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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.

Brian Mcfarlane

Few film directors can have had a more varied experience of their trade than Lance Comfort. Fortunately this is not a biographical study since so many of the documents that might have shed light on his earlier years have been lost. According to his son John, in moving into a smaller flat in the years just before his death, Comfort destroyed virtually all his papers, consigning a press cuttings book (the

in Lance Comfort
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Brian Mcfarlane

The answer to the question with which this study opened, ‘Why Lance Comfort?’ has, I hope, emerged during the preceding chapters. Apart from the purely personal matter of liking his films, I hope also to have shown other reasons for wanting to write about him. First, he has been shamefully neglected in the standard histories of British cinema, which have tended to be dominated by the work of major

in Lance Comfort
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Where to, now?
Brian Mcfarlane

By the end of the 1940s, Lance Comfort had established a solid record of achievement in ‘A’ features, primarily in the melodramatic mode. He had shown a gift for pacy, fluent storytelling, for visual flair that complemented his dealings with colourful, obsessive protagonists, for the integration of some impressive talents across a range of film-making skills, and for eliciting memorable performances

in Lance Comfort
Brian Mcfarlane

from the earlier film, especially Eric Portman and Ann Dvorak in the leading roles. This time the role of the spy flying under false colours of several hues is played by Dvorak (living in England at the time while her British-born husband, Leslie Fenton, was serving in the Navy). If for no other reason, one would like to see the film to sort out the director’s credit: it is variously ascribed to Lance Comfort (in most of the

in Lance Comfort
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Hatter’s Castle
Brian Mcfarlane

It was probably just as well for Lance Comfort’s career that production on Hatter’s Castle was well under way before his first feature, Penn of Pennsylvania, was released. Filming on Hatter’s Castle began at Denham on 26 May 1941, had its West End release in November 1941 to generally enthusiastic reviews, and its general release in February 1942. The much less popular and accomplished Penn

in Lance Comfort
Brian Mcfarlane

‘Why Lance Comfort?’ This was the question one of his collaborators asked during an interview conducted for this book. The answer is in several parts, but the first must be simply that I have always liked his films since seeing Great Day at the age of twelve and being struck by how different it was from the Hollywood films which were what usually – and enjoyably – came my way in rural Australia. It

in Lance Comfort
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Filming in the 1950s and 60s
Brian Mcfarlane

films, there were many other directors churning out for the cinema, a staple diet of workmanlike, entertaining pictures. 1 The author of this comment goes on to ‘pay tribute’ to several ‘B’ film-makers of the 1950s, including Maclean Rogers and John Harlow, concluding with a reference to Lawrence Huntington and Lance Comfort who ‘fared better [than the others named] … as

in Lance Comfort
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Six melodramas
Brian Mcfarlane

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), Daughter of Darkness (1948), and Silent

in Lance Comfort
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Brian Mcfarlane

1 Portrait of Lance Comfort 2 John Comfort (left) and friends in Toddlers and a Pup (1939) 3 Cinematographer Mutz

in Lance Comfort