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Huntington, Lawrence (1900-1968)

Director, Producer, Writer

Main image of Huntington, Lawrence (1900-1968)

In a 1950 press release, production company Associated British Pictures (ABPC) described director Lawrence Huntington as 'workmanlike', which might seem like damning with faint praise. However, the studio qualified its use of the word, explaining that directors like him were crucial if the British film industry was to survive the crisis it was in, since he was able to "combine quality with economic plan". Huntington's film career had already peaked, with a string of high profile feature films in the late 1940s including Night Boat to Dublin (1946), When the Bough Breaks (1947) and, perhaps his best work, Mr Perrin and Mr Traill (1948).

Born in London in 1900, Huntington embarked on his directing career just as sound films took over from silents. His very first credit, however, was a silent feature, which he produced, directed and edited himself over a period of four years. It was picked up for release by MGM in 1930 and given the (somewhat ironic) title After Many Years. The sale led to a directing contract with MGM, but it was another four years until he made his next feature. Huntington worked solidly throughout the remainder of the decade, making low budget, fairly average comedies and dramas. 1936 was particularly productive: one of five films he released that year, Full Speed Ahead, which he also wrote and produced, is an exciting tale of shady goings-on aboard a steamship, and typical of his output.

But it was during the 1940s that Huntington's career really flourished. In 1941 he directed the crime feature This Man is Dangerous, in which James Mason stars as detective Mick Cardby, hero of a series of popular novels by British mystery writer David Hume. The film won enthusiastic reviews and marked a turning point in Huntington's career, leading to a contract with ABPC. His first film for the studio was The Tower of Terror (1941), a spy story featuring Wilfrid Lawson as a half-mad lighthouse keeper.

Spies featured heavily in his wartime and postwar productions, from 1942's Women Aren't Angels to 1946's Night Boat to Dublin, but 1947 saw a change of studio and a change of tack. That year's The Upturned Glass was made for Gainsborough and saw Huntington reunited with James Mason for a psychological drama co-scripted by Mason's wife Pamela Kellino. Next came When the Bough Breaks, a controversial social drama about bigamy and adoption starring Patricia Roc. The following year's Mr Perrin and Mr Traill was a Two Cities film notable for a fine performance from Marius Goring as a schoolmaster who finds himself supplanted in the popularity stakes by a new colleague.

Into the 1950s, Huntington went back to scripting most of his films, as well as some for other directors, but, despite success with the Josephine Tey adaptation The Franchise Affair (1950) his film career had more or less dried up by 1953. As many directors did, he turned to television, working on series' such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents (US, 1953-57) and Errol Flynn Theatre (ITV, 1956-57) before returning to the big screen in the early 1960s. His work during that decade was unremarkable and the last film he directed was a minor horror, The Vulture (1967). He died in London the following year.

Huntington is one of several British directors who are all but forgotten today but who played a valuable role in the British film industry during the middle of the 20th century. Perhaps more a writer than a director, he was praised by some critics for his skill with actors, although Muriel Pavlow, star of Night Boat to Dublin, recalled that he was not particularly attuned to the emotional side of her scenes. Both she and production secretary Renée Glynne describe a witty and well-liked man, who went wherever the work was - a jobbing director who made a decent living and left behind some fine examples of postwar British social drama.

Jo Botting

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