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Clive Donner, 1926 - 2010


"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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A memorial site was created for Clive Donner! Honor his memory by contributing to his memorial site
Clive Donner sparkled with culture, intelligence and wit and was a good and treasured friend, who has been missed since the onset of his Alzheimer’s. We met during ALFRED THE GREAT, when as an MGM publicist, I asked to be assigned to ALFRED as it was one of the few films MGM was making with any director of consequence. We met during filming in Ireland and worked closely on the US release. ALFRED suffered from the market antagonism against big-budget studio spectacles but remains a beautifully crafted period piece with that rarity — battle sequences one can easily follow through Donner’s staging and the costumes of the provocative designer, Jocelyn Rickards who effectively color-coordinated the dark wardrobes of the Saxons and the Vikings. Clive and Jocelyn married shortly thereafter and their devotion was palpable. We would speak and write frequently and spend time together when I was in England. In his later years, he was particularly pleased that Woody Allen’s first call in England was inviting him to the set of MATCH POINT, where he reversed his antipathy to Donner’s biggest hit, WHAT’S NEW PUSSYCAT?, which Allen had written, had recently viewed again and found to his liking. Clive was also touched that Stephen Frears asked him to lunch and that ROGUE MALE, one of his favorite films, had been rediscovered at the Telluride Film Festival. We last met at the National Theatre after Malcolm McDowell’s platform performance of NEVER APOLOGIZE, his one-man tour-de-force about Lindsay Anderson, which I directed and later filmed. Clive was very enthusiastic and offered some perceptive notes about the lighting. I adapted them for the film, one of its highlights being a re-enactment of an inebriated luncheon at the Donners, where Lindsay baited and taunted the always amiable Alan Bates, their mutual friend, who exploded and left in a storm., A great regret was that Clive was no longer able to see the completed film. As for ALFRED THE GREAT, it may be one of my guilty pleasures and the attempt to re-position it toward the " 60’s youth audience" with the slogan, ’He marched to the tune of a different drum," was belated and never gained sufficient traction, but occasionally I hear reports of people who discover its virtues and I would love to see David Hemmings and Michael York tear across the screen again in its original 70MM. presentation. The last time I spoke to Clive was after hearing a late night BBC News re-broadcast of an extended interview with Alistair Cooke. Cooke recounted seeing every film of A CHRISTMAS CAROL since the 1920’s and the best version was Clive Donner’s, with what Cooke reported was George C. Scott’s favorite performance. Clive was happy to hear the praise but was more interested, as always, in my news. Mike Kaplan Caldwell, Idaho

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