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Roy Ward Baker, 1916 - 2010

"Roy Ward Baker, an undersung British filmmaker who directed A Night to Remember, a vivid black-and-white rendering of the sinking of the Titanic revered by history and movie buffs alike, died on Tuesday in London. He was 93." Bruce Weber in the New York Times: "Technically deft and stylistically without affect, Mr Baker was trained in the classic, collaborative style of studio filmmaking, working for studios in England and the United States. His career included serving as an assistant director to Alfred Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes in 1938; directing Marilyn Monroe in an early starring role, as an emotionally unstable baby sitter in a noir drama, Don't Bother to Knock (1952), with Richard Widmark and Anne Bancroft; and later making kitschy horror flicks and directing episodes of television shows like The Avengers and The Saint."

"Although Baker claimed that he detested The Singer not the Song (1960), which was set in Mexico and featured a leather clad Dirk Bogarde as a Mexican bandit and John Mills as a Catholic priest, the film has subsequently acquired cult status," writes Margaret Butler for screenonline. "Flame in the Streets (1961), adapted from Ted Willis's play, was one of the first films to deal with racial issues.... In 1967 he made Quatermass and the Pit for Hammer, the first of several films he made for the studio, including The Anniversary (1967), an entertaining black comedy with Bette Davis as a one-eyed malevolent matriarch; the 'space Western,' Moon Zero Two (1969); the sexually explicit The Vampire Lovers (1970), and the effectively chilling Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde (1971). Roy Baker makes no claims to being an auteur and firmly rejects the idea that the audience should be aware of the director. However, his aptitude for creating claustrophobic atmospheres and a sense of isolation show a talent beyond mere competence, and several of his films might be included among the best dramas of the post-war years."

The Self-Styled Siren on A Night to Remember: "Less is more, Baker seems to have decided, and with few exceptions he lets the events milk emotions for him. The Siren particularly admires the simply shot scene where the boat's designer, Thomas Andrews, scribbles some calculations and says quietly, 'She should live another hour and a half. Yes. About that, I should think.' Baker went on to make a number of Hammer horror films, but never filmed a moment more full of dread than that one."

"A Night to Remember brought the best of Britain's fact-based war culture into the late 50s," Michael Sragow has written for Criterion. "The moviemakers give their period piece the immediacy of a docudrama and in so doing pierce through popular misconceptions.... A Night to Remember has a plainspoken complexity. It emphasizes that laxness, snobbery, and hubris coexisted with discipline and courage on a night when 705 were saved and roughly 1500 lost. The film allows you to be infuriated by any number of screw-ups and oversights, including the neglect of steerage passengers, yet still be awestruck by the crisp judgment of the ship's captain (Laurence Naismith), second officer (Kenneth More), and builder (Michael Goodliffe). In the midst of mayhem, Mrs Isidor Straus spurns a seat in a lifeboat so she can spend the remainder of her life with her husband, and a gentleman tells his wife and three children to go on and not worry, because he'll follow soon (he knows he won't; there aren't enough boats). This film... captures the final gasp of high-society chivalry."

See also Mondo Esoterica and Wikipedia.

Update, 10/9: "It was a rather quirky career for a very straightforward man," notes Ronald Bergan in the Guardian. "In later years, Baker was amused by the notion that his eclectic output could put him in the auteur category, as some film critics have tended to do. 'I wasn't a show-off director like Hitchcock. I paid the price for not putting myself about more, for not making myself more famous. I don't give a damn now.'"

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