Film Directors with their Shirts Off: A Lean Torso


David Lean on holiday. A suitably scenic backdrop, and Mrs Lean.

I love the story of Lean swimming with crew in the river on a day off during the shooting of BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI. “Bloody millionaire stuff!” says a props man. Lean is intrigued. Define your terms! The props man, who went on to work on every Lean movie, explains that there can’t be anybody in the world, however wealthy, who are luxuriating as splendidly as this British film crew in their tropical river. Lean embraces the term and makes it his motto, selecting projects for their opulence and exoticism from then on.

Since Lean had been raised in a somewhat joyless, Calvinist tradition, this moment can be seen as a kind of awakening for him.  He would tend to forget to have fun in life — Richard Lester recalls him living in the Roman hotel overlooking the zoo that features in Argento’s THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE, being awoken by animal roars at 5am, and living on sausage rolls which had to be specially sourced, since Italians rightly shun such savory trash. But at least in his choice of subject he would henceforth ensure stimulating locations.

It’s all in here: David Lean: A Biography

Meanwhile, at Limerwrecks, new work by yours truly, mostly on that lyric work, SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, here, here (Lionel Atwill’s arm), here (is Dwight Frye a face in the crowd?), and here (Ygor!). You’ll find plenty more by other (gnarled, palsied) hands if you hunt about.

7 Responses to “Film Directors with their Shirts Off: A Lean Torso”

  1. Inspired by your continuing series, i’m considering starting my own, entitled ‘Film Directors WIth Their Trousers Off As Infants’. Part One: Jean Renoir (apparently)

  2. Very good! There are whole slews of pics of the great directors as toddlers wearing skirts, a popular pre-war fashion (and so convenient!).

  3. When following his lovely A Passage To India Lean announced he was going to do Nostromo, Michael Powell told me “Well David would choose Conrad’s most impossible book. That’s him all over.”

  4. Similarly, when he was writing Passage and Ruth Prawer Jhabvalla was working on A Room With a View, she remarked that she had no doubt who had picked the better novel: possibly implying that Lean might find his material harder to adapt. I think it’s the trickier, mystic and ambiguous stuff that makes Lean’s film more interesting than James Ivory’s comedy of manners, personally.

  5. Yes but it was the comedy of manners that won with the public — particularly in the American South where “Lucy Honeychurch” was viewed as the pluperfect “Southern Belle.”

  6. Makes sense, I suppose. Lean’s film is more flawed, for sure, but I can’t help but find it much more worthwhile.

  7. Marcos Ordoñez, theater critic for the spanish paper “El pais”, has been publishing a series in his blog with his conversations with Perico Vidal, who was David Lean’s assistant in “Zhivago” and “Ryan’s daughter”. The whole series is fascinating, because Vidal worked in lots of films shot during the 50s and 60s in Spain, and with people like Welles, Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mankiewitz… but Lean comes across as a real class act, among other things for this (scroll down to the letter):

    Lean shared with a few of his collaborators (Vidal among them) his part of the profits of “Zhivago”. And not a small part, either.

    The entire series is at:

    (Look the the entries named “Big time”).

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: