Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Late Great Bryan Forbes

Director, screenwriter, author, and actor Bryan Forbes died yesterday at the age of 86 after a long illness. He wrote such films as The League of Gentlemen (1960) and Only Two Can Play (1962), and directed such films as Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), King Rat (1965), The Stepford Wives (1975), and The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976). He also wrote several novels, including The Twisted PlaygroundThe Endless Game, and Partly Cloudy.

Bryan Forbes was born John Clarke on 22 July 1926 in  in Stratford, London. He grew up in Forest Gate, West Ham, Essex. During World War II he was evacuated first to Lincolnshire and then to Porthleven, Cornwall where he stayed with the Rev Canon Gotto, a cultured man with an extensive library. It was while he was still in school that he made his acting debut with the school dramatic society. Having developed a taste for acting, he wrote letters to several famous actors. Only Lionel Gamlin, then with the BBC, replied. He made young John Clarke the question master of  the BBC quiz programme Junior Brains Trust. The actor John Clark having already registered with Equity, it was Lionel Gamlin who advised that he adopt the stage name of "Bryan Forbes."

At age 17 Bryan Forbes won a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. He would stay at RADA for only three terms, leaving as soon as he won the role of Richard in Eugene O'Neil's Ah, Wilderness! at Rugby. He went onto appear in Envy My Simplicity at Brighton, Emlyn Williams’s The Corn Is Green at Worthing, and Terence Rattigan's Flare Path. He was not with Flare Path for long before he was drafted into the service. He served in the Intelligence Corps and then the Combined Services Entertainment Unit.  He made his film debut in  the short "Smith Our Friend" in 1946.

Bryan Forbes was demobilised in 1948 and returned to acting. He had a leading role in The Gathering Storm (a rewritten version of Envy My Simplicity) at the St Martin’s Theatre. Not long afterwards he made his feature film debut, in a small part in The Small Back Room (1949).  In the late Forties and Fifties Mr. Forbes appeared in such films as All Over the Town (1949), Dear Mr. Prohack (1949), The Wooden Horse (1950), The World in His Arms (1952), Appointment in London (1953), Sea Devils (1953), The Million Pound Note (1954), The Colditz Story (1955), Now and Forever (1956), Quatermass 2 (1957), I Was Monty's Double (1958), The Angry Silence (1960), and The League of Gentlemen (1960).

It was in the Fifties that Bryan Forbes also began his career as a screenwriter, writing additional dialogue for The Black Knight (1954). His first screenplay to be filmed was The Cockleshell Heroes in 1955. For the rest of the decade he wrote or co-wrote screenplays for the films The Black Tent (1956), The Baby and the Battleship (1956), House of Secrets (1956), I Was Monty's Double (1958), The Captain's Table (1959), Danger Within (1959), SOS Pacific (1959), The Angry Silence (1960), The League of Gentlemen (1960), and Man in the Moon (1960).  His first book was published in 1950, the collection of short stories, Truth Lies Sleeping. It was in 1959 that Bryan Forbes formed Beaver Films with  Richard Attenborough.

In the Sixties came Bryan Forbes' directorial debut, the film Whistle Down the Wind  (1961), starring Hayley Mills, Bernard Lee, and Alan Bates. During the decade he directed The L-Shaped Room (1962), Seance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), King Rat (1965), The Wrong Box (1966), The Whisperers (1967), Deadfall (1968), and The Madwoman of Chaillot (1969). After Henry Hathaway left the 1964 adaptation of W. Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, Bryan Forbes took his place for a week before the job went to Ken Hughes. Producer Cubby Broccoli offered Bryan Forbes the job of directing Dr. No (1962), but Mr. Forbes turned the offer down. In addition to the films he directed, Mr. Forbes also wrote or co-wrote the films Only Two Can Play (1962), Station Six-Sahara (1962), Of Human Bondage (1964), The High Bright Sun (1964), and The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970). With his time occupied by screenwriting and directing, Bryan Forbes' acting came to a halt.  During the Sixties he only starred in The Guns of Navarone (1961), although he had cameos in A Shot in the Dark (1964) and Of Human Bondage (1964), and provided a voice on the radio in King Rat.

In the Seventies Bryan Forbes directed the films The Raging Moon (1971), The Stepford Wives (1975), The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella (1976, notable as the final feature film of Margaret Lockwood), and International Velvet (1978). He also directed the segment "An Englishman's Home" in the portmanteau film Sunday Lovers (1980) and the episode "Jessie" of the TV programme Play for Today. Besides films he directed, he also wrote the film Hopscotch (1980) and the episode "The Way Out" of the show Colditz. He appeared in uncredited roles as a herald in The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella  and an awards presenter in International Velvet. He also published the books The Distant Laughter; Ned's girl: the authorised biography of Dame Edith Evans; Notes for LifeFamiliar Strangers; QuicksandStranger; and That Despicable Race: History of the British Acting Tradition.

Bryan Forbes' direcitng career came to an end in the Eighties. He directed the films Better Late Than Never (1983) and The Naked Face (1984),  as well as the television movie The Endless Game (based on this novel of the same name) and an episode of Phililp Marlowe, Private Eye.  He would go onto co-write the screenplay for Chaplin (1992). He also wrote several more books, including The Endless Game, A Divided Life, The Twisted Playground, A Spy at Twilight, The Rewrite Man, The Twisted Ground, Partly Cloudy, and The Soldier's Story.

In 1955 Bryan Forbes married actress Nanette Newman, who survives him. The couple had two daughters, Emma Forbes and Sarah Standing. who also survive.

Bryan Forbes was a true multi-talent. What is more Mr. Forbes was not simply able to act, write books, write screenplays, and direct films, but  he actually excelled at all of them. Indeed, I sometimes think that because Mr. Forbes' career as a screenwriter and director was so impressive people tend to forget he was a fine actor. While he always played supporting roles, Mr. Forbes still managed to make the parts he played memorable. Among his best work as an actor was in the heist film The League of Gentlmen (which he also wrote), in which he played Captain Martin Porthill, a dishonourably discharged serviceman making a living as a piano player and the "boy toy" of an older woman. Bryan Forbes' skill as an actor was such that he need not be on the screen very long to make an impression. In his cameo in A Shot in the Dark (in which he was billed as "Turk Thrust") Mr. Forbes delivers one of his best performance, as a guitar playing guard at a nudist camp. Mr. Forbes also gave impressive performances in such films as Quatermass 2, The Angry Silence, and The Guns of Navaronne.

Of course, as good as Bryan Forbes was an actor, he was arguably even better as a writer. Indeed, he arguably wrote some of the best screenplays of the Sixties. Mr. Forbes' screenplays were always characterised by strong characters and intelligent dialogue. What is more is he was extremely versatile as a screenwriter. His first screenplay to reach the big screen, The Cockleshell Heroes, was a war drama. The League of Gentlemen was a serio-comedic caper film. The L-Shaped Room was a kitchen sink drama.  Only Two Can Play (1962) was a comedy. In his career as a screenwriter and director Bryan Forbes wrote a number of films in different genres, and he did all of them well.

Bryan Forbes displayed the same versatility he had as a screenwriter when it came to writing books. He worked in both non-fiction and fiction. He wrote a biography of his friend Dame Edith Evans, Ned's Girl, as well as a book on acting itself, That Despicable Race. He also wrote novels set in the world of show business (The Distant Laughter and The Rewrite Man), spy thrillers (The Endless GameA Spy At Twilight, and Quicksand), and even humour novels (Partly Cloudy). His autobiography took up two volumes, Notes for a Life and A Divided Life.

Of course, it is probably as a director that Bryan Forbes will be best remembered. Mr. Forbes arguably directed some of the greatest films of the Sixties, including Whistle Down the WindThe L-Shaped RoomSeance on a Wet AfternoonKing Rat, and The Wrong Box. While many directors concentrate in only one or two genres, it must be pointed that the films Bryan Forbes directed in the Sixties were a duke's mixture of genres. Seance on a Wet Afternoon was both a serious drama and a crime thriller. King Rat was a war drama. The Wrong Box was an off the wall comedy set in Victorian England. The Whisperers was psychological horror. He would continue to dabble in different genres throughout his career as a director, including science fiction (The Stepford Wives) and a musical (The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella).

While Bryan Forbes' peak as a director was arguably in the Sixties, I do not think it would be wise to dismiss his later career as so many do. Although he directed fewer films after the Sixties, they were often no less impressive than his earlier work. While The Stepford Wives is often counted as a masterpiece, I must also point out that The Slipper and the Rose: The Story of Cinderella is one of the best of the latter day musicals, with a sterling cast and great songs by the Sherman Brothers. The Raging Moon is a well done romance between two handicapped individuals, eschewing over-sentimentality for genuine emotion. Bryan Forbes may have made fewer films after the Sixties, but they often hold up quite well to those he made in the Sixties

Most people can generally hope to excel in only one field, and that is if they are truly talented. Bryan Forbes actually excelled in four different field (actor, screenwriter, author, and director). What is more, he saw success in all of these fields as well. In the end, Bryan Forbes should probably be considered a modern day renaissance man, a rarity then as they are now. Another like him might never be seen again.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

He was a great man. I love "Seance on a wet afternoon", "The L Shaped Room" and "The Wrong Box" just to name a few. A great multi talented man.