Roy Boulting and John - Director

Nationality: British. Born: Twins, in Bray, Berkshire, 21 November 1913. Education: McGill University, Toronto. Career: John entered film industry as office boy, worked as salesman, publicity writer, and editor, mid-1930s; introduced by John, Roy began as assistant director; they founded Charter Films, 1937; John served in Film Unit of

John (left) and Ray Boulting on the set of Heavens Above!
John (left) and Ray Boulting on the set of Heavens Above!
Royal Air Force, Roy in British Army Film Unit, 1940–45; obtained leave at same time to make Thunder Rock , 1942; began series of comedies with Seagulls over Sorrento , 1954; both joined board of British Lion Film Corp. Died: John died in Sunningdale, Berkshire, 17 June 1985.

Films with Roy as Director, John as Producer (though functions overlap):


The Landlady ; Ripe Earth ; Seeing Stars ; Consider Your Verdict


Trunk Crime


Inquest ; Pastor Hall


Dawn Guard


Thunder Rock ; They Serve Abroad


Desert Victory


Tunisian Victory (co-d)


Burma Victory ; Journey Together (John as d, Roy pr)


Fame Is the Spur ; Brighton Rock ( Young Scarface ) (John d and Roy pr)


The Guinea Pig ( The Outsider ) (+ co-sc)


Seven Days to Noon (John d and Roy pr)


Singlehanded ( Sailor of the King ); High Treason (+ co-sc); The Magic Box (John d and Roy pr)


Seagulls over Sorrento ( Crest of the Wave ) (Roy and John co-d and co-pr, sc)


Josephine and Men


Run for the Sun (+ co-sc); Private's Progress (John d and Roy pr, co-sc)


Brothers in Law (+ co-sc); Happy Is the Bride (+ co-sc); Lucky Jim (John d and Roy pr)


Carlton-Browne of the F.O. ( Man in a Cocked Hat ) (co-d, co-sc); I'm All Right Jack (John d and Roy pr, co-sc)


A French Mistress (+ co-sc); Suspect ( The Risk ) (Roy and John co-d and co-pr)


Heavens Above! (John d and Roy pr, co-sc)


Rotten to the Core (John d and Roy pr)


The Family Way (+ co-adaptation)


Twisted Nerve (+ co-sc)


There's a Girl in My Soup


Soft Beds and Hard Battles ( Undercovers Hero ) (+ co-sc)


The Number


The Last Word


The Moving Finger (Roy as d) (for TV); Brothers-in-Law (Roy and John co-d)


By the BOULTINGS: articles—

"Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered," in Kine Weekly (London), 9 November 1950.

"What Makes the British Laugh?," an interview with John, in Films and Filming (London), February 1959.

Interviews with John in Today's Cinema (London), 21 April and 5 December 1969.

"Who Dictates the Price of a Film," by John in Today's Cinema (London), 1 December 1970.

"Getting It Together," by Roy, in Films and Filming (London), February 1974.

Interview with Roy in Photoplay Film Monthly (London), March 1974.

"Flour Power," by both in The Month in Yorkshire , March 1981.

Letter signed by both in the Times (London), 10 April 1981.

On the BOULTINGS: books—

Durgnat, Raymond, A Mirror for England , London, 1970.

Hill, John, Sex, Class, and Realism: British Cinema 1956–63 , London, 1986.

Murphy, Robert, Realism and Tinsel , London, 1989.

On the BOULTINGS: articles—

Watts, S., "The Boulting Twins," in Films in Review (New York), February 1960.

Sheed, W., "Pitfalls of Pratfalls: Boulting Brothers Comedies," in Commonweal (New York), 5 July 1963.

Film and TV Technician (London), March 1964.

Lewin, David, "Why the Boultings Can Be Bastards," in Today's Cinema (London), 24 November 1970.

Norman, Barry, "The Boultings: Fun at 60" in the Times (London), 26 January 1974.

"The Boulting Brothers," in Film Dope (London), March 1974.

Millar, Gavin, in Listener (London), 17 March 1983.

"John Boulting," in St. James Press Annual Obituary 1985 , London, 1985.

McCarthy, T., obituary of John Boulting, in Variety (New York), 26 June 1985.

Tribute to John in Screen International (London), 29 June 1985.

"A Celebration for the Life of John Boulting," in National Film Theatre Booklet (London), September/October 1985.

TV Times (London), 16 November 1985.

* * *

The Boultings' auteurial films (interspersed by potboilers, usually comic) outline a "pilgrim's progress," or regress, from a moral earnestness and puritan conscience to a sort of hilarious gloom about the State of England. Their first feature, Pastor Hall , was inspired by Martin Niemoller, the Nazi-defying German clergyman, via a play by ex-Expressionist Ernst Toller. With commentary by Eleanor Roosevelt added, it created a furor in isolationist America. Thunder Rock , adapted Robert Ardrey's pro-interventionist dream-play, is still remarkable for its didactic strategies—more persuasive than Brecht's—and its self-reflexivity à la Pirandello. After these calls to conscience came their war documentaries. Desert Victory , a compilation of newsreel footage and its famous "gunflash montage" of British artillery bombarding by night, won 10,000 bookings in U.S. theatres; its realism redirected U.S. propaganda strategies. Tunisian Victory was delayed by U.S. services' haggling over duly proportionate representation and by Churchill's wish to sit beside the moviola deciding the exact re-editing of its last shots.

The Boultings' next phase reflects the hopes, strains, and glooms of Austerity and the "Welfare Revolution." Fame Is the Spur , an adaptation of Howard Spring's best-seller, was inspired by Ramsay MacDonald's evolution from Socialist firebrand to the Labour Party's "Colonel Blimp." The Guinea Pig depicted a working-class scholarship boy's tribulations in an upper-crust school. The Boultings then switched their moral target from left-idealism becoming sluggish to left-idealism becoming fanatical. In Seven Days to Noon an atomic scientist vows to destroy London unless Britain unilaterally disarms. In High Treason a motley array of ultra-leftists sabotage British power-stations prior to invasion "from the East." Conversely, the noble hero of Pastor Hall finds his "antithesis"—The Boy—in Brighton Rock , from Grahame Greene's gangster novel. The Boy is petty, vile and doomed less through social environment than through natural evil and/or spiritual deprivation. Vis-a-vis atomic scientist and gangster alike, the Boultings' spokespersons for ordinary humanity are blowsy aging blondes, no better than they ought to be, as if to emblemise lowered expectations of human nature.

The Magic Box , a tribute to British film pioneer Friese-Greene, was the British film industry's "official" contribution to the Festival of Britain, and, like Single-Handed , a (dullish) tribute to old-fashioned British pluck. The mid-1950s' deepening anxieties about declining efficiency and social morality provoked the Boultings to satirical comedies; their sarcasms began where Ealing's left off. Typically, an earnest innocent (often Ian Carmichael) struggles against general moral grubbiness before giving up and joining it. The humour oscillates between tolerant and fraught, puritan and populist, realistic and farcical. Private's Progress targeted the army, Brothersin-Law the law, and Carleton-Brown of the F.O the government. Lucky Jim (targeting Oxbridge) is a stodgy version of the Kingsley Amis novel, but I'm All Right Jack (industrial relations) is arguably the crucial movie about post-war Britain, Peter Sellers infusing with warmth and pathos a bloody-minded shop-steward. Heaven's Above (about the Anglican Church), from an idea by the Socialist-turned-Anglican Malcolm Muggeridge, intriguingly mixes Carry On buffoonery with Evelyn Waugh-type satire.

The Boultings' bouts of Carry On -type ribaldry aren't moral copout, but a deliberate moral position, an affectionate enjoyment of humanity despite its moral mediocrity and without the guilt of stereotypical puritanism. This mellowness keys their last serious films. In The Family Way , a working-class newlywed's various troubles make him temporarily impotent; and his trusting father never realises that his best friend was the boy's real father. The Twisted Nerve , about a mongoloid's brother given to homicide, offended the mental health lobby, but sought to brood seriously on human nature, irreducible evil, and the everyday. The overt discussion of moral fibre, choice, and consequence in Thunder Rock is the key to the Boultings' films. Contemplating the characters from outside, they ask moral questions rather than giving psychological data from the inside; and they stress the erosion of idealism, by puzzlement, weariness, or its paradoxical conflicts with decency. Brighton Rock focuses less on Pinky's mind, or the criminal milieu , than on the moral tropisms of the more hesitant characters. Such emphasis on "moral intuition" is central to the British character, and the Boultings' steady popularity evinces a profound, not a glib, affinity with audiences. The switch from very earnest to very satirical forms is another facet of their moralism.

Wherever possible, the Boultings operated as a semi-independent unit, often called Charter Films. On becoming Directors of British Lion in 1963, they were crucial in its renaissance, albeit embroiled in the controversial decisions preceding its dissolution.

—Raymond Durgnat

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