Guy Hamilton was one of a group of directors - which also included John Guillermin and J. Lee Thompson - who throughout the 1950s produced a series of slick genre films before moving on in the 1960s to big-budget international productions. While it would be wrong to make any claims for Hamilton as someone whose work expressed something distinctive and personal, he was a talented film-maker and particularly skilled in staging action on a large scale.
Hamilton was born in Paris on 16 September 1922 and spent his early childhood in France. He obtained his first film job at the Victorine Studios in Nice in 1938 where his duties included acting as clapper boy for the distinguished French film director Julien Duvivier. On the outbreak of war, he returned to London where he worked briefly in the film library at Paramount News before joining the Royal Navy.
Once the war was over, Hamilton became an assistant director, most importantly on two films directed by Carol Reed, Fallen Idol (1948) and The Third Man (1949), in the latter of which Hamilton also doubled for Orson Welles in some of the film's long shots. Reed - who Hamilton later described as his cinematic 'father' - gave his young assistant more freedom than was usual in the industry and was also instrumental in getting him his first job as director, with a B-movie adaptation of Edgar Wallace's The Ringer in 1952.
In the modestly budgeted genre films that Hamilton directed throughout the first part of the 1950s, he seemed most comfortable with scenarios that centred on male characters, especially within a military context. For example, The Intruder (1953), Hamilton's second film as director, dealt very effectively with the difficulties experienced by soldiers in adjusting to post-war civilian life, while the prisoner-of-war drama The Colditz Story (1955), Hamilton's most commercially successful film from the 1950s, featured an all-male cast and, for all its Boy's Own heroics, offered a nuanced presentation of the intricacies of male camaraderie.
Other 1950s films were less successfully realised, largely because of the unpromising nature of the source material. An Inspector Calls (1954) was a workmanlike production of J.B. Priestley's play redeemed by Alastair Sim's performance, Charley Moon (1956) an uneven musical comedy, while, more interestingly, Manuela (1957) was, for the time, an unusually torrid melodrama that failed to find an audience.
Hamilton moved to bigger budgets at the end of the 1950s, first with the Kirk Douglas-Burt Lancaster film The Devil's Disciple (1959), where he replaced a sacked Alexander Mackendrick, and then, more spectacularly, with the Dino de Laurentiis-produced Italian war comedy The Best of Enemies (US/Italy, 1961). Here, for the first time in his career, Hamilton proved himself adept at directing set-piece action sequences, notably one in which some soldiers are trapped by a huge forest fire.
It was about this time that he was offered the job of directing the first James Bond film, Dr. No (d. Terence Young, 1962), an offer he turned down for personal reasons. Instead he took on The Party's Over (1963, released 1965), an odd project for a director so firmly associated with the commercial mainstream and certainly the most untypical film in his oeuvre. An early example of the 'swinging London' genre, The Party's Over ran into considerable censorship difficulties because of its references to necrophilia. By the time it was finally released in 1965, with the director's name removed from the credits in protest over the censor's cuts, Hamilton's career had taken a more conventionally commercial turn.
Goldfinger (1964), the third James Bond film and the first of four Bond movies directed by Hamilton, is generally seen as marking the moment where the distinctive Bond mix of action, sex and humour was finally crystallised. In no small part, this was due to Hamilton's ability to present the film's outrageous and absurd elements - notably an Aston Martin equipped with an ejector seat - in a no-nonsense manner that commanded, if not belief, than then at least pleasurable acceptance.
Before returning to Bond, Hamilton made two more films for Bond producer Harry Saltzman, the dour spy drama Funeral in Berlin (1966) and the war epic The Battle of Britain (1969), the latter a film which confirmed Hamilton as a director who by then was more interested in the technical business of action than he was in the perfunctorily presented personal stories of some of the characters involved in the drama. From this perspective, he was the ideal director for the increasingly gadget-dependent Bond films of the 1970s, and indeed the most memorable sequences from Diamonds are Forever (1971), Live and Let Die (1973) and The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) are the ones involving machines, be these in car chases or speedboat chases.
Hamilton's last few films were uneven. Force 10 from Navarone (1978,), an attempt to revive the past glories of The Guns of Navarone (J. Lee Thompson, 1961), and Where Eagles Dare (Brian G. Hutton, 1968), were let down by budgetary restrictions that reduced the scope for the spectacular action that had become Hamilton's speciality, while the Agatha Christie mystery The Mirror Crack'd (1980) seemed overwhelmed by the presence within it of so many American stars. By contrast, Hamilton's second Christie adaptation, Evil Under the Sun (1981), was a delightfully witty tale showing a lightness of touch not seen in the director's work since the 1950s.
After two more films - the Bond-like Remo Williams (US, 1985) and Try This On for Size (France, 1989), an adaptation of a James Hadley Chase story - Hamilton retired.
Peter Hutchings, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors