Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat - Director




LAUNDER. Nationality: British. Born: Hitchin, Hertfordshire, 1906. Education: Brighton. Family: Married actress Bernadette O'Farrell, 1950. Career: Civil servant, then actor, in Brighton; studio assistant, 1928; first collaboration with fellow writer Sidney Gilliat, 1935; with Gilliat, wrote radio serials Crooks Tour and Secret Mission 609 , 1939; co-directed first film, Millions like Us , 1943; formed Individual Pictures production company with Gilliat, 1944 (dissolved 1950). Died: 23 February 1997.


GILLIAT. Nationality: British. Born: Edgeley, Cheshire, 1908. Education: London University. Career: Hired by Walter Mycroft, film critic of London Evening Standard (edited by Gilliat's father) and scenario chief at British International Pictures, Elstree, as studio assistant, 1928; gagman and dogsbody for director Walter Forde, 1929–30; collaborator with Frank Launder (see above), from 1935; president, Screen Writers Association, 1936; director, British Lion, 1958–72; chairman of Shepperton Studios, from 1961; also co-founder of TV commercial company, Littleton Park Film Productions; wrote opera libretto for Our Man in Havana , 1963. Died: 31 May 1994, in Wiltshire, England, UK.


Films Directed, Produced, and Written by Launder and Gilliat:

1943

Millions like Us (Launder and Gilliat)

1944

Two Thousand Women (Launder)

1945

The Rake's Progress ( The Notorious Gentleman ) (Gilliat)

1946

Green for Danger (Gilliat); I See a Dark Stranger (Launder)

1947

Captain Boycott (Launder)

1948

The Blue Lagoon (Launder); London Belongs to Me ( Dulcimer Street ) (Gilliat)

1950

State Secret ( The Great Manhunt ) (Gilliat); The Happiest Days of Your Life (Launder)

1951

Lady Godiva Rides Again (Launder)

1952

Folly to Be Wise (Launder)

1953

The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan ( The Great Gilbert and Sullivan ) (Gilliat)

1954

The Constant Husband (Gilliat); The Belles of St. Trinian's (Launder)

1955

Geordie ( Wee Geordie ) (Launder)

1956

Fortune Is a Woman ( She Played with Fire ) (Gilliat)

1957

Blue Murder at St. Trinian's (Launder)

1959

The Bridal Path (Launder); Left, Right, and Centre (Gilliat)

1960

The Pure Hell of St. Trinian's (Launder)

1961

Only Two Can Play (Gilliat)

1965

Joey Boy (Launder)

1966

The Great St. Trinian's Train Robbery (Launder and Gilliat)



Films Written by Launder and Gilliat:

1936

Seven Sinners (de Courville); Twelve Good Men (Ince)

1938

The Lady Vanishes (Hitchcock)

1939

Inspector Hornleigh on Holiday (Forde)

1940

They Came by Night (Lachman); Night Train to Munich (Reed)

1942

The Young Mr. Pitt (Reed)

1956

The Green Man (Day) (+ pr)

Other Films—Launder:

1928

Cocktails (Banks) (titles)

1929

Under the Greenwood Tree (Lachman) (co-sc)

1930

The Compulsory Husband (Banks) (dialogue/dubbing); Song of Soho (Lachman) (co-sc); Harmony Heaven (Bentley) (additional dialogue); The W Plan (Saville) (additional dialogue); The Middle Watch (Walker) (co-sc); Children of Change (Esway) (co-sc); How He Lied to Her Husband (Lewis) (sc)

1931

Keepers of Youth (Bentley) (sc); Hobson's Choice (Bentley) (co-sc); A Gentleman of Paris (Hill) (co-sc); The Woman Between (Mander) (co-sc)

1932

After Office Hours (Bentley) (co-sc); The Last Coupon (Bentley) (co-sc); Arms and the Man (Lewis) (co-sc, uncredited); Josser in the Army (Lee) (sc)

1935

Emil and the Detectives (Rosmer) (co-sc); Rolling Home (R. Ince) (sc); So You Won't Talk (Beaudine) (co-sc); Mr. What's His Name (Ince) (co-sc); Educated Evans (Beaudine) (co-sc); Windbag the Sailor (Beaudine) (sc editor)

1937

Good Morning Boys (Varnel) (sc editor); Bank Holiday (Reed) (sc editor); OKay for Sound (Varnel) (sc editor); Doctor Syn (Neill) (sc editor); Oh, Mr. Porter! (Varnel) (story)

1938

Owd Bob (Stevenson) (sc editor); Strange Boarders (Mason) (sc editor); Convict 99 (Varnel) (sc editor); Alf's Button Afloat (Varnel) (sc editor); Hey! Hey! U.S.A.! (Varnel) (sc editor); Old Bones of the River (Varnel) (sc editor)

1939

Ask a Policeman (Varnel) (sc editor); A Girl Must Live (Reed) (sc); The Frozen Limits (Varnel) (sc editor)

1940

Inspector Hornleigh Goes to It (Forde) (story)

1969

An Elephant Called Slowly (Hill) (sc uncredited)

1980

Wildcats of St. Trinian's (d, sc)



Other Films—Gilliat:

1928

Toni (Maude) (titles); Champagne (Hitchcock) (titles); Adams's Apple (Whelan) (titles); Weekend Wives (Lachman) (titles); The Manxman (Hitchcock) (research)

1929

The Tryst (short) (co-d); Would You Believe It? (Forde) (asst d, + role)

1930

Red Pearls (Forde) (asst d); You'd Be Surprised (Forde) (asst d, + role); The Last Hour (Forde) (asst d); Lord Richard in the Pantry (Forde) (sc); Bed's Breakfast (Forde) (sc)

1931

3rd Time Lucky (Ford) (additional dialogue); The Ghost Train (Forde) (additional dialogue); A Gentleman of Paris (Hill) (sc); The Happy Ending (Webb) (co-sc, uncredited); A Night in Marseilles (Night Shadows) (de Courville) (sc); Two Way Street (King) (sc)

1932

Lord Babs (Forde) (additional dialogue); Jack's the Boy (Forde) (sc continuity); Rome Express (Forde) (sc); For the Love of Mike (Banks) (co-sc)

1933

Sign Please (Rawlins—short) (sc); Post Haste (Cadman—short) (sc); Facing the Music (Hughes) (co-story); Falling for You (Hulbert and Stevenson) (story); Orders Is Orders (Forde) (co-sc); Friday the Thirteenth (Saville) (co-story)

Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder
Sidney Gilliat and Frank Launder

1934

Jack Ahoy! (Forde) (co-sc) Chu-Chin-Chow (Forde) (co-sc); My Heart Is Calling (Gallone) (adapt/dialogue)

1935

Bulldog Jack ( Alias Bulldog Drummond ) (Forde) (co-sc); King of the Damned (Forde) (co-sc)

1936

Tudor Rose (Stevenson) (assoc pr); Where There's a Will (Beaudine) (sc); The Man Who Changed His Mind ( The Man Who Lived Again ) (Stevenson) (co-sc, assoc pr); Strangers on a Honeymoon (de Courville) (co-sc)

1937

Take My Tip (Mason) (co-sc); A Yank at Oxford (Conway) (story)

1938

Strange Boarders (Mason) (co-sc); The Gaunt Stranger ( The Phantom Strikes ) (Forde) (sc)

1939

Ask a Policeman (Varnel) (story); Jamaica Inn (Hitchcock) (sc)

1940

The Girl in the News (Reed) (sc)

1941

The Ghost Train (Forde) (additional dialogue); Kipps ( The Remarkable Mr. Kipps ) (Reed) (sc); Mr. Proudfoot Shows a Light (Mason—short) (story); You're Telling Me! (Peak—short) (sc); From the Four Corners (Havelock-Allan—short) (sc, uncredited)

1942

Unpublished Story (French) (co-sc); Partners in Crime (short) (co-d, sc)


1944

Waterloo Road (d, sc)

1957

The Smallest Show on Earth (Dearden) (pr)

1972

Ooh . . . You Are Awful ( Get Charlie Tully ) (Owen) (co-exec pr); Endless Night (d, sc)



Publications


On LAUNDER AND GILLIAT: books—

Durgnat, Raymond, A Mirror for England , 1971.

Brown, Geoff, Launder and Gilliat , London, 1977.


On LAUNDER AND GILLIAT: articles—

Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1946, December 1949, and Autumn 1958.

Films and Filming (London), July 1963.

Brown, Geoff, in National Film Theatre Booklet (London), November/December 1977.

Films Illustrated (London), November 1979.

"Frank Launder," in Film Dope (London), November 1985.

Tobin, Y., "Launder et Gilliat: retrospective," in Positif , July-August 1990.

Vergerio, Flavio, "Launder e Gilliat: nel segno della 'britannicità'," in Cineforum (Bergamo), July-August 1993.

Obituary for Sidney Gilliat, in Variety (New York), 6 June 1994.

Gilliat, Sidney, "Le declin de l'empire, et comment nous y fûmes mêlés," in Positif (Paris), December 1994.

"Never to Be Forgotten," an obituary for Frank Launder, in Psychotronic Video (Narrowsburg), no. 25, 1997.

Obituary for Frank Launder, in Variety (New York), 3 March 1997.

Arnold, Frank, "Frank Launder 1906–27.2.1997," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), May 1997.


* * *


Frank Launder and Gilliat's chosen specialty was intelligent entertainment with a distinctive British flavor. Each had their individual style and preferences. Launder favored the breezy implausibilities of farce ( The Happiest Days of Your Life , the St. Trinian's films), tempered with a dose of Celtic whimsy ( Geordie, The Bridal Path , parts of I See a Dark Stranger ). Gilliat leaned more towards caustic social comedy ( The Rake's Progress, Only Two Can Play ) and rigorously detailed thrillers ( State Secret ). But they functioned admirably as a team: first as screenwriters (working in tandem from 1935), then, from 1943, as writer-producer-directors—though only on their first feature, Millions like Us , did they attempt joint direction, side by side.

Both separately entered the industry in lowly capacities in 1928, and gradually worked up the ladder during the 1930s, serving in various studio script departments. As a team they earned their reputation with thrillers. Seven Sinners , their first collaboration, established their talent for concocting ingenious plot twists, expertly balancing comedy with suspense, and stamping even the most minor character with individuality. Subsequent films refined the formula: The Lady Vanishes , for instance (their script was substantially written before Hitchcock came on board as director), and Night Train to Munich , one of several scripts directed by Carol Reed. Both these films featured Charters and Caldicott—comic, imperturbable Englishmen, played by Basil Radford and Naunton Wayne, who bumbled obliviously round a jittery Europe, babbling about cricket scores and picking up Mein Kampf at a German station bookstall only after a fruitless request for Punch. Charters and Caldicott make an appearance in Millions like Us , laying beach mines. But this was only for old times' sake: the film belonged firmly to the women factory workers, whose hopes and problems were explored in a rich tapestry of individual plot-lines. Few other British feature films of World War II evoke the Home Front's daily round with quite the same nose for detail or emotional pull. Gilliat's next production, Waterloo Road , slipped into melodrama at times, but still maintained a strong realistic atmosphere in its triangular drama of an AWOL soldier, the soldier's roving wife, and a muscle-flexing local spiv.

In 1944 Launder and Gilliat launched their own company, Individual Pictures. They began on a high level, working from their own original scripts. Gilliat's The Rake's Progress offered a biting satirical treatment of a profligate charmer (Rex Harrison, ideally cast) washed up on the rocks of the 1930s. Launder's marvelous I See a Dark Stranger wrapped up its far-fetched story about a naive Irish girl persuaded to spy for Germany with Hitchcockian panache. Subsequent films followed a more obviously commercial path, though Gilliat's Green for Danger and State Secret demonstrated his witty way with thriller conventions, while The Happiest Days of Your Life , adapted from John Dighton's popular play, displayed Launder's happy ability to keep the wildest farce on an even keel.

Artistically, the 1950s and 1960s proved less rewarding. The St. Trinian's series, inspired by the hideous schoolgirls featured in Ronald Searle's cartoons, began briskly enough within The Belles of St. Trinian's , but the formula and humor coarsened drastically as the sequels followed. The pleasant whimsy of Geordie —Launder's tale of the amazing growth of an undersized Scot and his exploitation by others—was no match for the barbed blarney that lit up I See a Dark Stranger , while Gilliat's gift for social comedy appeared stunted in The Constant Husband and Left, Right, and Centre. Much of their energies were by this time being spent in boardroom activities: as directors of British Lion, they nursed several films by other filmmakers through the production process, including the lively prison comedy Two-Way Stretch. But Gilliat managed a confident return to form in Only Two Can Play , a lively version of Kingsley Amis's novel about a philandering Welsh librarian, fully alert to the comic drabness of provincial life.

After Endless Night , an elegant diversion adapted from Agatha Christie, was unfairly mauled by the critics, Gilliat retired from filmmaking in the early 1970s. Launder, however, unwisely returned in 1980 with The Wildcats of St. Trinian's —one of the few films in the team's long career which seemed out of step with audience's tastes.

—Geoff Brown



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