Have you noticed in the last couple of decades how Second World War films have fallen out of fashion alongside westerns, which have long since gone west at cinemas.
I guess it is simply due to the fact that people who fought or lived through the Second World War are now getting very thin on the ground and film makers believe that younger audiences are not really interested. After all, if you were a young man joining the armed forces in 1939 at the age of 18 you would now be 98 years old.
However, such movies were once a staple of post-war cinema and films shot in Borehamwood reflected that interest. Not long after the war the Gate Studios produced Odette, based on a true story and starring Anna Neagle and Trevor Howard. It is still worth watching today.
Elstree Studios kicked off after rebuilding the studio in 1948 with The Hasty Heart, which launched Richard Todd on the road to stardom and co-starred future President of the United States Ronald Reagan, imported from Hollywood. Not long after came Angels One Five, starring one of my favourite actors, Jack Hawkins, and of course The Dam Busters, which I guess is the most famous wartime film story to come out of Elstree. They keep talking about a remake and apparently such rights are now owned by Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson, while Stephen Fry has written a new script. The original film took two years to prepare and enjoyed the bonus that many of the cast had served in the war, which gave it that extra sense of realism. The remake seems to have gone onto the backburner and I am not sure there is a box office market for it today.
Richard Todd told me an anecdote about a film he starred in at Elstree called The Long and the Short and the Tall, which focused on jungle warfare against the Japanese. Two of the up-and-coming actors in it were Laurence Harvey and Richard Harris. He thought they were both larking around too much and Laurence, not much liked by fellow actors, was leading Harris astray. He gave Harris a dressing down which reduced him to tears and he behaved thereafter. He went on to stardom but perhaps liked to drink a bit too much.
At MGM in Borehamwood they made some great war films such as Where Eagles Dare and The Dirty Dozen, albeit they were unrealistic and a bit like 'boy's own' adventures but successful at the 1960s box office. A couple of other films made at MGM in the 1960s spring to mind. The first is 633 Squadron, with that wonderful musical score. You must visit the Mosquito Museum near London Colney to see the iconic history of the aircraft involved in the real-life drama and the Three Compasses pub near Aldenham that featured in the film. I got to meet the star of the film, Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson, at a star-studded event in the the early 1990s at a London theatre. They had employed young stewards who did not recognise old stars so I showed him to his seat.
My last memory for this week. George Peppard came to MGM to star in Operation Crossbow. His career had taken off playing opposite Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffanys but he gained a reputation for being difficult and a drinker. His career declined and some time later he was sacked from the Dynasty television series at the pilot stage and replaced. He did enjoy success as the cigar-smoking boss in The A Team television series. Sadly, after five marriages he died in 1994.
Until next time, take care and remember: black and white films with lots of spoken words can be more entertaining than loud, CGI and action packed-films aimed at a perceived audience that have low attention spans. Never underestimate your audience.