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Clive Donner

Clive Donner

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Also Known As: Died: September 7, 2010
Born: January 21, 1926 Cause of Death: complications from Alzheimer's disease
Birth Place: London, England, GB Profession: director, producer, editor, assistant editor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

British director Clive Donner began his moviemaking career at the tender age of 16 in the cutting rooms of Denham Film Studios. He worked as an assistant editor on three pictures prior to his service in the Royal Navy, after which he returned to Denham to learn a thing or two about cutting film from director David Lean ("The Passionate Friends" 1948 and "Madeleine" 1949), himself a former editor. He moved to Pinewood Studios, establishing himself first as a full-fledged editor on movies like Brian Desmond Hurst's "Scrooge" (1950), Ronald Neame's "The Million Pound Note" (1953) and Henry Cornelius' "I Am a Camera" (1955) before cutting his teeth as a director on low-budgeters (i.e., his debut "The Secret Place" 1956, "Heart of a Child" 1958 and "Marriage of Convenience" 1960). Unprepared to go on churning out such fare, Donner turned to TV, directing episodes of popular series, documentaries and commercials. Donner broke out from the "quota quickies" with "Some People" (1962), a surprisingly successful pop musical with songs by Ron Grainer, designed to bring the Duke of Edinburgh Award to the attention of working-class teens. Unable to find conventional backing for his next project, a screen version...

British director Clive Donner began his moviemaking career at the tender age of 16 in the cutting rooms of Denham Film Studios. He worked as an assistant editor on three pictures prior to his service in the Royal Navy, after which he returned to Denham to learn a thing or two about cutting film from director David Lean ("The Passionate Friends" 1948 and "Madeleine" 1949), himself a former editor. He moved to Pinewood Studios, establishing himself first as a full-fledged editor on movies like Brian Desmond Hurst's "Scrooge" (1950), Ronald Neame's "The Million Pound Note" (1953) and Henry Cornelius' "I Am a Camera" (1955) before cutting his teeth as a director on low-budgeters (i.e., his debut "The Secret Place" 1956, "Heart of a Child" 1958 and "Marriage of Convenience" 1960). Unprepared to go on churning out such fare, Donner turned to TV, directing episodes of popular series, documentaries and commercials.

Donner broke out from the "quota quickies" with "Some People" (1962), a surprisingly successful pop musical with songs by Ron Grainer, designed to bring the Duke of Edinburgh Award to the attention of working-class teens. Unable to find conventional backing for his next project, a screen version of his friend Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker" (1964), he faithfully captured the play on a self-advertised, experimental low budget which prevented him from opening out the play (the commonest criticism). Donner's next excursion was to social satire with "Nothing But the Best (1964), considered by many his finest film. Working from an excellent script by Frederic Raphael, he crafted (with the help of his director of photography Nicolas R g) an elegant commentary on British hypocrisy, telling the tale of a working-class boy (Alan Bates), whose ascent up the ranks necessitates the murder of the man (Denholm Elliott) who helped make it possible.

Donner scored a huge commercial success with his first U.S. film "What's New Pussycat" (1965), although critics, unready for writer Woody Allen's anxious preoccupation with sex, pilloried it as "leering," "oversexed" and "salacious." He temporarily faltered when his next U.S. assignment, the film version of Murray Schisgal's absurdist play "Luv" (1967), failed to find an audience, but he rebounded nicely with "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush" (also 1967), an amusing, often clever adolescent romp with music by Stevie Winwood & Traffic and the Spencer Davis Group. The pivotal point in Donner's career came next, perhaps making him a believer in the old adage: be careful what you wish for, it may come true. His excellent track record enabled him to realize his long-standing ambition to direct on a large scale, but the expensive flop which resulted, "Alfred the Great" (1969), left a stench which still lingers around his name and prevented him from getting any feature assignments for five years.

Undaunted, Donner fell back on TV commercials and also began working in the theater, most notably directing Robert Patrick's "Kennedy's Children", both in London (1974) and on Broadway (1975). Of his remaining features, only "Stealing Heaven" (1988) bore the polish and visual sensitivity of his best work, but he did what he could with 1974's one-joke Dracula spoof "Vampira" (featuring an elegant David Niven as the Count), "The Nude Bomb/The Return of Maxwell Smart" (1980), based on the sitcom "Get Smart!" and "Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen" (1981), starring a horribly miscast Peter Ustinov in the title role. It remained for Donner to make his mark on TV, reuniting with writer Raphael for the choice morsel "Rogue Male" (1976), which cast Peter O'Toole as a sporting aristocrat who makes an unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life. Many critics praised the care given its period flavor, commenting that few could have done better with vastly bigger budgets.

Donner became primarily a TV director, and though his subsequent work for the medium varied in quality, he did contribute some gems in keeping with his early promise. He helmed "She Fell Among Thieves" (1980), the initial presentation of the PBS series "Mystery!" and garnered ample praise for his 1982 version of "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (CBS). "Oliver Twist" (CBS, 1982) and "A Christmas Carol" (CBS, 1984) proved a good marriage of Donner and Dickens with George C Scott excelling in the roles of Fagin and Scrooge, but "To Catch a King" (HBO, 1984), "Arthur the King" (CBS, 1985) and "Babes in Toyland" (NBC, 1986) failed to stir the critics. Donner directed the USA Network miniseries "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less" (1990), based on the best-selling book by Jeffery Archer, and helmed his last project to date for TV, the syndicated thriller "Terror Stalks the Class Reunion", in 1992.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Stealing Heaven (1988) Director
2.
  Babes in Toyland (1986) Director
4.
  Arthur the King (1985) Director
5.
  To Catch a King (1984) Director
6.
  Christmas Carol, A (1984) Director
7.
  Oliver Twist (1982) Director
8.
  Scarlet Pimpernel (1982) Director
10.
  Nude Bomb, The (1980) Director

CAST: (feature film)

VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1940:
Made his first film at age 14, an 8 mm short about a boys' sports club
1943:
First credit as assistant editor, "On Approval"
1944:
Served in Royal Navy
1948:
Worked as assitant editor under director David Lean on "One Woman's Story"
1949:
Second assignment with Lean, "Madeleine"
1950:
First film as editor, "A Christmas Carol"
1955:
Last job as editor before embarking on directorial career, "I Am a Camera"; also second film with director Henry Cornelius
1956:
Feature directing debut, "The Secret Place"
:
Turned to TV, directing episodes of the popular "Danger Man" and "Sir Francis Drake" series
1960:
Made four half-hour documentaries about India for Granada Television
1961:
Short film directing debut, "Weekend in Paris"
1961:
Began making commercials for the J. Walter Thompson Company; voted best commercials director of the year
1962:
Breakthrough film, "Some People," a pop musical with songs by Ron Grainer
1964:
Directed film version of Harold Pinter's "The Caretaker"
1964:
Scored critically with the social satire "Nothing But the Best"
1965:
First Hollywood film, "What's New Pussycat?"; film scripted by and starring Woody Allen
1968:
Co-produced and directed "Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush"
1969:
Flopped big-time with "Alfred the Great"
1974:
First feature film in five years, "Old Drac"
1975:
Broadway directing debut, "Kennedy's Children"
1976:
Scored critical success with the TV-movie "Rogue Male," starring Peter O'Toole as a sporting aristocrat who makes an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler
1980:
Directed "She Fell Among Thieves," the initial presentation of the PBS series "Mystery!"
1982:
First collaboration with George C. Scott (as Fagin), directing the CBS movie adaptation of "Oliver Twist"
1984:
Returned to Dickens' "A Christmas Carol" for the CBS TV version starring George C. Scott as Scrooge
1986:
Directed the bloated remake of Victor Herbert's operetta "Babes in Toyland" (NBC)
1988:
Last feature film to date, the beautifully photographed period piece "Stealing Heaven"
1990:
Directed "Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less" for the USA Network
1992:
Last TV-movie work to date, the syndicated thriller "Terror Stalks the Class Reunion"
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Education

Kilburn Polytechnic: -

Notes

On "Nothing But the Best": "Whether the acid satire originated in the story [by Stanley Ellin] or in the admirably apointed screenplay, Clive Donner enforces it with direction that has speed and attack and accuracy that came from training in the cutting room, and were already evident in 'Some People'." --excerpt from review by Paul Joyce, reprinted in WORLD FILM DIRECTORS, Volume 2

He received two Christopher Awards, for "The Scarlet Pimpernel" (1982) and "A Christmas Carol" (1984).

Mystified by the critical indignation heaped on "What's New Pussycat?", Donner told an interviewer: "It's an entertainment made by all of us because of our basic response to the material. We made it with pleasure. It's not a meretricious film: it's highly moral--there's no rib-nudging. We tried to experiment and use new forms, like an action painting, like Jackson Pollack. At the same time it's highly disciplined. Only when the character was established and in a situation did he have freedom. With that cast, if you encourage them to let off steam, there's a lot of steam." --reprinted in WORLD FILM DIRECTORS, Volume 2

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Jocelyn Rickards. Costume designer. Married in 1971.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Alex Donner. Violinist.
mother:
Deborah Donner. Boutique operator.

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