Wallasey, England, 6 August 1910.
Oundle School and Oxford University.
Began as cutter for London Film Productions, 1931; editor on major Korda
productions, 1935–40; joined Ealing Studios, 1940; directed first
For Those in Peril
, 1944; TV director, from 1960s.
14 September 1999, in South Kensington, London.
Films as Director:
For Those in Peril
Painted Boats ( The Girl on the Canal ); "The Golfing Story" episode of Dead of Night
Hue and Cry
Against the Wind ; Another Shore
"The Orchestra Conductor" episode of Train of Events
The Lavender Hill Mob ; Hunted ( The Stranger in Between )
The Titfield Thunderbolt
The Love Lottery
The Divided Heart
The Man in the Sky ( Decision against Time )
Law and Disorder ; Floods of Fear (+ sc)
The Battle of the Sexes
The Boy Who Stole a Million (+ co-sc)
The Third Secret
He Who Rides a Tiger
Tomorrow's Island (+ sc)
A Fish Called Wanda , (+ co-sc)
Men of Tomorrow (Sagan) (asst ed)
Cash ( For Love or Money ) (Z. Korda) (asst ed); The Private Life of Henry VIII (A. Korda) (asst ed); The Girl from Maxim's (A. Korda) (asst ed)
Sanders of the River (Z. Korda) (ed); Things to Come (Menzies) (co-assoc ed)
Elephant Boy (Flaherty and Z. Korda) (ed); Twenty-one Days ( The First and the Last ; Twenty-one Days Together ) (Dean) (ed)
Prison without Bars (Hurst) (ed)
Old Bill and Son (Dalrymple) (ed); The Thief of Bagdad (Berger, Powell, Whelan) (ed); Yellow Caesar ( The Heel of Italy ) (Cavalcanti) (ed)
The Big Blockade (Frend) (co-ed); Guests of Honour (Pitt) (ed); Young Veteran (Cavalcanti) (ed); Find, Fix, and Strike (Bennett) (ed, assoc pr)
Nine Men (Watt) (ed, assoc pr); Greek Testament ( The Shrine of Victory ) (Hasse) (assoc pr)
By CRICHTON: book—
A Fish Called Wanda , with John Cleese, London, 1988.
By CRICHTON: article—
Interview in Directing Motion Pictures , edited by Terence Marner, New York, 1972.
Interview in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1988.
Interview in Positif (Paris), February 1989.
Interview in American Film , January-February 1989.
On CRICHTON: books—
Balcon, Michael, A Lifetime of Films , London, 1969.
Barr, Charles, Ealing Studios , London, 1977.
Perry, George, Forever Ealing , London, 1981.
On CRICHTON: articles—
Tynan, Kenneth, "Ealing: The Studio in Suburbia," in Films and Filming (London), November and December 1955.
Barr, Charles, "Projecting Britain and the British Character: Ealing Studios," in Screen (London), Summer 1974.
Green, Ian, "Ealing: In the Comedy Frame," in British Cinema History , edited by James Curran and Vincent Porter, London, 1983.
Barr, Charles, "Charles Crichton," in Edinburgh Film Festival Booklet , 1988.
Falk, Quentin, " Wanda : Cleese, Crichton, and Man-Management," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1988.
Listener (London), 13 October 1988.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 20 September 1999.
* * *
The demise of Ealing Studios seemed to cast a blight on the careers of those who worked there. Within ten years of the final Ealing release virtually all the studio's leading directors—Mackendrick, Hamer, Harry Watt, Charles Frend—had shot their last film; only Basil Dearden was still active. And until the late 1980s the career of Charles Crichton appeared to have followed the same dispiriting pattern. His triumphant comeback at the age of seventy-eight, with the huge international success of A Fish Called Wanda , was as heartening as it was wholly unexpected.
Wanda kicks off with a jewel heist sequence notable for the wit and precision of its editing. Like several of his Ealing colleagues, Crichton started out in the cutting room, working for Korda on Things to Come and The Thief of Bagdad , and was said to be one of the finest editors in the British film industry. (Among his uncredited achievements is the rescue of Mackendrick's Whisky Galore , which he recut after it had been botched by its original editor.) A sense of pace and timing, the skilled editor's stock-in-trade, distinguishes all his best work. Comedy has always been seen as Crichton's forte. His reputation, prior to Wanda , rested on the three comedies he directed at Ealing to scripts by T. E. B. Clarke: Hue and Cry , The Lavender Hill Mob , and The Titfield Thunderbolt. If all three seem to belong more to the writer's oeuvre than to the director's, this may be because Crichton has always been dependent in his comedies on the quality of the script. The Lavender Hill Mob , perhaps the archetypal comedy of the Ealing mainstream, gains enormously from Crichton's supple comic timing; but given stodgy material, as in The Love Lottery or Another Shore , his lightness of touch deserts him. Even Titfield , with Clarke writing some way below his best, feels sluggish and under-directed beside its two predecessors.
Though the serious side of Crichton's output, the dramas and thrillers, has attracted little attention, he often seems here less at the mercy of his script, able to make something personal even of flawed material. His one non-comedy with Clarke, the Resistance drama Against the Wind , has a downbeat realism and a refusal of easy heroics that recalls Thorold Dickinson's Next of Kin (and probably ensured its failure at the post-war box-office). Hunted , a killer-on-therun thriller, builds up a complex tension as well as offering Dirk Bogarde a rare intelligent role amid the dross of his early career. Crichton's cool, unemphatic handling of the central conflict in The Divided Heart deftly avoids emotional overkill—though nothing, perhaps, could have prevented the film's final slide into sententiousness.
After Ealing, projects attuned to his talents became increasingly rare. Given the darker aspects of his work, black comedy was clearly well within his range, and The Battle of the Sexes , with Peter Sellers as the Scots clerk trying to bump off efficiency expert Constance Cummings, would have been ideal—were it not for a script that junked the quiet implacability of the original (Thurber's caustic tour-de-force The Catbird Seat ) for cautious whimsy and a vapid happy ending. After a couple of interestingly off-beat thrillers— The Third Secret and He Who Rides a Tiger —both marred by clumsy writing and uncertainty of tone, Crichton cut his losses and retreated into television. From there, directing corporate videos must have seemed like a further downhill step. But the company involved was John Cleese's Video Arts, and it was Cleese's enthusiastic backing—and his status as a bankable star—that enabled Crichton, after more than twenty years, to return to the cinema. A Fish Called Wanda , with its four ill-assorted crooks, its central portrait of respectability undermined by larcenous urges, and its running theme of internecine treachery, crosses The Lavender Hill Mob with The Ladykillers —and adds a degree of sex and violence that would certainly have alarmed Michael Balcon. But had Ealing comedy survived Balcon's death and lived on into the late 1980s, Wanda is most likely what it would have looked like—and its bite and vitality only inspire regret for the films left unmade during Crichton's years in the wilderness.