Browse

Abstract only
‘Mr Grimsdale!’
Andrew Roberts

The mainstream British film career of Norman Wisdom lasted from 1953 to 1966, during which time he was a box office success and frequently a figure of critical derision. This chapter details the origins of his stage and screen character ‘the gump’ and how Wisdom’s talents came to be overlooked by the critical Establishment of the day. It further examines the comedian’s need for a straight man for his pictures to succeed and how Wisdom’s routines, with their roots in Victorian music hall, also needed to function within the context of a rigidly hierarchical society. The chapter concludes with his most atypical work for William Friedkin and Stephen Frears.

in Idols of the Odeons
Britain’s ‘bad blonde’
Andrew Roberts

After reflecting on the screen and television image of Diana Dors towards the end of her career, this chapter goes on to contend that her dramatic abilities were visible from the outset of her film career. In addition to a discussion of the limitations of the Rank Organisation and the British film industry when confronted by such an individual talent, there is a further examination of attitudes towards female sexuality during the 1950s. Yield to the Night is evaluated as a key film in both Dors’s career and prurient societal attitudes towards those film stars who apparently revelled in their publicity. The latter section of the chapter describes how Diana Dors created some memorable performances amid some of the worst efforts of exploitation in the film industry.

in Idols of the Odeons
Abstract only
The ‘actor’s actor’?
Andrew Roberts

An account of how Peter Finch’s ability to create not just a character but his past and his fears was partially developed in the British film industry of the 1950s and 1960s in both comedy and drama. The actor may have gained a posthumous Oscar for Network, but this chapter contends that his talents were more subtly employed by Ralph Thomas in No Love for Johnnie, made towards the end of his contract with the Rank Organisation, and John Schlesinger in Sunday Bloody Sunday. The chapter ends with an appraisal of The Pumpkin Eater, in which Finch gives one of his most nuanced performances.

in Idols of the Odeons
Abstract only
‘There used to be a me, but I had him surgically removed’
Andrew Roberts

The final profile makes the argument that at his finest, Peter Sellers had few equals in his portrayals of the vulnerable, the lonely and those desperate to maintain a social facade. His star character roles for British cinema in the eight years following The Ladykillers are remarkable for their diversity and their insight. A move to ‘international productions’ by the mid-1960s, combined with the actor’s health issues, resulted in a coarsening of his work, not least the self-indulgence of Casino Royale. His penultimate film Being There was yet another demonstration of the fallibility of the Academy Awards and the chapter ends with the contention that Sellers’s finest work was in Heaven’s Above!

in Idols of the Odeons
Abstract only
Jo’burg’s favourite cockney
Andrew Roberts

By the time of his death. Sidney James was an almost instantly recognisable figure yet his image as a ‘jovial cockney’ was only one aspect of his career. Within two years of his arrival in the UK from South Africa, James was cast by the Archers in The Small Back Room, establishing his career as one of British cinema’s most versatile character players. A supporting role in Ealing’s The Lavender Hill Mob resulted in his being cast in Hancock’s Half Hour and by 1959 Tony Hancock and Sidney James were regarded by many of their audience as an unofficial double act. Finally, James’s work in the Carry On films is considered with reference to his becoming regarded as a British ‘icon’.

in Idols of the Odeons
Abstract only
The British Brando?
Andrew Roberts

The chapter details how Stanley Baker differed from most British screen villains of the 1950s and depictions of working-class characters. The Cruel Sea established the actor as a cinematic anti-hero of note but a contract with the Rank Organisation offered typecasting. Hell Drivers marked a change in role to flawed hero and Baker’s work for Val Guest consolidated his appeal as the authority figure and self-doubting ‘tough guy’ with Hell Is a City and Yesterday’s Enemy. During the 1960s Baker worked as an independent producer while his collaborations with Joseph Losey – in particular Eva and Accident – were deconstructions of the masculine screen identity. The last ten years of Baker’s career were marked by a succession of B-films but also intriguing character performances for Michael Winner and on television.

in Idols of the Odeons
Abstract only
Never your typical ‘nice blonde’
Andrew Roberts

This chapter focuses on the film career of Sylvia Syms between 1956 and 1969 and how her innate talent allowed her to escape the gender stereotyping that was inherent within the British studio system. Syms’s early films saw ABPC cast her a safely prim female lead – the ‘nice blonde’ whose typical duty was to look safely decorative. However, Syms’s work with J. Lee Thompson, especially Woman in a Dressing Gown and Ice Cold in Alex, allowed her to transcend Elstree’s concept of her screen persona. The first half of the 1960s was marked by some of her finest work for British cinema – The Punch and Judy Man and two diverse explorations of sexual and gender politics – Victim and The World Ten Times Over.

in Idols of the Odeons
‘A tale of two cads’
Andrew Roberts

The chapter offers a description of the form and function of the cad in British popular culture and his post-war incarnation as the former ‘temporary gentleman’. The diverse approaches to Terry-Thomas and Leslie Phillips are discussed, together with their rise to stardom. With the former, Major Hitchcock of the Boulting brothers’ Private’s Progress was a one-man deconstruction of the narrative of Second World War heroism. Phillips achieved film stardom courtesy of Peter Rogers/Gerald Thomas comedies and, subsequently, the Betty Box/Ralph Thomas Doctor series. As memoires of the Second World War began to rescind, the chapter ends with a discussion of how Phillips made the conscious decision to change his screen image and how illness prevented Thomas from accepting the role of Prospero in Derek Jarman’s version of The Tempest.

in Idols of the Odeons
Hollywood, Christians and the American Culture Wars
Karen Patricia Heath

Mel Gibson’s controversial biblical epic, The Passion of the Christ (2004), failed to secure funding from a major studio, but still managed to turn significant profits (over $83 million just on the opening weekend against a production budget of $30 million). So too have auterist projects such as Darren Aronfsky’s Noah (2014) and Ridley Scott’s Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014) continued this religious run on the box office, as did Kevin Reynolds’ Risen (2016). In contrast, Timur Bekmambetov’s Ben-Hur (2016) bombed (as of early 2018, worldwide grosses have still yet to recoup a production budget of some $100 million). This chapter argues that there remains considerable life in the modern biblical epic, and that these films are generally most successful in bringing old stories to new audiences in the twenty-first-century cultural marketplace. But although such works enjoy a built-in Christian fan-base, this demographic alone is not enough to guarantee box office success. To turn a significant profit, the modern biblical epic also needs to court as much controversy as possible, and thereby capture the attention of the mainstream Hollywood audience, i.e. secular viewers at home and abroad.

in The Bible onscreen in the new millennium
Abstract only
Soft stardom, melodrama and the critique of epic masculinity in Ben-Hur (2016)
Thomas J. West III

In this chapter, I argue that the 2016 Ben-Hur uses the template of its earlier iterations in conjunction with its reliance on a gentler type of epic heroic star to explore a new understanding of Christian masculinity. Gone is the hardness and inflexibility of Heston and Boyd, replaced with a softer, more beautiful Judah and a far more emotively rich Messala. Thus, this iteration of the story of the Jewish prince who learns Christian grace and forgiveness is a critique not just of its 1959 predecessor but also of the millennial cycle of epic films – Gladiator, Troy, 300 – and their attendant hard-bodied heroes. Rather than relying on a sort of Cold War/War on Terror brutal masculinity, this new Ben-Hur argues for a full embrace of an emotional, almost sentimental, form of Christian masculinity.

in The Bible onscreen in the new millennium