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Author: Brian Mcfarlane

Lance Comfort began to work in films between the age of 17 and 19, more or less growing up with the cinema. When he came to make 'B' films in the 1950s and 1960s, his wide-ranging expertise enabled him to deal efficiently with the constraints of tight budgets and schedules. He was astute at juggling several concurrent plot strands, his prescient anticipation of postwar disaffection, the invoking of film noir techniques to articulate the dilemma of the tormented protagonist. Comfort's reputation as a features director seemed to be made when Hatter's Castle, made by Paramount's British operation, opened at the Plaza, Piccadilly Circus, after a well-publicised charity première attended by the Duchess of Kent and luminaries such as Noel Coward. He had been in the film business for twenty years when, in 1946, he directed Margaret Lockwood in Bedelia. Comfort is not the only director who enjoyed his greatest prestige in the 1940s and drifted into providing fodder for the bottom half of the double-bill in the ensuing decades. There were six intervening films, justifying the journalist who described him in early 1943 as the Busiest British film director. Great Day, Portrait of Clare, Temptation Harbour, Bedelia, Daughter of Darkness, and Silent Dust were his six melodramas. He was an unpretentious craftsman who was also at best an artist, and in exploring his career trajectory, the viewer is rewarded by the spectacle of one who responded resiliently to the challenges of a volatile industry.

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Six melodramas
Brian Mcfarlane

lacks. His obsession with the past, with his past in particular, is shown to cause nothing but heartache for his wife, his daughter and himself; in this way, he recalls James Brodie in Hatter’s Castle and anticipates such later obsessives as Robert Rawley in Silent Dust. Much of the strength of this aspect of the film is concentrated in Eric Portman’s finely wrought performance. Though it might be

in Lance Comfort
Brian Mcfarlane

film-makers (Charles Frank’s Uncle Silas, 1947, Lewis Allen’s So Evil My Love and Marc Allegret’s Blanche Fury, both 1948), all at least as accomplished as the Gainsborough films, failed to find critical or commercial favour. Further, Comfort’s melodramas, including Temptation Harbour (1947), Daughter of Darkness (1948), Silent Dust (1949) and Portrait of Clare (1950), were all perhaps too sombre for popular

in Lance Comfort
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Brian Mcfarlane

the ‘silent dust’. 4 The truth is that his directorial oeuvre of nearly forty films reveals an attractive talent and a more than competent craftsman, who can legitimately make claims on our serious attention. His greatest strength, revealed in his first major success, Hatter’s Castle, was for the mode of melodrama in full cry: he – and his collaborators – took A. J. Cronin’s tiresomely downbeat, bogusly ‘realistic’ novel

in Lance Comfort
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Robert Murphy

against type). Even at their worst, these are men who command a degree of sympathy. There are others whom the war has turned into irredeemable rogues. The most notable examples are Nigel Patrick’s Simon Rawley in Silent Dust (1949) and David Farrar’s Bill Glennon in Cage of Gold (1950). Rawley is supposed to be a dead hero, revered by his blind father who plans to erect a monument in his honour. In fact he

in European film noir
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Filming in the 1950s and 60s
Brian Mcfarlane

running across a hillside field at night after the wounded Joe, the film dissolves to early morning with a long overhead shot of a village with a church whose bells begin to peal: the effect is one of those ironic pastoral touches found in such ‘A’ films as Great Day and The Silent Dust, in which the pastoral serenity of setting seems to mock the reality of human strife. These are journeyman films but Comfort always moves

in Lance Comfort
Brian McFarlane and Deane Williams

British noir , precedents for this plot-opener are found in such films as Robert Hamer’s It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), and, overlaid with post-war malaise, in Lance Comfort’s Silent Dust (1948) and Cavalcanti’s They Made Me a Fugitive (1948), or Terence Fisher’s symptomatically titled The Stranger Came Home (1954). In terms of beautiful women who use their sexuality to ambivalent ends, Rachel Weisz’s Helen is a

in Michael Winterbottom
‘A tale of two cads’
Andrew Roberts

1956) is a virtual encapsulation of the post-war remittance man par excellence, fulminating about ‘the mem-sahib’ and flaunting a Jaguar XK140 that was probably borrowed for the occasion. Penelope Gilliatt remarked on ‘the appalling cheerfulness’ ( 1973 : 172) of a Terry-Thomas screen character and they were often the comic version of the displaced wartime officer from Nigel Patrick’s deserter in Silent Dust (Lance Comfort 1949) to the desperate Freddie Page in The Deep Blue Sea . The immaculate exterior almost always remained the same, 2 but Thomas could

in Idols of the Odeons