Harold French

Active - 1931 - 1955  |   Born - Apr 23, 1897   |   Died - Oct 1, 1997   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Comedy, Romance, Mystery

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Harold French never became as well-known a figure in the British film world as his younger contemporaries Anthony Asquith or Carol Reed, but he enjoyed nearly as much success between the screen and the stage -- and, peculiarly enough, a good deal of that success, at least in his prime years of the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s, revolved around the work of playwright Terence Rattigan, much as a good deal of Asquith's success did. French was born in London, and spent his early career as an actor on stage and screen before turning to directing in the mid-1930's. He scored a huge theatrical success with Terence Rattigan's French Without Tears (which also put the playwright on the map), and began his screen directing career soon after. His most important early film, however, was one for which he never received proper directorial credit -- Major Barbara (1941). Officially, according to the credits of the movie, the adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's comedy about religion and morality was directed and produced by Gabriel Pascal, but as director Michael Powell once observed to this writer, "Gabriel Pascal couldn't direct traffic." The film was actually the combined work of David Lean, who handled such matters as blocking and camera set-ups, and Harold French, who handled the dialogue. It was after the release of that movie that French's career took off, though any satisfaction that he might have had over this new phase of his professional career was severely muted by the death of his wife in a German bombing raid in 1941. He went on to direct such fine wartime thrillers as Unpublished Story and The Day Will Dawn (both 1942), and Mr. Emmanuel (1944), and adaptations of such Rattigan-authored works as English Without Tears (1944), a comedy that was a success in England. In the postwar era, his most visible directorial efforts were part of the anthology films Quartet (1948) and Trio (1950). He later entered the orbit of Walt Disney Productions, directing the 1953 period adventure film Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue, starring Richard Todd, Glynis Johns, Michael Gough and James Robertson Justice. By the middle of the decade, he had returned to Rattigan's orbit with The Man Who Loved Redheads, starring Moira Shearer and John Justin. French also wrote and produced a handful of films, and was highly respected by his peers right up through his retirement from films in the 1960's. French passed away in 1997 at the age of 100.

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