October 30, 2014

Directors

Harold French (1897-1997) b. London, England.

Harold French

London-born director who made very English entertainment for the cinema for years. French was also a prolific stage director, especially of the works of Terence Rattigan and Noel Coward. None of his films was quite a masterpiece, nor even a big box-office hit, but several of them, particularly those made between 1940 and 1955, remain pleasing, unassuming, skilful entertainment. French had begun his career as an actor, on stage (from 1912) and in films (from 1923), performing off and on until 1936. With the coming of sound, having already made a reputation on stage, he began to star regularly for the cinema, although hardly any of his 1930s’ films are remembered today. With the coming of World War II, however, French emerged fairly suddenly as a front-rank director of the British cinema. The House of the Arrow (1940) was an exciting version of A.E.W. Mason’s thriller; Secret Mission (1942) and The Day Will Dawn (1942) are two stiff-upper-lip but soberly presented war films, and Dear Octopus (1943) the first of several warm and cosily amusing portraits of middleclass British family life that would also include English Without Tears (1944) and Quiet Weekend (1947). French also made some mild flights of fancy including White Cradle Inn (1946) and The Dancing Years (1948), also some stodgy romantic dramas. French had a solid box-office success with the cunningly contrived My Brother Jonathan (1948), on the crest of the British vogue for provincial stories spread over a number of years, with triumph and tragedy coming out equal in their characters’ lives. It is hard to imagine this most civilised of men turning his hand to rough-and-tumble action in glorious TechniColour, but he did in fact direct Rob Roy the Highland Rogue (1954) for the Disney Organisation, before ending his film career with The Man Who Loved Redheads (1955), another Rattigan comedy with a brilliant cast. French then turned back to writing. In later years he turned his attention to the stage. Tragedy entered French’s life in 1941 when his wife Phyllis was killed in a bombing raid.



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