feldman claimed Capucine was “in greater demand for roles after being starred in Walk on the Wild Side.” His position as star-maker-supreme was strengthened when he merged his agency with Ashley-Steiner and bought the rights to Mary McCarthy bestseller The Group, which boasted great parts for four women. Probably Gilbert did not quite realize what he was taking on when he raised his and Holden’s objections to  Capucine. Feldman responded, “We’re not making the film for Bill, we’re making it for the world.”

Gilbert was also having problems with Karl Tunberg who was also functioning as a co-producer “and therefore my producer,” according to the director. “As I’ve often done the job myself I haven’t worked with many producers but I can safely say this one was hopeless.” As a result of Tunberg’s “inertia” the production manager Bill Kirkby resigned, and Gilbert ended taking on the role of producer as well.    

Holden’s career, while not yet in the box office trough that would envelop him later in the decade, was enjoying an unexpected movie hiatus, his planned starring role in The Americanization of Emily, to be directed by William Wyler, having fallen through. Paris When It Sizzles was on the shelf for an interminably long time given the supposed box office pulling power of the stars. Made in 1962, it was not released until 1964, by which time Hepburn was back on top thanks to Charade (1963) and My Fair Lady (1964). By the time The 7th Dawn hit theaters, Holden had four box office flops on the trot.

Jack Hawkins was originally intended to play the Governor and for the role of his daughter Candace, who makes a play for Holden, Gilbert suggested Susannah York who had worked on his Loss of Innocence (1961), and who was beginning to attract attention in Hollywood. By the time the crew got to Malaya, where the film was to be shot, there was one notable absentee – the wardrobe mistress. Gilbert’s wife Hylda supplied York with a beautiful sarong purchased from a girl she spotted passing on a bike. Shooting was delayed due to a strike by Asian extras on the first day. They claimed discrimination because white extras were being paid more. Around 1,000 extras were required to play peasants and the security forces.

Although it was known Holden had an alcohol problem, prior to filming he had undergone aversion therapy in Switzerland and consequently remained dry throughout the filming. Gilbert admired the actor’s approach: “Bill Holden was a delight. He was an old time star.” If you asked him to crawl across a room, and climb up onto a chair, he would do it. “Whatever the director says, you do it. That’s how film actors were trained in his day and that was certainly his training.”

Capucine was the opposite. “Because she was untrained and didn’t understand what you were saying anyway, there was little you could do with her.” When the actress complained to her lover that she was being ignored on set, Gilbert had to take the producer aside and explain her deficiencies. “She doesn’t know about working with other actors. When I’m doing a scene where Susannah’s talking to her, I’m not just working with Susannah. I’m working with her too because I will be filming her reactions, how she listens to Susannah, that sort of thing. When I get back to the cutting room I can put all that together and even improve her performance.” (That said, I felt Capucine gave the best performance of her career.)

Unlike many top productions of the era, the film was not given an exclusive run at a New York city center cinema, but went straight into a Showcase (wide) release in 300 theaters simultaneously with its opening at the Astor and Trans-Lux East arthouses in the Big Apple.

William Holden, unable to stay off the wagon, succumbed to his affliction, hitting his head while on a bender alone in a cabin and dying at the age of 63 from his injury. Capucine was 62 when she committed suicide in 1990.

SOURCES: Lewis Gilbert, All My Flashbacks, (Reynolds & Hearn, 2010) p213-231, p234-235; Matthew Field, “Gilbert Goes to War,” Cinema Retro, Vol 6, issue 18, p46; “Capucine Option Renewed,” Box Office, November 27, 1961, NC2; “Mary Magdalene to Star Capucine,” Box Office, January 29, 1962, p13;  “Feldman Sees Wild Side as New Break-Through,” Box Office, February 5, 1961, p14; “Actor Harvey no Fan of Feldman,” Variety, May 9, 1962, p5; “Ransohoff Signs William Holden,” Box Office, May 28, 1962, p15; “Lewis Gilbert to Direct Summer Flight for UA,” Box Office, June 11, 1962, pE8; “William Holden Plans Continue Produce Pix in Overseas Spots,” Variety, November 20, 1963, p2; “Bill Holden Party Primes Malaya Pic,” Variety, December 19, 1962, 4; “Chatter,” Variety, April 10, 1963, p69; “West Side in Malaya,” Variety, April 17, 1963, p21; “Liz’s Cleo 10% Mebbe Soon; But Holden Coin Tops,” Variety, May 15, 1963, p1; “Holden Follows Wyler Leaving Emily,” Box Office, October 7, 1963, pW2;  “Feldman Acquires Rights to Mary McCarthy Novel,” Box Office, December 16, 1963, pE11;  “New UA Title,” Variety, December 23, 1963, p6; Advertisement, Variety, January 8, 1964, p51; “300 July Dates for Dawn,” Box Office, June 1, 1964, p8; Advertisement, “UA’s Blockbuster for Summer Release,” Variety, June 17, 1964, p12-13; “UA Opens 7th Dawn as Showcase Presentation,” Box Office, August 31, 1964, pE2.

The 7th Dawn (1964) ****

Women are the sacrificial victims here, the collateral damage as men of high principle battle for supremacy, politics held in greater esteem than relationships and family ties, a father willing to endanger his daughter, a lover viewing the potential death of his beloved as  publicity coup. Unusually, for a war picture, this is more about repercussion than heroic success. And it was well ahead of its time in taking a far more thoughtful, not to say probing, approach to the genre. Unusually, too, each of the main characters is driven by mistaken belief. It is very much a film where the surface is merely the patina to draw an audience into something more serious underneath and deserves considerable reappraisal.

Set in 1953 in Malaysia when the ruling British government was getting ready to pass over independence to the natives before they took it for themselves. Major Ferris (William Holden), a successful rubber plantation owner, is asked by incoming British High Commissioner Trumphey (Michael Goodliffe) to reach out to terrorist leader Ng (Tetsuro Tamba), a wartime friend and former rival in love for Dhana (Capucine), now Ferris’s mistress. Ng, wishing to ensure Communist dictatorship rather than western-style democracy, refuses to end the guerrilla war.

On his return, Ferris comes across governor’s daughter Candace (Susannah York) swimming naked close to a road notorious for ambush and murder. Meanwhile, Dhana, a teacher, has organised a demonstration to protest the imposition of a curfew. On hearing her out, Trumphey overturns the ban, only for that evening’s function at the embassy to be interrupted by a grenade. In reprisal the British torch a village where they suspect bombs are hidden, the action justified when several houses suddenly explode.

When Dhana finds Candace and Ferris together, aware of his previous infidelities, and shocked by the destruction of the village, she runs away to join Ng, who still holds a torch for her. When she returns, reconciling with Ferris, she is arrested after grenades are found in her bicycle. She is sentenced to death unless she informs on Ng, which she refuses to do.

Candace, with the conviction of the young, believes she can bring about Dhana’s reprieve by offering herself as a hostage to Ng. The terrorist leader in turn promises to kill Candace on the day Dhana is executed. So Ferris, believing the grenades were planted by the British, treks through the jungle to capture Ng, rescue Candace and return before the “seventh dawn” when Dhana will hang. 

The governor refuses to bow to the terrorist threat while Ng confesses that he framed Dhana on the basis that she is expendable. Cause and principle run side-by-side neither man willing to give in to save a loved one.

Caught in the political crossfire – Dhana, Ferris and Candace.

Nor are the women passive, pawns in the great game, the film opening with Dhana wielding a rifle and closing with Candace firing one. Both are willing to die for their cause, Candace perhaps less willingly since she had not foreseen that potential outcome. So this isn’t quite a picture about impotent women but in the end both are powerless against the greater forces of a vicious struggle.

Lewis Gilbert (Loss of Innocence, 1961) creates a thoughtful, even-handed, picture, getting rid of the British sense of superiority so prevalent in pictures about the Empire, using the American Ferris to question many British attitudes, setting Ng up as a respectable, rather than heinous, terrorist who genuinely fears that his people will be unable to cope with sudden independence and require support from Moscow, and bringing to the fore Dhana who initially appears a makeweight in the tale only to become its central focus. A couple of exceptional close-ups reveal character far more than dialogue, Dhana when her execution draws close and Ferris on discovering who set up his mistress. It’s a tribute to his direction that the fabulous scenery fades into the background when laid down beside the tribulations faced  by the characters, each with so much to lose rather than gain.

William Holden (The Devil’s Brigade, 1968) is in his element, playing one of those characters that seem to come to easily to him, a man of questionable morals, happily profiteering from the misery of his fellow plantation owners, exploiting the wartime friendship with Ng that has saved him from ambush, forcing Dhana to cope with his infidelity, and yet with an upright core that spurs him into an action he deems stupid.

Capucine (North to Alaska, 1960) is the surprise package, with some superb subtle acting as she faces up to the prospect of dying for a crime she did not commit. Susannah York (Sands of the Kalahari, 1965) is perhaps too innocent, setting out to snare a disreputable man, and she could have done with two extra scenes – one explaining her thought processes in offering herself as hostage and another a confrontation with the father who abandoned her. Tetsuro Tamba (You Only Live Twice, 1967) delivers a thoughtful performance as the man torn between friendship and love and carrying the weight of a nation’s expectation.

Oscar-nominated Karl Tunberg (Ben-Hur, 1959) wrote the screenplay based on the novel The Durian Tree by Michael Keon.

The Greengage Summer (1961) *** aka Loss of Innocence

The alternative title assumed nobody in America knew what a greengage was – it’s a type of plum – but it was actually pretty apposite.

Until then director Lewis Gilbert had been known mostly for Second World War pictures like Reach for the Sky (1954) and Carve Her Name with Pride (1955) so this was a considerable change of pace, and filmed on location.

Susannah York, who had sparkled in a small role in Tunes of Glory (1960), now took center stage as a girl on the brink of womanhood who experiences powerful emotions for the first time – love and its perpetual bedfellow jealousy – as well as rite-of-passage experiences like getting hammered on champagne.

She is the oldest of four siblings stranded in a French chateau when their mother takes ill. Left to her own devices, she promptly falls for the suave and much older Kenneth More who is having an affair with chateau owner Danielle Darrieux (another of Darryl F. Zanuck’s girlfriends).

By modern standards, this is a gentle tale, but not without some harsh moments and York is superb as she undergoes a transformation from uncertain schoolgirl to a woman realizing the power her beauty can exert. She flares from child to adult and back again in seconds. York was headstrong in real life and insisted on being drunk during the drunken scene, which ruined a day’s work.

That was not the only crisis – there were no greengages due to poor weather so they had to be flown in from Britain and sewn onto the trees. Jane Asher plays the more sensible younger sister who is not above violent emotion herself such as fisticuffs with a local lad. Kenneth More is at his charming best in the kind of affable role he had generally moved away from.

The dialogue is surprisingly good and Darrieux is convincing as an aging beauty willing to do anything. The scenery is a bonus as are the snatches of provincial French life. All in, an engaging piece of work, with York delivering a star-is-born kind of turn.

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