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Holt, Seth (1924-1971)

Director, Producer, Editor

Main image of Holt, Seth (1924-1971)

Seth Holt was born in Palestine to British parents, and educated at Blackheath School in South London. He spent a term at RADA in 1940 before acting with repertory companies in Liverpool and Bideford, Devon. In 1942 he joined a documentary film company, Strand, as assistant editor and then, at the invitation of his brother-in-law Robert Hamer, moved to Ealing. "In some ways features were a step back," he later commented, explaining, "One was much nearer the movie makers in documentary but in features you might be the fifth assistant cutter's nark."

Over the next fifteen years Holt moved steadily up the Ealing hierarchy. Among the films he worked on as assistant editor were Champagne Charlie (d. Alberto Cavalcanti, 1944), Scott of the Antarctic (d. Charles Frend, 1948) - where he also featured as 'the voice of the Blizzard' on the soundtrack - and Passport to Pimlico (d. Henry Cornelius, 1949). Graduating to editor, he cut (among others) The Lavender Hill Mob (d. Charles Crichton, 1951) and Mandy (d. Alexander Mackendrick, 1952), before becoming associate producer on Mackendrick's The Ladykillers (d .1955).

At last Holt was poised to realise his ambition and direct. But Ealing was now in its dying days, camped in a corner of the MGM studios at Borehamwood, and Holt directed only one film for the company before it folded. Nowhere To Go (1958), which he intended as "the least 'Ealing' Ealing film ever made", was also the only Ealing film scripted by Kenneth Tynan during his brief, uneasy stint as the company's Script Editor. A coolly downbeat crime thriller, it aimed - according to Holt - "for a certain kind of stylishness in the dialogue which doesn't quite come off'.' It also suffered from having 15 minutes excised by MGM to fit it into a double-bill. But it showed that Holt could bring a flavour and style of his own to genre material.

The same was true of Taste of Fear (1961), a psychological thriller made for Hammer with more than a nod to Les Diaboliques (France, d. Henri-Georges Clouzot, 1954). Station Six Sahara (1962), which involved five men at an isolated desert outpost panting after Carroll Baker, Holt regarded as "a sort of dirty film really but (with) something in it that was quite interesting.". Back at Hammer, The Nanny (1965) was a taut piece of grand guignol starring Bette Davis as the ambivalent domestic; Davis paid tribute to Holt as "the most ruthless director I've ever worked with outside of William Wyler".

Holt was by now recognised - especially by Movie magazine - as one of the finest talents working in the British film industry, but it was clear that none of his films so far had used more than a fraction of his talent. Holt set up his own company, Holtmallinson Productions, to develop more ambitious material. But none of his projects - a film about Bakunin, an adaptation of David Garnett's Lady into Fox, a modern reworking of Middleton's Women Beware Women - came to fruition. Monsieur Lecoq, a comedy policier starring Zero Mostel, was shut down by Columbia midway through production.

Holt's last completed feature was Danger Route (1967), a sub-Bondian spy thriller. Good performances from Richard Johnson and Diana Dors make it more watchable than one might expect from Holt's dismissal of it as "dreadful.... I needed the bread.". But the film's non sequiturs and underdeveloped subplots indicate that he had little control over it. He was slated to direct If... (1968), which he had helped develop, but illness and heavy drinking had weakened his morale and he handed over to Lindsay Anderson. He returned to Hammer to direct Blood from the Mummy's Tomb (1971), adapted from Bram Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars, and died a week from the end of shooting, aged only 48. The picture was completed by Michael Carreras.

Cameron, Ian et al, 'Interview with Seth Holt', Film Dope n. 25, Nov. 1982
Gough-Yates, Kevin, 'Interview with Seth Holt', Screen v. 10 n. 6, Nov/Dec 1969
Hutchinson, Tom, 'Daddy of the mummy scene', Guardian, 18 Jan. 1971
Pirie, David, A Heritage of Horror: The English Gothic Cinema 1946-1972 (London: Gordon Fraser 1973)
Waymark, Peter, 'A master that might have been', The Times, 8 Dec. 1984.

Philip Kemp, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Champagne Charlie (1944)Champagne Charlie (1944)

Lively recreation of the bawdy atmosphere of Victorian music-halls

Thumbnail image of Ladykillers, The (1955)Ladykillers, The (1955)

A gang of ruthless criminals meet their match in the elderly Mrs Wilberforce

Thumbnail image of Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)Lavender Hill Mob, The (1951)

A group of eccentric Londoners plot the perfect crime

Thumbnail image of Mandy (1952)Mandy (1952)

Powerful portrait of a family struggling to cope with a deaf child

Thumbnail image of Nanny, The (1965)Nanny, The (1965)

Hammer chiller which suggests that nanny doesn't always know best

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

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Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Hammer Film ProductionsHammer Film Productions

Production Company

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

Film Studio, Production Company