"Ronald Neame, a prominent figure in the British film industry whose long and varied career included producing the 1940s classics Great Expectations and Oliver Twist and directing films such as The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and The Poseidon Adventure, has died," reports Dennis McLellan for the Los Angeles Times. "He was 99."
He "began as an assistant cameraman on Alfred Hitchcock's first sound film [Blackmail, 1929] before going on to photograph, produce and direct more than 70 films," writes Douglas Martin for the New York Times. "Mr Neame, born 15 years after the first motion picture show in Paris, embodied much of movie history, particularly the more sophisticated British version. His mother was a silent film star, his father was an early director, and he himself went to work at a famous British studio, Elstree, at 16. A leading cinematographer by 30, Mr Neame teamed up with Noël Coward and the director David Lean to make well-regarded pictures like Blithe Spirit (1945). As a writer, Mr Neame received one of his three Oscar nominations for Brief Encounter (1945), again working with Mr Lean and Mr Coward as well as the producer and writer Anthony Havelock-Allan, and another for Great Expectations (1946), by the same team."
"Neame's first success as director was the amiable comedy The Card (1952), adapted from the novel by Arnold Bennett," writes the Telegraph. "Alec Guinness was charming as the bright young clerk on the make, and the whole was distinguished by excellent production values. Tunes of Glory (1956) – Neame's personal favourite — focused on personal rivalries within a fictional Highland regiment after the Second World War. John Mills played a new, authoritarian CO, and Alec Guinness — cast against type — gave an exceptional performance as his lax, hard-drinking predecessor.... The Horse's Mouth (1959) was notable for another beguiling performance from Guinness.... As a director, Neame considered himself old-fashioned and a technician, and said that he never sought a high profile, personally or in his work: 'I was brought up in a school in which it was an unwritten law that there was no camera,' he recalled. 'You gave the actors everything you could to let them develop their characters. Now directors draw attention to themselves, which I find reprehensible; I want to draw attention to the actor.'"
"'Poseidon was an astonishing success and I still don't really know why,'" the BBC's Peter Bowes quotes Neame as saying. "'The sad thing is that I will be remembered for having directed The Poseidon Adventure and I think that's a great pity because there are four other films that I much preferred. But it is The Poseidon Adventure that will go down in film history as Ronald Neame's disaster,' he laughed. Ronnie believed his best work as a director was on Tunes of Glory, The Horse's Mouth, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and Scrooge, the musical with Albert Finney."
"Neame's detailed visual style has proved successful for a range of film types, from thrillers to melodramas," writes Chris Routledge for Film Reference. "But it is in gentle comedies, such as The Million Pound Note, an adaptation of a Mark Twain story in which Gregory Peck struggles to spend the large denomination banknote of the title, that his direction seems most comfortable.... From his beginnings running errands, to his retirement with a knighthood as a grand old man of British cinema, Ronald Neame has played a part in most aspects of the filmmaking process. With a history that spans a century of cinema, the Neame family business continues with his son, Christopher, who works as a film producer."
See also the biography at BFI's screenonline, linking to its articles on several of Neame's films.
Updates, 6/19: He "deserved more far more credit than he received for such light and bright entertainments as Gambit (a cheeky 1966 caper with Michael Caine and Shirley MacLaine that, unfortunately, people keep threatening to remake), Prudence and the Pill (1968) and Hopscotch (1980)," argues Joe Leydon, who then recalls meeting Neame around 25 years ago.
For Glenn Kenny, Neame's two best films are The Horse's Mouth and Hopscotch: "The against-the-grain heroes of those pictures — dyspeptic wastrel painter Gulley Jimson in Mouth, looking-to-get-out covert CIA agent Miles Kendig in Hopscotch, immortal portrayals by Alec Guinness and Walter Matthau respectively — suggest that Neame had an especial feel for outside men, but by the same token, one oneself doesn't get handed assignments such as The Poseidon Adventure by going too determinedly against the grain. Neame described himself as 'just a reasonably good director,' but the above-cited films give an exemplary, and to some I imagine sobering, perspective on just how good 'reasonably good' used to be."
More from Andre Soares at the Alt Film Guide.
Update, 6/20: "Neame survived the mood swings of Judy Garland during the making of her last film, I Could Go On Singing (1963), which was almost a parody of her own life, but still captured the frenetic feel of her stage performances." Ronald Bergan for the Guardian: "Neame recalled that, in one sequence, 'Suddenly, Judy had become the real Judy. It was no longer acting, and it was absolutely wonderful. She bared her heart ... Whilst we were shooting, I thought, "My God, what am I going to do?" Because this was a one-time thing. So I kept the camera running right through the whole six minutes, and everybody on the set was in tears when we said cut. I said, "That's it. We'll never ever get that again."'"
Update, 6/25: Dennis Cozzalio's favorite of Neame's films, "even more than The Poseidon Adventure, which seeded my ever-growing interest in the movies, or Tunes of Glory, is a less-well-remembered gem of stiff-upper-lip British wartime cinema starring Clifton Webb, Gloria Grahame, Laurence Naismith, Cyril Cusack, André Morell and Stephen Boyd called The Man Who Never Was (1956).... In many ways Neame's unassuming style as employed in The Man Who Never Was is as good an example of a strong storytelling hand as there is in British cinema of the period."
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