Ronald Neame

Active - 1922 - 1986  |   Born - Apr 23, 1911   |   Died - Jun 16, 2010   |   Genres - Drama, Comedy, Romance, Action, Adventure

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Ronald Neame is the son of photographer/director Elwin Neame and the actress Ivy Close. He joined Elstree Studios in 1927 as a messenger and call boy, moved up to stills photographer, and was an assistant cameraman on Alfred Hitchcock's Blackmail (1929), the first English sound film. He served as a camera operator in the early '30s, and was elevated to director of photography in 1934. His most important films as cinematographer were Pygmalion (1938), Major Barbara (1939), In Which We Serve (1942), and One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (1942). In 1943, Neame formed a partnership with editor-turned-director David Lean and producer Anthony Havelock-Allan in Cineguild, an independent production company set up with support from England's Rank Organisation, through which the David Lean movies This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and The Passionate Friends were made. Neame turned to directing in the late '40s with Take My Life (1947), and after a series of entertaining but unexceptional films, including The Card (1952) and The Million Pound Note (1953), was responsible for the classics The Horse's Mouth (1959) and Tunes of Glory (1960), both starring Alec Guinness in two of the best roles of his career. Neame'sEscape from Zahrain (1962) was an underrated action thriller, which was surprisingly effective on a low budget, and his Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969) was a major late '60s hit that turned Maggie Smith into a major screen star. But it was in the '70s that Neame established himself -- very unexpectedly -- as a "money director," with The Poseidon Adventure (1972). This all-star adventure thriller, about a group of passengers struggling for survival when their ocean liner turns over in mid-voyage, proved a huge and sudden hit, becoming the top-grossing picture of 1972 and earning its money so fast, by Neame's account, that the studio couldn't hide it, and making him a rich man in the process. Neame's The Odessa File (1974) proved him adept at the thriller format, and his disaster movie Meteor (1979) effectively ended the disaster movie genre that he had begun with The Poseidon Adventure. His subsequent movies, including Hopscotch (1980) and First Monday in October (1981), have proved rather more uneven dramatically as well as at the box office. Neame's career has embraced more phases than almost any other filmmaker still even semi-active in the '90s, from the early days of British talkies, to the Golden Age of British cinema of the '40s to the silver age of the '50s, and the international and American markets of the '60s thru the '80s. He has managed to have hits in each phase of that career, and has proved effective at creating comedy, intimate, serious drama (Tunes of Glory is probably his best picture, with The Horse's Mouth a close second), as well as pulling together the special effects and acting required of the blockbuster all-star production.

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