(AND AN APPRECIATION)
OF BRITISH FILM DIRECTOR J. LEE-THOMPSON (1914 2002)
Friday, August 30, at his summer residence in Sooke, British Columbia,
innovative and controversial Anglo-American film director J. Lee-Thompson
died at 88 years. He made a series of rip-roaring melodramas and
thrillers, such as the original CAPE FEAR, between 1950 and 1989.
His pioneering British
films in the Fifties highlighted womens issues (The Weak and The
Wicked; Woman in a Dressing Gown; Yield to the Night) and he introduced
"kitchen-sink" realism long before the likes of Karel Reisz,
Tony Richardson and John Schlesinger; the much vaunted but stolid pedestrian
triumvirate of the British "New Wave" (A Taste of Honey;
A Kind of Loving).
Lee-Thompson adapted to the big screen the plays of television pioneers
such as Ted Willis (No Trees in the Street). He also was gifted with child
actors, such as Anthony Ray and Hayley Mills (The Yellow Baloon; Tiger
Bay) and with their elders such beetle-browed, earnest British
leading-men as Kenneth More (the rip-snorting North West Frontier) and
John Mills (the ironic, atmospheric wartime allegory Ice Cold In Alex).
The controversy he courted began with The Yellow Balloon; the second only
"X-Certificate" imposed by the British Board of Film Censors,
in 1952. Ten years later, Lee-Thompsons genuinely scary Cape Fear
was subjected to severe, unsparing censorship due to Robert Mitchums
uncanny portrayal of "Max Cady", a sexually sadistic ex-con.
Lee-Thompson had dramatized crime and punishment issues in X-certificate
films such as The Weak and The Wicked (Womens prison) and Yield
to the Night (Capital punishment/the last woman to hang in England, Ruth
The director made four films with Hollywoods most decent, honourable
star Gregory Peck, including the global blockbuster The Guns of Navarone.
Lee-Thompson ended his career with nine films starring Pecks polar-opposite
Charles Bronson, the epitome of amoral vigilantism on screen.
Neither an Anglo-American counterpart to US action-director Don Siegel,
nor even to the late John Frankenheimer, who also died this year; Lee
Thompsons oeuvre gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people over
many years. His career waded into the shallow end of exploitation "B"
movies in the Eighties but he had triumphed as an exponent of adult-themed
melodrama thirty years earlier, bringing to prominence such sex-symbols
as Diana Dors, the British Marilyn Monroe.
© Alex Grant September 2002
By The Sea
Review by Alex Grant
by Michael Caton-Jones
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