Saturday, September 11, 2010

Director Clive Donner Passes On

Clive Donner, who began his film career as an editor and became one of the notable directors of the British New Wave, passed at the age of 84 on 7 September 2010. He had Alzheimer's disease for many years.

Clive Donner was born in London on 21 January 1926. It was while he was still attending Killburn Polytechnic that he made his first film, an 8 millimetre short about a boy's sports club. Following graduation he became a cutting room assistant at Denham Studios. During World War II  Mr. Donner served in the Royal Navy. Following the war he went back to Denham Studios. He served as part of the editorial department on the films On Approval (1944), The Way Ahead (1944), and Oliver Twist (1948). In 1950 Mr. Donner received his first credit as a full fledged editor on the film Madeline. The next several years he served as the editor on A Christmas Carol (1951), The Card (1952), Meet Me Tonight (1952), Genevieve (1953), The Million Pound Note (1954), The Purple Plain (1954), and I Am a Camera (1955).

It was in 1957 that Clive Donner received his first credit as a director, on the film The Secret Place. Two years later he directed the film Heart of a  Child. For the next few years Mr. Donner directed episodes of various television shows, including Danger Man, The Edgar Wallace Mystery Theatre, and Sir Francis Drake. It was in 1962 that Clive Donner's breakthrough film was released. It was part of the British New Wave, a "kitchen sink"  film in which four young men are persuaded to form a rock group. Some People was a somewhat realistic view of youth in England in the pre-Beatles era.

It would be Clive Donner's next film which would get him noticed. Released in 1963, The Caretaker was an adaptation of the Harold Pinter play of the same name. Another "kitchen sink" film, The Caretaker featured Robert Shaw as a quiet young man who takes in an old derelict and eventually makes him his home's caretaker. With The Caretaker Clive Donner entered the height of his career. His 1964 film Nothing But the Best was Mr. Donner's departure from "kitchen sink" into the dark comedy associated with Swinging London. The film centred on Alan Bates as Jimmy Brewster, a young man who will literally do anything to be successful. Clive Donner followed Nothing But the Best with his first Hollywood film, What's New Pussycat (1965). With a screenplay by Woody Allen, What's New Pussycat featured Peter O'Toole as a man who seeks help with his love life (too much of a love life, not too little) from a psychiatrist who has his own share of problems (played by Peter Sellers). What's New Pussycat was a hit at the box office and also received good reviews.

His next film, Luv (1967), was a bit of misfire, despite a cast which featured Jack Lemmon, Peter Falk, and Elaine May. It scored with neither audiences nor critics; however, his next film would be somewhat of a success. Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush (1968) was a coming of age comedy made at the tail end of the Swinging London era. Unfortunately, Clive Donner's next film would virtually kill his film career. Alfred the Great (1969) bombed at the box office and was raked over the coals by critics. He would not make another film until Vampira (entitled Old Drac in the United States) in 1974.

Most of the remainder of Clive Donner's career was spent in television. He directed a critically acclaimed television adaptation of Geoffrey Household's novel Rogue Male, the telefilm Spectre (a pilot for a Gene Roddenberry series that never materialised), and a television remake of The Thief of Baghdad. Mr. Donner briefly returned to film with The Nude Bomb (1978--based very loosely on the TV show Get Smart) and Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen (1981). Neither film did well with the critics or at the box office. Clive Donner spent the next several years directing such telefilms as Oliver Twist, The Scarlet Pimpernel, To Catch a King, A Christmas Carol, Arthur the King, Agatha Christie's Dead Man's Folly, and Babes in Toyland. In 1988 he returned to film with the relatively well received Stealing Heaven, based on the romance between Abelard and Heloise. In 1990 Clive Donner's last film was released, the short "Arrivederci Roma". Clive Donner spent the rest of his career in television. He directed the telefilms Not a Penny More Not a Penny Less and Terror Stalks the Class Reunion. His final work as a director was on the 1993 mini-series Charlemange (it was not a high point of his career).

Clive Donner will be best remembered for his work during the Sixties. Arguably his best films (The Caretaker, Nothing but the Best, What's New Pussycat) were directed during this era. Mr. Donner had a gift for capturing the spirit of the times, whether it was in his earlier "kitchen sink" dramas or his later Swinging London films. It is important to remember that his career did not end in the Sixties, as he would do several good television movies later in his career. While his feature films, except for Stealing Heaven, made in his later years, were nothing remarkable, such television movies as Rouge Male, Spectre, and The Scarlet Pimpernel were very well done, so much so they are nearly the equal of his earlier work in feature films. While admittedly his best work was done in the Sixties, Mr. Donner's career did not end there.

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