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.
The period of Lance Comfort’s
most sustained achievement, when he comes nearest to being (in
Bourdieu’s term) an autonomous cultural producer, begins with Great
Day in 1945 and cuts off sharply with the commercial failure of
Portrait of Clare in 1950. These two and the four intervening films
– Bedelia ( 1946 ), Temptation
Harbour (1947), DaughterofDarkness (1948), and Silent
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),
DaughterofDarkness (1948), Silent Dust (1949) and
Portrait of Clare (1950), were all perhaps too sombre for popular
avoids debasing heterosexual power
Pam Keesey’s edited collection of lesbian vampire
tales DaughtersofDarkness (1993) establishes a lesbian literary
history where ‘the lines between sexuality and violence become
blurred’ – an idea that is pivotal to Pat Califia’s
groundbreaking lesbian S&M, ‘The Vampire’. 37 Wasp-waisted,
blonde Iduna, whose ‘complexion
close to the legal wind, is treated sympathetically by director Comfort. As
in his major films, his sympathies are for life’s victims, even when
their own weakness helps to expose them to danger. One recalls Captain Ellis
in Great Day, Emmy Baudine in DaughterofDarkness, Mallinson
in Temptation Harbour, whatever wrong they do, they are in some sense
victims, albeit of their own natures. None of the five in the second
Max Greene/Mutz Greenbaum, all
have noirish qualities. Comfort went on to direct DaughterofDarkness (1948) and Silent Dust , and in the 1950s a number of
proficient B film noirs, most notably Bang! You’re Dead
(1954). See Brian McFarlane, Lance Comfort (Manchester:
Manchester University Press, 1999).
omnivorous paracinephiliac cultures. Kyrou’s The Monk ( Le Moine , 1972), Harry Kümel’s vampire film DaughtersofDarkness ( Les Lèvres rouges , 1971), with a script by former surrealist Jean Ferry, and Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain ( La montaña sagrada , 1973) embrace excess, champion bad taste, and bend genre tropes in ways that seem designed to speak to these contexts; Jodorowsky’s El Topo (1970) was indeed the first midnight movie in New York. Surrealist critics have also made a more far-reaching mark on film history by coining the influential term ‘film noir
Hammer also underwent a change of ownership
at this time.
The increasing permissiveness of British
film censorship was another factor in this.
J. Sheridan LeFanu, Best Ghost
Stories (New York: Dover, 1964), 289.
‘DaughtersofDarkness: The Lesbian Vampire on
Film’, in Barry K. Grant (ed.), Planks of Reason:
Featuring more than 6,500 articles, including over 350 new entries, this fifth edition of The Encyclopedia of British Film is an invaluable reference guide to the British film industry. It is the most authoritative volume yet, stretching from the inception of the industry to the present day, with detailed listings of the producers, directors, actors and studios behind a century or so of great British cinema. Brian McFarlane's meticulously researched guide is the definitive companion for anyone interested in the world of film. Previous editions have sold many thousands of copies, and this fifth instalment will be an essential work of reference for universities, libraries and enthusiasts of British cinema.