The Singer Not the Song


2h 12m 1962

Brief Synopsis

A priest defies a Mexican bandit to bring religion to a Western town.

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Western
Religion
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 May: 20 Jan 1962
Production Company
Rank Organisation
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures
Country
United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Singer Not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop (London, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 12m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

Father Keogh, a dedicated Roman Catholic priest from Ireland, arrives in Quantano, an isolated Mexican village cowering under the atheistic and tyrannical rule of bandit Anacleto. Father Keogh replaces the aging and broken-in-spirit Father Gomez. Despite threats and several attempts upon his life, Father Keogh openly defies the bandit and persuades some of the villagers to start attending church again, among them Locha, the daughter of the leading landowner. In retaliation, Anacleto tries to intimidate the priest by murdering the villagers in alphabetical order. Gradually, however, he begins to feel reluctant admiration for his adversary (he even kills one of his own men for attempting to shoot the priest). Eventually Anacleto asks if he may live with Father Keogh to determine whether it is the "song" (the religion) or the "singer" (the priest) that inspires good. During his stay Anacleto learns that Locha has fallen in love with Father Keogh, and when her family tries to force her into a loveless marriage, Anacleto hides her at his mountain stronghold. He then tells Father Keogh that unless he announces from the pulpit that he is a failure as a priest, Locha will be killed. Father Keogh agrees, but as he begins his sermon he spies Locha safely seated far back in the congregation. Tricked by Anacleto into breaking a vow to defeat evil, Father Keogh launches into a violent denunciation of the bandit. Authorities arrest Anacleto, and his gang attempts to rescue him on the way to prison. During the ensuing gunfire both Anacleto and the priest are fatally wounded. As the two men die side by side, Anacleto murmurs "the singer, not the song."

Film Details

Genre
Drama
Western
Religion
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
New York opening: 2 May: 20 Jan 1962
Production Company
Rank Organisation
Distribution Company
Warner Bros. Pictures
Country
United Kingdom
Screenplay Information
Based on the novel The Singer Not the Song by Audrey Erskine Lindop (London, 1953).

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 12m
Sound
Mono
Color
Color (Eastmancolor)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

The Singer Not the Song


By all rights, The Singer Not the Song, a 1961 philosophical Western set in Mexico, shouldn't have worked on any level. Both the director and the leading man felt themselves miscast. Nobody would mistake the rest of the cast, composed mostly of Englishmen, along with one French actress (Mylene Demongeot), of being Mexicans. And the production company, The Rank Organization, clearly screwed up big time when they refused to approach the one director who could have made something out of this tale of a priest (John Mills) and an outlaw (Dirk Bogarde) fighting for the soul of a Western town. Yet for all the mistakes in its production, The Singer Not the Song has developed a strong cult following partly because of the way star and director responded to a project they thought had disaster written all over it.

In 1961, director Roy Ward Baker was at the top of the British film industry on the strength of his 1958 A Night to Remember, often hailed as the best film ever made about the Titanic. Like many under contract to Great Britain's The Rank Organization, he was feeling stifled by the production company's relentlessly commercial approach to filmmaking. When the studio offered him the chance to adapt Audrey Erskine-Lindop's 1953 novel, he turned them down, claiming that he couldn't really understand the story because he wasn't Catholic. Instead, he suggested they offer the film to Spanish director Luis Buñuel, known for such surrealistic films as Un Chien Andalou (1929) and Los Olvidados (1950). Buñuel might have made a powerfully subversive film about the conflict between the worldly and the spiritual, and could have found all the irony in the Mexican thief's question about which is more important, the singer (the priest) or the song (the religion).

Instead of taking a chance, however, Rank simply gave Baker no choice in the matter. For over a year, they turned down everything he suggested filming, including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), which would become a big hit for Albert Finney and director Karel Reisz. With no other prospects in view, he finally agreed to make The Singer Not the Song.

At least he had some consolation in the chance to work with his friend Mills, with whom he would make five films in all (he also directed Mills' daughter Hayley in the 1981 mini-series The Flame Trees of Thika). Although Mills had built a solid career in England by that time, internationally he was primarily known as the father of child star Hayley Mills, who had just won a special Juvenile Oscar® for her performance in Walt Disney's Pollyanna (1960). The Singer Not the Song gave him a chance to visit Spain while Hayley and her mother were in Hollywood working on The Parent Trap (1961) and his other daughter, Juliet, was appearing in Peter Schaffer's Five Finger Exercise on Broadway. During a break from filming, he witnessed his first bullfight, and was so repulsed he had to leave. He almost triggered an international incident when he hit a young Spaniard who found his reaction to the bullfight funny.

But the real problem with The Singer Not the Song -- or the real blessing, depending upon your perspective -- was the casting of British matinee idol Bogarde as the Mexican bandit Anacleto. Like Baker, Bogarde was forced to take the film because of his contract with Rank. The ideal choice, many thought, would have been Marlon Brando, but the studio either couldn't or wouldn't cast him. Bogarde responded to his absurd casting by camping it up in the role. He decided to play the character as being in love with the priest, and Baker let him do it. It was Bogarde's decision to dress the character in tight leather pants. With long, lingering glances at Mills and unexpected line readings, he created a clear picture of a gay man more spurned in love than fighting for control of a town. His over-the-top performance has won The Singer Not the Song a cult following over the years, particularly among gay critics and fans fascinated with covert expressions of homosexuality in films made before censorship began to loosen.

Ironically, Bogarde was himself gay, but heavily closeted. Though he lived with his manager/partner Anthony Forwood (a former husband of actress Glynis Johns) for most of his adult life, he publicly denied his sexuality. Yet he also had the courage to play such pioneering roles as the closeted lawyer in Victim (1961), the first British film to deal openly with homosexuality; the seductive gentleman's gentleman in The Servant (1963); and the aging composer infatuated with a young man in Death in Venice (1971). What freed him to do such roles, ultimately, was the expiration of his Rank contract in the early '60s, at which time he decided to devote himself primarily to more challenging roles in independent films.

Also of interest about The Singer Not the Song is the way it anticipates the spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone and star Clint Eastwood, which would appear the next year with A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Not only did the film share Leone's use of Spain as a stand-in for the American West, but Philip Green's sparse, tough score, composed mostly of themes for each major character, anticipated Ennio Morricone's work on the Leone films.

Producer-Director: Roy Ward Baker
Screenplay: Nigel Balchin
Based on the novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop
Cinematography: Otto Heller
Art Direction: Alex Vetchinsky
Music: Philip Green
Principal Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Anacleto), John Mills (Father Keogh), Mylene Demongeot (Locha), Laurence Naismith (Old Uncle), John Bentley (Chief of Police), Eric Pohlmann (Presidente). C-132m.

by Frank Miller
The Singer Not The Song

The Singer Not the Song

By all rights, The Singer Not the Song, a 1961 philosophical Western set in Mexico, shouldn't have worked on any level. Both the director and the leading man felt themselves miscast. Nobody would mistake the rest of the cast, composed mostly of Englishmen, along with one French actress (Mylene Demongeot), of being Mexicans. And the production company, The Rank Organization, clearly screwed up big time when they refused to approach the one director who could have made something out of this tale of a priest (John Mills) and an outlaw (Dirk Bogarde) fighting for the soul of a Western town. Yet for all the mistakes in its production, The Singer Not the Song has developed a strong cult following partly because of the way star and director responded to a project they thought had disaster written all over it. In 1961, director Roy Ward Baker was at the top of the British film industry on the strength of his 1958 A Night to Remember, often hailed as the best film ever made about the Titanic. Like many under contract to Great Britain's The Rank Organization, he was feeling stifled by the production company's relentlessly commercial approach to filmmaking. When the studio offered him the chance to adapt Audrey Erskine-Lindop's 1953 novel, he turned them down, claiming that he couldn't really understand the story because he wasn't Catholic. Instead, he suggested they offer the film to Spanish director Luis Buñuel, known for such surrealistic films as Un Chien Andalou (1929) and Los Olvidados (1950). Buñuel might have made a powerfully subversive film about the conflict between the worldly and the spiritual, and could have found all the irony in the Mexican thief's question about which is more important, the singer (the priest) or the song (the religion). Instead of taking a chance, however, Rank simply gave Baker no choice in the matter. For over a year, they turned down everything he suggested filming, including Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), which would become a big hit for Albert Finney and director Karel Reisz. With no other prospects in view, he finally agreed to make The Singer Not the Song. At least he had some consolation in the chance to work with his friend Mills, with whom he would make five films in all (he also directed Mills' daughter Hayley in the 1981 mini-series The Flame Trees of Thika). Although Mills had built a solid career in England by that time, internationally he was primarily known as the father of child star Hayley Mills, who had just won a special Juvenile Oscar® for her performance in Walt Disney's Pollyanna (1960). The Singer Not the Song gave him a chance to visit Spain while Hayley and her mother were in Hollywood working on The Parent Trap (1961) and his other daughter, Juliet, was appearing in Peter Schaffer's Five Finger Exercise on Broadway. During a break from filming, he witnessed his first bullfight, and was so repulsed he had to leave. He almost triggered an international incident when he hit a young Spaniard who found his reaction to the bullfight funny. But the real problem with The Singer Not the Song -- or the real blessing, depending upon your perspective -- was the casting of British matinee idol Bogarde as the Mexican bandit Anacleto. Like Baker, Bogarde was forced to take the film because of his contract with Rank. The ideal choice, many thought, would have been Marlon Brando, but the studio either couldn't or wouldn't cast him. Bogarde responded to his absurd casting by camping it up in the role. He decided to play the character as being in love with the priest, and Baker let him do it. It was Bogarde's decision to dress the character in tight leather pants. With long, lingering glances at Mills and unexpected line readings, he created a clear picture of a gay man more spurned in love than fighting for control of a town. His over-the-top performance has won The Singer Not the Song a cult following over the years, particularly among gay critics and fans fascinated with covert expressions of homosexuality in films made before censorship began to loosen. Ironically, Bogarde was himself gay, but heavily closeted. Though he lived with his manager/partner Anthony Forwood (a former husband of actress Glynis Johns) for most of his adult life, he publicly denied his sexuality. Yet he also had the courage to play such pioneering roles as the closeted lawyer in Victim (1961), the first British film to deal openly with homosexuality; the seductive gentleman's gentleman in The Servant (1963); and the aging composer infatuated with a young man in Death in Venice (1971). What freed him to do such roles, ultimately, was the expiration of his Rank contract in the early '60s, at which time he decided to devote himself primarily to more challenging roles in independent films. Also of interest about The Singer Not the Song is the way it anticipates the spaghetti Westerns of director Sergio Leone and star Clint Eastwood, which would appear the next year with A Fistful of Dollars (1964). Not only did the film share Leone's use of Spain as a stand-in for the American West, but Philip Green's sparse, tough score, composed mostly of themes for each major character, anticipated Ennio Morricone's work on the Leone films. Producer-Director: Roy Ward Baker Screenplay: Nigel Balchin Based on the novel by Audrey Erskine-Lindop Cinematography: Otto Heller Art Direction: Alex Vetchinsky Music: Philip Green Principal Cast: Dirk Bogarde (Anacleto), John Mills (Father Keogh), Mylene Demongeot (Locha), Laurence Naismith (Old Uncle), John Bentley (Chief of Police), Eric Pohlmann (Presidente). C-132m. by Frank Miller

Sir John Mills (1908-2005)


He was arguably the most refined, and versatile of all English film stars in the history of British cinema. Sir John Mills, the Oscar®-winning actor whose film career spanned over 70 years, died on April 23 of natural causes in London. He was 97.

Born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in Norfolk, England on February 22, 1908. His father was a headmaster of a village school in Suffolk, where Mills was raised. After secondary school, he worked as a clerk in a corn merchant's office while acting in amateur dramatic societies. Ever ambitious, he relocated to London in 1928 to find more work as an actor.

He took tap-dancing lessons and made his stage debut as a chorus boy in The Five O'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome in 1929. Later that year, he joined an acting troupe that toured India and the Far East with a repertory of modern plays, musical comedies and Shakespeare. It was during this tour when he scored his big break - he was spotted by Noel Coward while in Singapore and promptly taken under the playwright's wing when he returned to London in 1931.

On his return, he starred on the West End (London's Broadway), in Coward's Cavalcade and earned the lead in a production of Charley's Aunt. His song and dance talents came in handy for his film debut, an early British musical-comedy The Midshipmaid (1932). His biggest hits over the next few years would all fall into the genre of light comic-musicals: Britannia of Billingsgate (1933), Royal Cavalcade (1935), and Four Dark Hours(1937). He scored a his first big part as Robert Donat's student in the MGM backed production Mills went on to play Robert Donat's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He developed some more heft to his acting credentials that same year when he made his debut at the celebrated Old Vic Theatre as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

He served briefly in the Navy, 1940-41, during World War II before receiving a medical discharge. When Mills returned to the screen, he began a great turn as the atypical sturdy, dignified Englishman ("English without tears" went the popular phrase of the day). He starred as a stalwart lead in a amazing string of hit films: In Which We Serve (1942), We Dive at Dawn (1943), This Happy Breed (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), and Waterloo Road (1945). Although Mills was ever dependable, they did not show his breakout talents until he starred as Pip in David Lean's gorgeous adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1946). As the young orphan who morphs into a man of wealth and stature, Mills showed the depth as an actor by offering a finely modulated performance.

By the late '40s, Mills was a bona fide star of British films, and over the next decade the strong roles kept coming: as the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948); Bassett, the handy man who tries to help a troubled child (the brilliant John Howard Davies) of greedy, neglectful parents in the superb domestic drama The Rocking Horse Winner (1950); an overprotective father who gets trapped in a murder yarn in Mr. Denning Drives North (1952); a fine Willie Mossop in David Lean's Hobson's Choice (1954); an impressive "against-type" performance as a Russian peasant in War and Peace (1956); a sympathetic police inspector coaxing the trust of a juvenile (his daughter Hayley) who knows the facts of a murder case in the underappreciated Tiger Bay (1959); a rowdy Australian sheep shearer in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (also 1959); and arguably his finest performance - a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for a hard-as-nails army colonel who fears the loss of control over his regiment in Tunes of Glory (1960).

The mid-60s saw an isolated effort as a film director: Gypsy Girl (which starred his other daughter Juliet - who would later find fame on US television in Nanny and the Professor (1970-72); and showed the development of Mills into a charming character actor: the working-class patriarch in the modest comedy The Family Way (starring Hayley as his daughter); and a terrific comic bit as a murderous Lord who tries to kill off his kin for the family inheritance in Bryan Forbes The Wrong Box (all 1966).

By the '70s, his film work slowed considerably, but he was always worth watching: an Oscar winning performance as a mute villager in David Lean¿s study of the Irish troubles Ryan's Daughter (1970); as the influential General Herbert Kitchener Young Winston (1972); and as a driven oil driller in Oklahoma Crude (1973). With the exception of a small role in Sir Richard Attenborough's Ghandi (1982 - where he was credited as Sir John Mills after his knighthood in 1976), and a regrettable cameo in the deplorable Madonna comedy Who's That Girl (1987).

Very little was seen of Mills until recent years, where the most memorable of his appearances included: Old Norway in Hamlet (1996); as the stern chairman opposite Rowan Atkinson in the hit comedy Bean (1997); and - in a daring final role for his proud career - a nonagenarian partygoing cocaine user in Stephen Fry's bawdy social satire Bright Young Things (2003)! Mills is survived by his wife of 64 years, the novelist and playwright Mary Hayley Bell; his daughters, Juliet and Hayley; son, John; and several grandchildren.

by Michael T. Toole

Sir John Mills (1908-2005)

He was arguably the most refined, and versatile of all English film stars in the history of British cinema. Sir John Mills, the Oscar®-winning actor whose film career spanned over 70 years, died on April 23 of natural causes in London. He was 97. Born Lewis Ernest Watts Mills in Norfolk, England on February 22, 1908. His father was a headmaster of a village school in Suffolk, where Mills was raised. After secondary school, he worked as a clerk in a corn merchant's office while acting in amateur dramatic societies. Ever ambitious, he relocated to London in 1928 to find more work as an actor. He took tap-dancing lessons and made his stage debut as a chorus boy in The Five O'Clock Girl at the London Hippodrome in 1929. Later that year, he joined an acting troupe that toured India and the Far East with a repertory of modern plays, musical comedies and Shakespeare. It was during this tour when he scored his big break - he was spotted by Noel Coward while in Singapore and promptly taken under the playwright's wing when he returned to London in 1931. On his return, he starred on the West End (London's Broadway), in Coward's Cavalcade and earned the lead in a production of Charley's Aunt. His song and dance talents came in handy for his film debut, an early British musical-comedy The Midshipmaid (1932). His biggest hits over the next few years would all fall into the genre of light comic-musicals: Britannia of Billingsgate (1933), Royal Cavalcade (1935), and Four Dark Hours(1937). He scored a his first big part as Robert Donat's student in the MGM backed production Mills went on to play Robert Donat's Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939). He developed some more heft to his acting credentials that same year when he made his debut at the celebrated Old Vic Theatre as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream. He served briefly in the Navy, 1940-41, during World War II before receiving a medical discharge. When Mills returned to the screen, he began a great turn as the atypical sturdy, dignified Englishman ("English without tears" went the popular phrase of the day). He starred as a stalwart lead in a amazing string of hit films: In Which We Serve (1942), We Dive at Dawn (1943), This Happy Breed (1944), The Way to the Stars (1945), and Waterloo Road (1945). Although Mills was ever dependable, they did not show his breakout talents until he starred as Pip in David Lean's gorgeous adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations (1946). As the young orphan who morphs into a man of wealth and stature, Mills showed the depth as an actor by offering a finely modulated performance. By the late '40s, Mills was a bona fide star of British films, and over the next decade the strong roles kept coming: as the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott in Scott of the Antarctic (1948); Bassett, the handy man who tries to help a troubled child (the brilliant John Howard Davies) of greedy, neglectful parents in the superb domestic drama The Rocking Horse Winner (1950); an overprotective father who gets trapped in a murder yarn in Mr. Denning Drives North (1952); a fine Willie Mossop in David Lean's Hobson's Choice (1954); an impressive "against-type" performance as a Russian peasant in War and Peace (1956); a sympathetic police inspector coaxing the trust of a juvenile (his daughter Hayley) who knows the facts of a murder case in the underappreciated Tiger Bay (1959); a rowdy Australian sheep shearer in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll (also 1959); and arguably his finest performance - a Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival for a hard-as-nails army colonel who fears the loss of control over his regiment in Tunes of Glory (1960). The mid-60s saw an isolated effort as a film director: Gypsy Girl (which starred his other daughter Juliet - who would later find fame on US television in Nanny and the Professor (1970-72); and showed the development of Mills into a charming character actor: the working-class patriarch in the modest comedy The Family Way (starring Hayley as his daughter); and a terrific comic bit as a murderous Lord who tries to kill off his kin for the family inheritance in Bryan Forbes The Wrong Box (all 1966). By the '70s, his film work slowed considerably, but he was always worth watching: an Oscar winning performance as a mute villager in David Lean¿s study of the Irish troubles Ryan's Daughter (1970); as the influential General Herbert Kitchener Young Winston (1972); and as a driven oil driller in Oklahoma Crude (1973). With the exception of a small role in Sir Richard Attenborough's Ghandi (1982 - where he was credited as Sir John Mills after his knighthood in 1976), and a regrettable cameo in the deplorable Madonna comedy Who's That Girl (1987). Very little was seen of Mills until recent years, where the most memorable of his appearances included: Old Norway in Hamlet (1996); as the stern chairman opposite Rowan Atkinson in the hit comedy Bean (1997); and - in a daring final role for his proud career - a nonagenarian partygoing cocaine user in Stephen Fry's bawdy social satire Bright Young Things (2003)! Mills is survived by his wife of 64 years, the novelist and playwright Mary Hayley Bell; his daughters, Juliet and Hayley; son, John; and several grandchildren. by Michael T. Toole

Quotes

Trivia

Notes

Location scenes filmed in Spain. Released in Great Britain in 1961; running time: 132 min.

Miscellaneous Notes

Scope