Clive Donner, 1926 - 2010

David Hudson


"Clive Donner, who helped launch the careers of actors such as Sir Ian McKellen and Alan Bates, has died at the age of 84," reports the BBC. "He was best known for a series of 1960s films including Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush and What's New Pussycat," which, "released in 1965, featured Peter Sellers, Peter O'Toole, Woody Allen and Ursula Andress in the leading roles. Allen also wrote the screenplay, while Burt Bacharach composed the music."

The BFI's screenonline has a fine biography; let's pick it up in the early 60s, when he's just had a surprise box office hit, Some People (1962). "Despite this success Donner was unable to find a backer for a film version of The Caretaker (1963 [clip above]), written by his friend Harold Pinter, but a private consortium, headed by Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Noël Coward and Peter Sellers, agreed to put up a minimum of £1000 each. The film starred Alan Bates and Donald Pleasence, who had created the roles on stage, and it won the Silver Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Shot in atmospheric black and white by Nicolas Roeg and imaginatively directed by Donner on a claustrophobic, mainly one room set, the film is striking. Donner deploys a non-musical soundtrack, close-ups and two-shots to unsettling and menacing effect.... At the height of his fame, in the 1960s, Donner was spoken of as Britain's answer to Vincente Minnelli. In later years this elegant filmmaker never enjoyed the big screen success which might have enabled him to take on more personal projects, though in his last film, Stealing Heaven (UK/Yugoslavia, 1988), he returned to the Middle Ages to tell the story of doomed twelfth century lovers Abelard and Heloise."

"Nothing But the Best [1964], written by Frederic Raphael, starred Bates as an opportunistic young clerk who wants to crash into the upper classes," writes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "He is taught by Denholm Elliott, a down-at-heel gent, to pass himself off as a toff. Shot in bright colours by Roeg, the film captures the 60s' shallow glitter.... Rogue Male (1976), a remake of Fritz Lang's Man Hunt (1941), was one of Donner's best, and his favourite. Well-paced and well-written, again by Raphael, it starred O'Toole as an aristocrat who plans to assassinate Hitler before war becomes inevitable."

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