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Charles Crichton: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1987)

Memories from his career as a director at Ealing

Main image of Charles Crichton: BECTU Interview Part 2 (1987)

The copyright of this recording and transcript is vested in the BECTU History Project. Charles Crichton was interviewed by Sid Cole with Alan Lawson in 1987.

1. Against The Wind

Sid Cole: Could I revert for a moment to Against The Wind? We made a piece of casting which we thought was rather ingenious at the time but rather misfired: Jack Warner.

Charles Crichton: Yes well, we chose him to play the main villain part, a double spy. We chose him because he was so charming, nobody could possibly believe he could be a double agent. And as you remember, just a week just a week before we were due to start shooting Jack said, "this isn't going to work, people aren't going to believe that I can be a villain," and we talked him into staying with us and as it turned out we were quite wrong, because the whole thing misfired completely. Nobody could believe that dear Jack could be a villain.

SC: I remember we took it to a preview, do you remember, Charles? We couldn't tell much from a preview audience but we went with Jack into a pub after the preview and there was a little man standing at the bar who looked at Jack and said, "You're Jack Warner, aren't you?", and Jack said, "yes". And the little man said that he had been to the picture and it was all wrong and that had quite an effect, I think, on Jack. Although the intention was good, to surprise the audience possibly, but certainly Jack had too pronounced a persona as what he was, a jolly nice chap, for it to really work.

CC: Mind you he played a villain in Hue And Cry, but that was comedy.

SC: I think he played it well in Against the Wind

CC: Oh he played it brilliantly!

SC: The scene between him and Simone Signoret when she hears that that's who it is. I suppose that sort of scene would probably work better these days, audiences have got more sophisticated.

CC: Yes, I think so.

2. Nine Men

SC: Could I go back just a tickle in your career which occurred to me as interesting, a film called Nine Men, on which you were the associate producer and I was supervising editor and Harry Watt directed. That was quite an interesting picture.

CC: I didn't really produce it. I was credited, but all I did [was] I managed to wangle the rights to the story from the poor author for an incredibly small amount of money. And he offered to bash me up when he found the picture was so successful. But that was a mistake. I wasn't really creative on that picture at any level.

SC: Well I think you were in the editing. I seem to remember the combination, if I can put it modestly on behalf of both of us, Charles, the combination of our editing talents, we would work alternately on sequences on that.

CC: Oh yes, we worked together on it. But in the sense of working on the script or helping Harry Watt in any kind of way, I don't think I helped very much. The only thing I ever did to help him, it was during the war and the trains were terrible and he rang me up about half past nine at night saying that he was shooting in Wales, he was in terrible trouble and would I catch a train immediately and come down. I said, "but Harry, it's only 20 minutes before the last train goes." He said, "you must come, you must come." So I put my clothes on over my pyjamas and rushed out and managed to catch the train. I got to Paddington, I got one of these terrible night trains which was absolutely crammed with people, no seats or anything, I sat in a bog all the way, the only place I could find a seat. The train driver didn't know what he was doing. It was a nightmare journey, get to the hotel, won't go into that, piss pots under the bed and everything. Get down, clean myself up a bit, get down to the location about 9 o'clock in the morning, walking across the sand towards Harry, he looks at me in amazement and says, "What the f**king hell are you doing here?" [Laughter]

SC: He'd completely forgotten. Had he had a few whiskies?

CC: He'd forgotten all about it.

SC: So you took the next train back.

CC: No we stayed and did some second unit work.

3. Train of Events

SC: I think the next picture was Train of Event, another anthology film like Dead of Night.

CC: Which you produced entirely didn't you.

SC: Which I produced, yes that's right. Tell me about the sequence you did, the story you did in that. It had three stories.

CC: My story? Good god I've almost forgotten it.

SC: It had Baronova in it and John Clements.

CC: Well the interesting thing was that we rehearsed it. There was John Clements, as you know, Irina Baronova, who was a ballerina, and Valerie Hobson, who was a cinema actress. One of the difficulties a director always has is trying to get everybody's performance to gell at the same time. So here we were with these three people from different walks of life, as it were. John Clement's performance improved, improved, improved, improved, all the way through rehearsals, and it improved on the floor. The ballerina, her performance was stuck, she got it as far as she was going to go, she never changed. Valerie Hobson got worse and worse and worse the more we rehearsed because she was a film artist and used to doing it instantly.

4. Lavender Hill Mob

SC: A real peak film was the next film wasn't it, Lavender Hill Mob?

CC: I was sliding before Lavender Hill Mob. It rescued me I think. Because you know, Dance Hall didn't do very well.

SC: And who's original idea was The Lavender Hill Mob? Tibby [T.E.B.] Clark wrote it, didn't he?

CC: What happened was Tibby had just written the police story, The Blue Lamp, and Mick [Michael Balcon] wanted to repeat the success of The Blue Lamp and Tibby was sent off, and he couldn't find an idea but he found this idea about the gold bars and the Eiffel Tower. And he sketched it out to Mick, who was doubtful about it by the way, but Mick sometimes would allow people to go their own way. So Tibby wrote a treatment which people liked very much. Michael Truman was the associate producer. Tibby's original story, after they had successfully turned all the gold to Eiffel Towers, in the original story the plot followed what happened to each Eiffel Tower so that a whole lot of new characters were introduced. Michael Truman was the one who said this would be disastrous, you must follow through the central characters. And eventually Tibby did find the solution. They made a mistake on the top of the Eiffel Tower about the bars so we were able to follow the main characters.

SC: Rather than that new subsidiary ones. That seems a very, very important contribution indeed.

CC: And that's what associate producers used to do for you.

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Audio & Video Clips
Dance Hall (1950)
Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)
Crichton, Charles (1910-1999)
Ealing Studios (1938-59)
Ealing Comedy
Ealing at War