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Todd, Ann (1909-1993)


Main image of Todd, Ann (1909-1993)

When James Mason brought his cane down on her hands as she sat at the piano in that ripe but irresistible load of old tosh, The Seventh Veil (d. Compton Bennett, 1945), Ann Todd acquired the stardom that 15 years of largely nondescript film roles had failed to deliver. The film was a heady mixture of psychiatry, (popular) classical music and charismatic leading performances and it was just what audiences wanted at the end of World War II. Unfortunately, Todd never again had such a box-office hit.

Trained at Central School to be a drama teacher, she switched to acting after her first taste of it, and in the interstices of her film career she acquired a respectable, if not actually dazzling, stage career, during which she played the murderess Lottie Dundas (1943) and Lady Macbeth (1954-55).

Of her pre-Veil film roles, only neurotic Madge Carne in South Riding (d. Victor Saville, 1938) and Robert Donat's wartime romantic dalliance in Perfect Strangers (d. Alexander Korda, 1945) are worth noting. Post-Veil, she went to Hollywood where she played Gregory Peck's wife in one of Hitchcock's most leaden films, The Paradine Case (US, 1948), an experience she always overrated.

Back in England, she gave what may be her finest performance in the superb Paramount-British Victorian melodrama, So Evil My Love (d. Lewis Allen, 1948), as the missionary's widow who returns to England, and lets down her hair, literally and figuratively, to her very great cost. Her chiselled blonde beauty, with its conflicting suggestions of propriety and sensuality, brilliantly caught by Max Greene's lustrous camera, was never more skilfully used, and she rose to poignant heights at its conclusion.

David Lean became her third husband and directed her in three films before they separated in 1954: The Passionate Friends (1948), an upmarket, unmoving re-telling of a Brief Encounter-style triangle; Madeleine (1949), in which again her ambiguous beauty was cleverly exploited; and The Sound Barrier (1952, British Academy Best Actress nomination), in which she played second fiddle to men and aeroplanes.

As her career petered out in the 1960s, she took to making documentaries in exotic places, like Nepal in Thunder in Heaven (d. Geoffrey Gurrin, 1964), but they were never widely shown. She continued to act on stage occasionally, as in The Vortex (1965); she had been in the first British TV serial, Ann and Harold (1938) and she made TV appearances in both the US and the UK in later years.

Her first husband was Victor Malcolm, brother of famed TV presenter Mary Malcolm, and her second was Nigel Tangye who acted as technical adviser on Things to Come (d. William Cameron Menzies, 1936) and Conquest of the Air (d. Zoltan Korda, 1940). Her brother was Harold Brooke (b.London, 1910, real name Todd), who wrote plays and several screenplays with wife Kay Bannerman.

Autobiography: The Eighth Veil (1980).

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Cinema

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Daybreak (1948)Daybreak (1948)

Eric Portman stars as a man leading a double life as hangman and hairdresser

Thumbnail image of Madeleine (1949)Madeleine (1949)

David Lean's film about real-life alleged murderess Madeleine Smith

Thumbnail image of Passionate Friends, The (1948)Passionate Friends, The (1948)

David Lean film about a woman who marries for money rather than love

Thumbnail image of Seventh Veil, The (1945)Seventh Veil, The (1945)

Melodrama starring James Mason as a young pianist's obsessive guardian

Thumbnail image of Ships with Wings (1941)Ships with Wings (1941)

Stiff-upper-lipped Ealing war film celebrating the Fleet Air Arm

Thumbnail image of Sound Barrier, The (1952)Sound Barrier, The (1952)

Little-known David Lean film about ambition, courage and jet aircraft

Thumbnail image of Things to Come (1936)Things to Come (1936)

Britain's biggest sci-fi film of the 1930s, adapted from H.G.Wells

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Thumbnail image of Lean, David (1908-1991)Lean, David (1908-1991)

Director, Writer, Editor