Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Roy Baker, A Director to Remember

The British director Roy Baker died on October 5, 2010, at the age of 93. The Telegraph obituary summarized the eclectic career, from second assistant to Hitchcock on The Lady Vanishes to directing Marilyn Monroe in the studio’s early attempt at “yes, she can really act” film Don’t Bother to Knock, to the strange Singer Not the Song with Dirk Bogarde in leather pursuing John Mills as a priest.

That is all eclipsed by his sterling direction of A Night to Remember, the most engrossing, poignant, heart wrenching depiction of the sinking of the Titanic ever filmed. The entire production—-from the book by Walter Lord to the script by Eric Ambler to Geoffrey Unsworth cinematography-—is a dream team of talent who put the most affecting verisimilitude of that horrific night and early morning death 102 years ago--onto celluloid.

But what I will remember the talented Mr. Baker for best is the 8 episodes he directed during the black & white Mrs. Peel era of The Avengers. You can watch The Girl from A.U.N.T.I.E. here

The Cinematic Look of The Avengers

I don’t know if it was producer Albert Fennell or writer/producer Brian Clemens who brought Baker on, but whoever did it was a brilliant move that meant a visual film sense would grace the early small screen phenomenon. This changed when the series went into color in 1966/67, and it went back to having that thinner look of video, however offset by the Sixties Mod coloring, sets, and costuming, which was lovely too. But Baker's talent brought the distinctive look of Ealing Studios and the Rank Organization to television and left a distinction mark on the innovative spy series.

These 8 episodes he directed are a high point of the entire series:

1. The Town of No Return (28 September 1965)
2. Two's a Crowd (18 December 1965)
3. Too Many Christmas Trees (25 December 1965)
4. Silent Dust (31 December 1965)
5. Room Without a View (8 January 1966)
6. The Girl from Auntie (21 January 1966)
7. The Thirteenth Hole (29 January 1966)

From the man walking out of the sea to Steed's full high tea on a train in Town of No Return  to Steed and Emma punting on an idyllic canal to investigate “where have all the martlets gone?” in Silent Dust (a nod to Rachel Carson)  to the stylized dream sequences and Dickensian Christmas nightmare of Too Many Christmas Trees, Baker made a huge contribution to the early success of The Avengers. He brought that certain wry British sensibility that fans for several generations have found simply irresistible and have long remembered.