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Frend, Charles (1909-1977)

Director, Writer, Editor

Main image of Frend, Charles (1909-1977)

Charles Frend was born in Pulborough, Sussex on 21 November 1909. He was educated at Kings School, Canterbury and Oxford University, where he was film critic for the university magazine Isis. He began his career in the cutting rooms of British International Pictures in 1931.

Two years later, after editing Alfred Hitchcock's Waltzes from Vienna (1933), he moved to Gaumont-British Pictures, where he edited several notable films, including Hitchcock's Secret Agent (1936), Sabotage (1936), and Young and Innocent (1937).

He also began his long collaboration with Michael Balcon, moving with him to MGM-British, where he edited A Yank at Oxford (d. Jack Conway, 1938), The Citadel (d. King Vidor, 1938) and Goodbye Mr Chips (d. Sam Wood, 1939), and, in 1941, to Ealing Studios, where he made his directorial debut with a competent propaganda piece, The Big Blockade (1942).

Between 1942 and 1957 he directed a further eleven films for Ealing, becoming one of the studio's most prolific and perhaps most characteristic directors. According to Balcon, Frend, "a man with his roots firmly planted in the soil of this country, was... the ideal man to deal with any subject concerning the traditional English values."

Frend's first major film as a director was The Foreman Went to France in 1942. Working closely with producer Alberto Cavalcanti, Frend employed elements of a true story to create a film that combines humour and drama, and remains a landmark in the development of the documentary-influenced feature film. Furthermore, sequences such as that of the attack on the refugee caravan demonstrate Frend's control of the camera and his cutting-room expertise.

This was followed by the equally accomplished story-documentary film, San Demetrio London (1944), which stands as a lasting tribute to the courage and determination of the men of the British Merchant Navy. This was also the first of Frend's films to concern itself with the representation of a certain type of quiet masculine courage - a theme to which he was to return repeatedly throughout his career.

His other two films of the war years were Return of the Vikings (1944), a propaganda piece made for the Norwegian Government-in-Exile, and Johnny Frenchman (1945), a film emphasising the need for Anglo-French co-operation. Both Frend and Balcon were subsequently honoured for their wartime service to the Norwegian cause with the Knighthood First Class of the Order of St. Olav in 1953.

In 1945 Frend gave a lecture to a BFI Summer School which provides a valuable insight not only into his view of the director's role, but also into the Ealing approach to film-making. "The Director", Frend states, is, in fact, an interpreter, He translates the written word into moving pictures, and this process is not confined to the actual shooting of the film on the studio floor. The method of translation is preconceived in the script and is carried out in the editing just as much as in shooting. It follows that the Director, the man responsible for the interpretation, should be present at all stages of production.

However, this statement is promoted at least as much by pragmatic as authorial concerns. For example, Frend observes that:

There need for the Director to insist on the writer presenting the story in visual terms in the treatment provided it is kept within the bounds of practicability. For example, it would be wise to restrain the writer from setting a wedding scene in St. Peter's, Rome, if the Marylebone registry office will do just as well.

Efficiency and economy, just as much as artistry, were Frend's and Ealing's concerns.

Frend's first post-war film, The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947), was a romantic melodrama set on Romney Marsh. Frend's sympathy for the pastoral English countryside was perfectly matched by Vaughan Williams' magnificent score. As Jeffrey Richards observes, "Frend re-creates the rhythms of farming life...[and]...It is these elements that Vaughan Williams responds to and sees as quintessentially English."

A year later, Frend was to collaborate once more with Vaughan Williams on Scott of the Antarctic (1949). In this film, together with The Cruel Sea (1952), Lease of Life (1954) and The Long Arm (1956), Frend was to create an image of British masculinity through the screen personas of, respectively, John Mills, Jack Hawkins, Robert Donat, and Hawkins again, that defined a generation. In this period, Frend also directed three moderately successful comedies, A Run For Your Money (1949), The Magnet (1950) and Barnacle Bill (1957).

From the 1960s onwards, Frend worked mainly in television, notably on Danger Man (ITV, 1960-61, 1964-69) and Man in a Suitcase (ITV, 1967-68), although he did direct two films for Bryanston in 1961. Cone of Silence (1960) was an airline drama again concerned with issues of integrity and quiet heroism, while Girl on Approval (1961) was a typical social drama of the period. Both films are also informed by Frend's understated liberalism.

Frend's final film was The Sky Bike (1967), made for the Children's Film Foundation, although he ended his long and quietly distinguished career as second unit director on Disney's Guns in the Heather (d. Robert Butler, 1969) and David Lean's Ryan's Daughter (1970).

It is appropriate to leave the last word to his career-long friend and collaborator, Michael Balcon. Writing shortly after Frend's death, Balcon observed that "this broadminded, liberal man without any trace of chauvinism in his outlook nevertheless had a proper pride in Britain and the British people and it is this characteristic which emerges so strongly in all his work."

Martin Hunt, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Cruel Sea, The (1952)Cruel Sea, The (1952)

Distinguished Ealing war film about the inexperienced crew of a naval warship

Thumbnail image of Foreman Went to France, The (1942)Foreman Went to France, The (1942)

Ealing propaganda film about a factory foreman's rescue of vital machinery

Thumbnail image of Loves of Joanna Godden, The (1947)Loves of Joanna Godden, The (1947)

A woman makes her way as a farmer in the face of local scepticism

Thumbnail image of Sabotage (1936)Sabotage (1936)

Dark reworking of Conrad's 'The Secret Agent'

Thumbnail image of San Demetrio London (1943)San Demetrio London (1943)

Inspiring tale of wartime heroism based on a true story

Thumbnail image of Scott of the Antarctic (1948)Scott of the Antarctic (1948)

Lavish recreation of Captain Scott's doomed expedition to the South Pole

Thumbnail image of Secret Agent (1936)Secret Agent (1936)

Hitchcock thriller starring a young John Gielgud

Thumbnail image of Tunnel, The (1935)Tunnel, The (1935)

Flawed but fascinating future vision of a translatlantic tunnel

Thumbnail image of Waltzes From Vienna (1933)Waltzes From Vienna (1933)

Hitchcock musical comedy (!) about the Viennese waltz king Johann Strauss II

Thumbnail image of Young and Innocent (1937)Young and Innocent (1937)

Hitchcock thriller about an innocent man suspected of murder

Thumbnail image of Danger Man (1960-67)Danger Man (1960-67)

TV spy thriller series with Patrick McGoohan as agent John Drake

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Thumbnail image of Who's Who at EalingWho's Who at Ealing

Meet the team at 'the studio with team spirit'

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Thumbnail image of Ealing Studios (1938-59)Ealing Studios (1938-59)

Film Studio, Production Company