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The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph

The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph

Alan Burton
Tim O’Sullivan
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 376
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  • Book Info
    The Cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph
    Book Description:

    This book offers the first full systematic assessment and evaluation of the cinema of this important filmmaking partnership. Dearden and Relph came together at the famous Ealing Studios in the wartime period and became the most prolific production team at the studio, contributing such popular and critically acclaimed films as The Captive Heart (1946), The Blue Lamp (1950) and Pool of London (1951). Later in the 1950s, Dearden and Relph branched out into independent production and became particularly associated with a cycle of controversial social problem films that included Sapphire (1959) and Victim (1961).This new study takes an extensive view of the cinema of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph. It considers in detail their contribution to the celebrated achievements of wartime cinema at Ealing, brings a new focus to their post-war films that addressed masculine adjustment in a period of rapid change, takes a fresh look at the prominent group of social problem films within their work, and offers an original study of their later period of filmmaking for the international market in the 1960s. Attention is also given to the significant place of comedy in their cinema and Michael Relph's considerable achievements as an art director. The book will be of interest to all students of film history and a general readership that takes a keen interest in British cinema.

    eISBN: 978-0-7486-3252-7
    Subjects: Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Alan Burton and Tim O’Sullivan
  4. Foreword
    (pp. ix-xii)
    James Dearden and Simon Relph

    It is very satisfying that a reappraisal of the films of Basil Dearden and Michael Relph is now taking place, in my opinion (not surprisingly) one that is long overdue.

    Alan Burton and Tim O’Sullivan have researched their subject with a great deal of care and a gratifying appreciation of their subject. What they are absolutely correct in establishing is the fact that the relationship was very much a partnership, every bit as much as, say, the partnership of Powell and Pressburger. Indeed, when my father was offered the job of directing the film of Khartoum relatively late in his...

  5. Biography and Career Notes
    (pp. xiii-xxii)
  6. Introduction: ‘Two on a Tandem’? Dearden and Relph: Authorship and British Cinema
    (pp. 1-13)

    The films of Basil Dearden and his producing partner Michael Relph have for too long been treated as exemplars of a safe, unimaginative and essentially dull British cinema. So, while problem pictures like Frieda (1947) and Victim (1961) have been acknowledged for their worthy liberal statements, the stifling requirements of balance and fair play, coupled with a perceived cautious cinematic treatment, are seen to deaden and defeat any effectiveness such films might offer. In the early 1960s, when a new generation of thrusting young critics set out to proclaim a cinema of auteurs, it was largely on Hollywood that they...

  7. 1 Apprenticeship and Beyond: Comedy Traditions and Film Design
    (pp. 14-48)

    Dearden and Relph, both separately and together, regularly worked in a comic vein. As well as making numerous outright comedy films, the filmmakers brought a measure of humour to several of their action films, thrillers and dramas, titles like The League of Gentlemen (1960), Man in the Moon (1960), Masquerade (1965), Only When I Larf (1968) and The Assassination Bureau (1969). This was a common commercial approach within British cinema in the period and was, moreover, a distinctive aspect of the films they made together. Michael Relph consistently praised Basil Dearden’s technical skill as a filmmaker, believing that this was...

  8. 2 The Formative Period: The War Years and the Ethos of Ealing
    (pp. 49-88)

    In his autobiography, studio chief Michael Balcon cites San Demetrio London (d. C. Frend, 1943) as an ‘outstanding example’ of the kind of film made at wartime Ealing: a story lifted from the news; an epic tale of human endeavour; and fine propaganda for a civilian arm of the services.² The Studio had consciously moved away from the fanciful heroics and hackneyed romantic subplots of early wartime films like Convoy (d. P. Tennyson, 1940) and Ships with Wings (d. S. Nolbandov, 1941). In their stead, it embraced an approach to film production that simultaneously promoted the interests of wartime propaganda,...

  9. 3 Dramas of Masculine Adjustment I: Tragic Melodramas
    (pp. 89-166)

    A consistent theme in Dearden and Relph’s post-war films concerns male characters forced to confront painful adjustment to new circumstances and changing social norms and expectations; indeed, it is a preoccupation which informed the work of a number of other British filmmakers of the time. Within this broad classification, this chapter sets out to examine those films which observe a tragic dimension, whereby the narratives result either in the death of the main male protagonist or a significant subsidiary character, or in his imprisonment, or in some such seriously diminished ambition or circumstance. In these tragic melodramas, the films do...

  10. 4 Dramas of Masculine Adjustment II: Men in Action
    (pp. 167-202)

    If Dearden and Relph’s films after the war often exploited the form of the tragic melodrama to explore masculine adjustment and responses to the changing social circumstances of the post-war world, in a small number of films they also constructed an alternative trope for exploring this central issue: narratives of men after action – seeking action. These films are sometimes marked by a tragic dimension, but the films are more substantially determined by their exploration of stories of men asserting – or reasserting – their masculinity through professional, physical action; usually in an all-male group. Masculine purpose and identity are temporarily rediscovered and...

  11. 5 Dramas of Social Tension and Adjustment
    (pp. 203-248)

    The label that has most often been used to imply a unity in Dearden and Relph’s work together is that of the ‘social problem’ film. As Durgnat has suggested: ‘In many regards, most – maybe all – Dearden films are “social problem” films’ (1997: 60); and Hill, Landy and others have tended to adopt such an inclusive approach to their cinema in these terms. Their work was often accused of ‘snatching stories from the headlines’, displaying a ‘sociological concern or mission’ and helping to establish ‘a tradition of mixing entertainment with social awareness’.¹ This chapter adopts a more exclusive approach, identifying only...

  12. 6 Ethical Dilemmas
    (pp. 249-286)

    Often regarded as social problem films, the four films discussed in this chapter are distinctive variants, separated out by virtue of their attention to individual characters confronting acute ethical decisions and embodying dilemmas rather than problems shared across society. They represent a series of substantial emotional melodramas concerning nationalism and post-war identity; the politics of terrorism; the limits to religious belief; and the ethics of modern psychology. They offer further insights into Dearden and Relph’s multifaceted fascination with the complexities of their contemporary social existence, in their exploration of the moral balances and contradictions involved in national revenge or forgiveness...

  13. 7 The International Years
    (pp. 287-321)

    In the second half of the 1960s, Dearden and Relph worked together on a series of big-budget films aimed at the world market and made for Hollywood companies operating in Britain. They were all in colour, extensively used exotic foreign locations and featured international stars. With the single exception of the imperial epic Khartoum, none of the films has attracted critical attention. Alexander Walker’s weighty treatment of the cinema in Britain in the 1960s, Hollywood England, has nothing at all to say about Dearden and Relph after their black-and-white social dramas of the early 1960s; Robert Murphy’s more scholarly examination,...

  14. Appendix
    (pp. 322-327)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 328-334)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 335-346)
  17. Index
    (pp. 347-354)