J. Lee Thompson
J. Lee Thompson in the 1970s
John Lee Thompson
1 August 1914
|Died||30 August 2002 88) (aged|
John Lee Thompson (1 August 1914 – 30 August 2002) was a British film director, active in London and Hollywood, best known for such movies as Ice Cold in Alex , Cape Fear and The Guns of Navarone .
Thompson was born in Bristol on 1 August 1914. His family had links to the theatre. Thompson studied at Dover College then went to work in the theatre, joining the Nottingham Repertory Company as an actor and stagehand. He later went to work for a repertory company in Croydon, Surrey.
He wrote plays in his spare time, and had started when he was nine. One of them, Murder Happens? was performed at Croydon in 1934. His second staged play, Double Error , had a brief West End run at the Fortune Theatre in 1935. An article from this time about the play said he had written 40 plays already, including four in between his first two staged plays.A company worth £10,000 was formed to exploit Thompson's writings over the next seven years but this appears to have not had a long life.
Thompson later said he had written a part for himself to act in but when management asked him if he wanted to do so he said "of course not" and "the die was cast. Later I decided if I didn't have the guts to admit I wanted to play the role I should never act again and I never did."
The film rights to Double Error were purchased for £100.Thompson was hired to work in the scriptwriting department at British International Pictures at Elstree Studios. While there he made his one appearance an actor in films, playing a small role in Midshipman Easy (1935).
His first credit was The Price of Folly (1937), based on his play. He also worked on the scripts for Glamorous Night (1937) and he worked as dialogue coach on Jamaica Inn (1939), directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
He wrote the scripts for The Middle Watch (1940), made at Associated British Picture Corporation (ABPC) and East of Piccadilly (1941).
Thompson served in World War II as a tailgunner and wireless operator in the RAF. In 1942 a revised version of Double Error, titled Murder Without Crime , opened at the Comedy Theatre in London. The play had a run on Broadway in 1943.
After the war Thompson returned to his work as scriptwriter under contract at Associated British on such films as No Place for Jennifer (1949) and For Them That Trespass (1949), the latter starring Richard Todd in his debut.
Thompson was dialogue director on The Hasty Heart (1949), which turned Todd into a star. He later said he gave up dialogue directing because he found the job "impossible. My job was to take stars through their lines but I felt that I was also expected to be a spy for the front office. If a word was altered they wanted to know why. It was a way of keeping control."
The same year his play The Human Touch , co written with Dudley Leslie, ran for more than a hundred performances at the Savoy Theatre in a production starring Alec Guinness.
His first film as a director was Murder Without Crime (1950), made at ABPC, who put Thompson under contract. Thompson was offered £500 for the screen rights to the play and £500 to direct. He said "it was not so much that I wanted to direct movies it was to get the money so I could continue writing plays. But while directing it I got the feeling that I wanted to be a movie director."
Thompson said "the fact is I found directing to be much easier than writing and I enjoyed it much more than writing as well. So I became a film director."
The film was about a man who thinks he has committed murder. Thompson also wrote the screenplay, based on his own play Double Error. In the words of Thompson's Screenonline profile "this well structured film went largely unnoticed but contained many of the themes which were to characterise Lee Thompson's work: a good person's struggle with their conscience, an external force of evil, and an out-of-character moment of violence which has long-term consequences. Believing people can "commit crimes without being criminals", he sought to make his audiences condone or at least understand behaviour that they would normally condemn."
Thompson's first film success was one he directed and co-wrote (with Anne Burnaby), The Yellow Balloon (1953), the story of a child who is blackmailed into helping a criminal after accidentally causing his friend's death.
He followed it with a comedy, For Better, For Worse (1954) starring Dirk Bogarde, which was even more popular though it is little remembered today.
Thompson's fourth film as director The Weak and the Wicked (1954), portrays the lives of women in prison and is based on memoirs by Joan Henry, who became Thompson's second wife. Thompson wrote the script, again in collaboration with Anne Burnaby. It starred Glynis Johns and Diana Dors and was a hit at the box office.The success of the film greatly added to Thompson's prestige and he began to be regarded as one of the leading directors in the country.
Thompson was loaned to Rank Films to direct a Jack Buchanan comedy, As Long as They're Happy (1955), co-starring Dors and An Alligator Named Daisy (1955), also starring Dors, along with Donald Sinden. He returned to ABPC and the theme of female prisoners in Yield to the Night (1956), an anti-capital punishment tale with Diana Dors as the condemned prisoner.
Thompson later said the "pattern" of his ABPC films was "two pieces of tepid rubbish for one decent project - if I could persuade Robert Clark, who was head of production. He used to wring his hands when I insisted. 'Okay,' he'd finally say. 'Do it if you must. But it won't make money.' I admired him for that really. He did give you a bit of a chance."
The Good Companions (1957) was lighter fare, based on a book by J. B. Priestley. According to one obituary Thompson "made excellent use of the CinemaScope screen, assembled a fine supporting cast and, with zestful choreography... came up with one of the few successes in a genre for which the British cinema was not noted."
Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), with Yvonne Mitchell, Anthony Quayle and Sylvia Syms and written by Ted Willis, deals with the collapse of a 20-year marriage.
Thompson had a big success with Ice Cold in Alex (1958), the story of a British Army unit trekking across North Africa in the Second World War. It featured John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle and Harry Andrews. It won three BAFTA Awards, including Best British Film. He followed it with North West Frontier (1959), an adventure film set in British India starring Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall. It was one of the most popular films in Britain in 1959.
No Trees in the Street (1959) was a thriller written by Willis. Also in that genre was Tiger Bay (1959), starring John Mills. It introduced cinema audiences to Mills' daughter Hayley and German actor Horst Buchholz. Hayley Mills also earned a BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer portraying a 12-year-old girl who refuses to betray a sailor accused of murder.
Thompson followed this with I Aim at the Stars (1960).
Thompson vaulted to international fame with The Guns of Navarone (1961) as a last-minute replacement for director Alexander Mackendrick. His take-charge attitude during its production earned him the nickname 'Mighty Mouse' from lead actor Gregory Peck. Co-star Anthony Quinn said Thompson:
Never read a scene until he had to shoot it and approached each shot on a whim. And yet the cumulative effect was astonishing. Lee Thompson made a marvelous picture but how? Perhaps his inventiveness lay in defying convention, in rejecting the accepted methods of motion picture making and establishing his own. Perhaps it was in his very formlessness that he found the one form he could sustain, and nurture, the one form that could, in turn, sustain and nurture him. Perhaps he was just a lucky Englishman who pulled a good picture out of his ass.
The Guns of Navarone, a World War II epic filmed on location in Rhodes, Greece, was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Thompson for Best Director. In 1961 he said "primarily I am in the business to entertain. This does not mean that I never want to try artistic movies again. But I do not think you can sell art on the big movie circuits. Art belongs in the art houses."Later he said "I liked the character bits best" about Navarone. "Anyone can make an explosion."
The success of Navarone won him entry into Hollywood, where he directed Cape Fear (1962), a psychological thriller with Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen and Lori Martin. Based on a novel called The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, Cape Fear shows how a sex offender can manipulate the justice system and terrorise an entire family. Highly controversial for its time,[ citation needed ] the film was cut heavily in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
He worked on a project with Warren Beatty and Clifford Odets based on an idea of Beattys. It was never made.Neither was The Short Cut which he discussed doing with Darryl F. Zanuck, or The Living Room from a novel by Graham Greene or Chips with Everything by Arnold Wesker.
Thompson directed Yul Brynner in the Cossack epic Taras Bulba (1962) for producer Harold Hecht. Thompson was going to follow it with Big Charlie starring Brynner but the movie was not made.In 1962 the Mirisch Brothers signed the director to a four-picture contract. The first made under this was the Mayan Indian epic Kings of the Sun (1963), starring Brynner.
In September 1962 Thompson said he would make I Love Louisa with Elizabeth Taylor produced by Arthur Jacobs.(This film became What a Way to Go! (1964) with Shirley MacLaine.) He would put actors under personal contract like Talitha Pol.
In September 1963 Thompson announced he had formed a company, Bowhall Productions, to make around four films a year in the $120,000-$160,000 budget range. Thompson said it was "unlikely" the films would "make a profit" but they were movies he "deeply wanted to make". They included Chips with Everything, Rose without a Thorn by Clifford Bax, and a film in Spain. Following Return from the Ashes he would also make a $7 million movie in Africa Thunder of Giants.
Instead he did another with MacLaine, John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965).Back in England Thompson made Return from the Ashes (1965) for the Mirisch Brothers. In April 1965 Thompson announced he would make High Citadel based on a novel by Desmond Bagley for the Mirisch Brothers. These plans were postponed when Thompson received an offer to replace Michael Anderson, who had fallen ill before he was to start directing a thriller about cults with David Niven, Eye of the Devil (1967) (originally titled 13). High Citadel was never filmed. Another film announced but never filmed was The Case Against Colonel Sutton which he was going to do with producer Martin Poll. Neither was a proposed musical remake of The Private Lives of Henry VIII.
After a war film, Before Winter Comes (1968) Thompson was reunited with the star, producer and writer of Navarone in the Western Mackenna's Gold (1969) but it did poorly at the box office.So too did the espionage tale The Chairman (1969) with Gregory Peck. He was meant to follow that with You?, about assassination from a script by Andrew Sinclair. It was never filmed. "I freely admit I've done some pretty bad stuff," he said in 1968. "It's entirely my own fault. The trouble was I accepted some dismal scripts. I wasn't tough enough... Writing is the fundamental thing." Some have argued that Thompson's creative decline coincided with the end of his relationship with Henry.
Back in the UK he directed Country Dance , also known as Brotherly Love (1970). Thompson's handling of a smaller scale film impressed producer Arthur Jacobs, with whom Thompson had made What a Way to Go; Thompson was the first director attached to the Jacobs production The Planet of the Apes and Thompson says he turned down the first two sequels. He was available to make the fourth and fifth movies in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes . Writer Paul Dehn said Thompson had a reputation as someone with a drinking problem but that he had overcome it by the time of the Apes films.
"They were cutting back on the budgets the whole time after the first one", said Thompson later. "It was a bad policy."
Thompson began working more in US television, directing the television films A Great American Tragedy (1972), Huckleberry Finn (1974) starring Jeff East and Paul Winfield, The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1974) and Widow (1976) as well as the pilot episode of The Blue Knight (1975).
He returned to playwriting with Getting Away with Murder (1976).
In 1976, Thompson started collaborating with actor Charles Bronson, starting with the Warner Bros. crime story St. Ives .John Crowther, who worked with both men, later said Thompson was the total antithesis of Charlie and they got along famously. They really worked well together.”
In 1977, Bronson and Thompson teamed again on an unconventional western called The White Buffalo .
Thompson directed two films starring Anthony Quinn, The Greek Tycoon and The Passage .Reviewing the latter The Guardian called Thompson a director who "should know better but often doesn't". The Globe and Mail argued Thompson was "possibly the worst experienced director working in the world today."
Thompson directed the horror film, Happy Birthday to Me in 1980.
In 1981 with Bronson the film Caboblanco had its Los Angeles opening on 24 April.Also that year he directed an episode of the TV show Code Red , which he followed with another Bronson movie, 10 to Midnight.
Thompson worked with Bronson again on, The Evil That Men Do (1984) which was shot in Mexico. Thompson was called in to replace original director Fielder Cook, who was fired shortly before filming. Producer Pancho Okhenr sad Thompson "knew exactly what shots he needed to put together the film... [Bronson] had a lot of respect for Lee. The whole crew appreciated when the director didn’t make them work over and over getting the same shot from different angles... He was just a terrific filmmaker.”
Also released that year was The Ambassador that starred Robert Mitchum.
On 22 November 1985, King Solomon's Mines premiered.Thompson directed an Indiana Jones-style pastiche shot in Zimbabwe with Richard Chamberlain and reasonably successful at the box office.
On 18 April 1986, Murphy's Law , the Thompson and Bronson collaboration of that year, started its theatrical run. It is a neo-noir thriller film.Acting in the film are Kathleen Wilhoite, Carrie Snodgress, Robert F. Lyons, and Richard Romanus. Thompson tried another Indiana Jones-type tale with Firewalker , which premiered on 21 November. The film paired the actors Chuck Norris with Louis Gossett, Jr. as its leads. The action adventure co-stars Will Sampson and Melody Anderson. Norris and Gossett play Max Donigan and Leo Porter, two soldiers of fortune, whose adventures rarely result in any notable gain. They are befriended by an inscrutable woman of mystery Patricia (Anderson). Patricia's map leads them on a quest for treasure in Central America. The name of the movie comes from the powerful guardian of the treasure.
In 1986, Thompson was credited as the director of two Charles Bronson films made by Cannon. On 16 September premiered Messenger of Death and on 6 November Death Wish 4: The Crackdown.He later reflected, "I realized these films were not going to enhance my reputation. I had to live with that. You're not going to be offered the great films at a certain age."
3 February 1989, Thompson's final directorial effort was released Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects starring Charles Bronson.
In 1990 Thompson moved to Sooke.
In 1992 Thompson said he was trying to finance a remake of Tiger Bay with Anna Chumsky and Alec Baldwin. The director said "I have certain regrets now. I would rather have stuck to making films like Yield to the Night which had some integrity and importance. But the British film industry caved in. I shouldn't denigrate myself too much because I have enjoyed making my films but I suppose I sort of sold out."
In 1998 he worked as a boom operator on the film Bride of Chucky .
Thompson was married three times. His first wife was Florence Bailey, whom he married in 1935 when he was 18. They had a son, Peter (1938–1997), who became a film editor on several of his father's films and predeceased him, and a daughter, Lesley, who survived him.They divorced in 1957.
His second wife was prisoner and author Joan Henry, whom he married in 1958. They collaborated on Weak and the Wicked and Yield to the Night. He left her for actor Susan Hampshire. In March 1962 Hedda Hopper reported that Thompson was "sweating it out" in Los Angeles while Henry and Hampshire were "awaiting his decision in London."Thompson confirmed this in an interview, while Hampshire and Henry were less forthcoming to the press.
In September Hopper reported that it was over between Thompson and Hampshire.Henry and Thompson were divorced in the late 1960s.
In November 1962 Thompson said he had proposed to Shirley Ann Field who he said accepted then changed her mind.
His third wife was Penny who was his widow.
Thompson died of congestive heart failure on 30 August 2002, at his holiday home in Sooke, British Columbia, Canada aged 88.
The Guardian obituary called him "a compelling craftsman".The Washington Post said "he directed adventure films noted for their punchy pacing, rich atmosphere and nuanced characterization." Variety said he was "Known as a craftsman who had a clear sense of how each film should play, scene by scene".
The Independent said "he lent his acute sense of atmosphere and vivid visual style to a wide range of material. His intimate kitchen-sink melodramas... were unflinching portraits of social realism unusually stark for their time. His thrillers were tautly edited exercises in suspense, and he also made some engaging comedies and a bracing musical...Though his later films can most kindly be labelled potboilers, his body of work in the Fifties and early Sixties was an impressive one."
In 2000 he stated that he made so many American films "because of my insecurity and effort to stay here. If I was given a script and it had something good in it I'd say, 'Good, I've got my next picture!' That is not the way to make good films, so some of them were good and some not so good.... What an idiot! 'You should have stayed at what you really wanted to make.' If I have anything to say to young directors today it's don't make a film for the sake of making it. Make it only if you really believe in it. Then success will eventually come to you."
Stuart Maxwell Whitman was an American actor, known for his lengthy career in film and television in a large variety of genres. Some of these credits include Highway Patrol (1955–1959), The Mark (1961), The Comancheros (1961), Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines (1965), Night of the Lepus (1972), Cimarron Strip (1967), and Superboy (1988–1992). Whitman was born in San Francisco, and raised in New York until the age of twelve. His family relocated to Los Angeles. Whitman finished high school in 1945 and was honorably discharged from the Corps of Engineers in the United States Army in 1948. Afterwards, Whitman started studying acting and appearing in plays and had bit roles in the films Rudolph Maté's When Worlds Collide and Robert Wise's The Day the Earth Stood Still. Until 1957, Whitman had a streak working in mostly bit parts in films directed by leading directors. On television Whitman guest starred in series such as Dr. Christian, The Roy Rogers Show, Death Valley Days and also had a recurring role on Highway Patrol. This led Whitman to play the role in John H. Auer's Johnny Trouble starring Ethel Barrymore.
Charles Bronson was an American actor who was often cast in roles of police officers, gunfighters, or vigilantes in revenge-oriented plot lines. He had long-term collaborations with film directors Michael Winner and J. Lee Thompson and appeared in 15 films with his second wife, Jill Ireland.
Jeff Chandler was an American actor, film producer, and singer best remembered for playing Cochise in Broken Arrow (1950), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. He was one of Universal Pictures's more popular male stars of the 1950s. His other credits include Sword in the Desert (1948), Deported (1950), Female on the Beach (1955), and Away All Boats (1956). In addition to his acting in film, he was known for his role on the radio program Our Miss Brooks and for his musical recordings.
Force 10 from Navarone is a 1978 British-American action drama war film loosely based on Alistair MacLean's 1968 novel of the same name. It is a sequel to the 1961 film The Guns of Navarone. The parts of Mallory, Miller and Barnsby are played by Robert Shaw, Edward Fox and Harrison Ford, succeeding the roles originally portrayed by Gregory Peck, David Niven and Richard Harris. It was directed by Guy Hamilton and also stars Carl Weathers, Barbara Bach, Franco Nero, and Richard Kiel.
What a Way to Go! is a 1964 American black comedy film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Shirley MacLaine, Paul Newman, Robert Mitchum, Dean Martin, Gene Kelly, Bob Cummings and Dick Van Dyke.
Dana James Hutton was an American actor in film and television best remembered for his role as Ellery Queen in the 1970s TV series of the same name and his screen partnership with Paula Prentiss in four films, starting with Where the Boys Are. He is the father of actor Timothy Hutton.
Carl Foreman, CBE was an American screenwriter and film producer who wrote the award-winning films The Bridge on the River Kwai and High Noon, among others. He was one of the screenwriters who were blacklisted in Hollywood in the 1950s because of their suspected communist sympathy or membership in the Communist Party.
Taras Bulba is a 1962 American Color by Deluxe in Eastmancolor adventure film loosely based on Nikolai Gogol's novel Taras Bulba, starring Tony Curtis and Yul Brynner. The film was directed by J. Lee Thompson. The story line of the film is considerably different from that of Gogol's novel, although it is closer to his expanded 1842 edition than his original (pro-Ukrainian) version of 1835.
Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects is a 1989 American action thriller film starring Charles Bronson and directed by J. Lee Thompson. As Thompson's final film, it was the last project he and Bronson did together—a long and famed Hollywood collaboration. The word "kinjite" (禁じて) translates to English as "forbidden move", hinting at the subject matter.
The Guns of Navarone is a 1961 British-American epic adventure war film directed by J. Lee Thompson. The screenplay by producer Carl Foreman was based on Alistair MacLean's 1957 novel The Guns of Navarone, which was inspired by the Battle of Leros during the Dodecanese Campaign of World War II. The film stars Gregory Peck, David Niven and Anthony Quinn, along with Stanley Baker, Anthony Quayle, Irene Papas, Gia Scala, James Darren and Richard Harris. The book and the film share the same basic plot: the efforts of an Allied commando unit to destroy a seemingly impregnable German fortress that threatens Allied naval ships in the Aegean Sea.
Kings of the Sun is a 1963 DeLuxe Color film directed by J. Lee Thompson for Mirisch Productions set in Mesoamerica at the time of the conquest of Chichen Itza by Hunac Ceel. Location scenes filmed in Mazatlán and Chichen Itza. The film marks the second project Thompson completed with Yul Brynner within a year — the other being Taras Bulba.
Bon Voyage! is a 1962 Walt Disney film directed by James Neilson and released by Buena Vista Distribution Company. Following their practice of the time, it was also issued as a comic book and an adaptation appeared in the comic strip Walt Disney's Treasury of Classic Tales. It stars Fred MacMurray, Jane Wyman, Deborah Walley, Tommy Kirk, and Kevin Corcoran as the Willard family on a European holiday. The family crossed the Atlantic Ocean on SS United States which survives today, stripped and moored at Pier 82 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The Golden Gate is a novel written by the Scottish author Alistair MacLean. It was first released in the United Kingdom by Collins in 1976 and later in the same year by Doubleday in the United States.
The Passage is a 1979 British action-war film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Anthony Quinn, James Mason, Malcolm McDowell and Patricia Neal. The film is based upon the 1976 novel Perilous Passage by Bruce Nicolaysen, who also wrote the screenplay for the film.
Messenger of Death is a 1988 American crime-action thriller film starring Charles Bronson about an attempt by a water company to start a family feud among fundamentalist Mormons to take the family's land for the company.
Machine-Gun Kelly is a 1958 film noir directed by Roger Corman, chronicling the criminal activities of the real-life George "Machine Gun" Kelly. The film was considered low budget, but received good critical reviews. It was the first lead role for actor Charles Bronson. Corman called it "a major turning point in my career" because it was from this film he began to get serious critical attention.
Murder Without Crime is a 1950 British crime film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Dennis Price, Derek Farr and Patricia Plunkett. J. Lee Thompson also wrote the screenplay adapted from Double Error, his own successful West End play.
Return from the Ashes is a 1965 British thriller film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Ingrid Thulin, Maximilian Schell, Samantha Eggar and Herbert Lom. It is based on a novel by French crime writer Hubert Monteilhet, adapted for film by prolific screenwriter Julius J. Epstein. The novel would also serve as the source material for the 2014 German film Phoenix, directed by Christian Petzold, though the latter film makes multiple changes to the book's elements and concerns itself solely with the plot to reclaim an inheritance.
Between Us Girls is a 1942 American drama film directed by Henry Koster and starring Diana Barrymore, Kay Francis, Robert Cummings, John Boles, Andy Devine, and Scotty Beckett.
Waltz of the Toreadors is a 1962 film directed by John Guillermin and starring Peter Sellers and Dany Robin. It was based on the play of the same name by Jean Anouilh with the location changed from France to England. It was nominated for a BAFTA Award for Best British Screenplay, in 1963.