Friday 22 December 2017

Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly (1970)

Director: Freddie Francis
Writers: Brian Comport, based on the play, Happy Family, by Maisie Mosco
Stars: Michael Bryant, Ursula Howells, Pat Heywood, Howard Trevor and Vanessa Howard

Index: 2017 Centennials.

I’ve enjoyed Freddie Francis movies for almost as long as I can remember and I’d be rather surprised if you can’t honestly say the same thing. He won two Oscars for his cinematography, almost thirty years apart: the first for Sons and Lovers in 1961 and a second for Glory in 1990. He was also nominated for awards for shooting such notable pictures as The Elephant Man, The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The Straight Story, some of which he won; he also shot Room at the Top, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, The Innocents, The Executioner’s Song, Dune, Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear and even Princess Caraboo. I don’t remember him primarily for any of those films, though, or indeed for his cinematography. I know him best for his films as a director, working mostly in the horror genre for the legendary British studios Hammer and Amicus. I used to watch those movies late at night on my sister’s tiny television, titles like The Evil of Frankenstein, The Skull and Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors, and they helped to shape my life.

While it’s hardly unusual for a cinematographer or other prominent member of the crew to eventually progress up to director, a road that many editors seem to be taking nowadays, Francis continued both sides of his career mostly simultaneously, working as a DP from 1956 to 1999 and as a director from 1962 to 1989. That’s not to say that he didn’t progress. His career in film began as a stills photographer, working for Associated Talking Pictures, the studio that later became Ealing. He rose through the sort of jobs that film fans generally don’t recognise, like clapper boy, camera loader and focus puller. World War II inevitably interrupted that, but seven years doing anything that was needed to make training films for the Army Kinematograph Service gave him a fantastic education on how motion pictures were made. He became a camera operator, working for Powell & Pressburger, John Huston and others on films like The Tales of Hoffmann, Moulin Rouge and Moby Dick, and eventually a cinematographer and a director.