The film industry and international citizenry lost a valued friend with the passing of directorial giant Ken Annakin April 22, 2009.
To those who knew him it would be universally said that the only ingredient to match his gigantic talent was his humanity. His spirit of adventure and cinema challenge remained to the end of his life, as I could personally attest. Every conversation with Ken included fresh creative insight, the thinking of an ever expanding innovator.
Annakin was the third of a trio of brilliant directors and outstanding humanitarians I knew well, preceded chronologically by Mervyn LeRoy and Rouben Mamoulian. One ingredient that all of these outstanding directors possessed was outstanding insight. This ability enabled them to understand and expand their innate creativity.
The spirit of the dedicated international adventurer appeared early in Annakin's life. The Yorkshireman from East Beverley parlayed his Derby winnings into a trip to Australia. In his words he "bummed around,"- which meant getting familiar with the lay of the land. He also had a stint as a journalist, which honed his skills for later film script activity.
While working with the Royal Air Force as a mechanic in Liverpool, Annakin was injured as a result of a German air attack. He sustained 24-hour amnesia.
"There is one full day that I can never account for,"- he told me in one of the earlier interviews I did with him.
Eventually Annakin's war activity led to him working as a cameraman in British war documentaries. One of the cinema's great directors, Carol Reed, by then already a legend, liked what he saw in Annakin's professional skills.
"Carol Reed had always been one of my favorites,"- Annakin said. "One day when I was working with him he said, 'It's time for you to come over on our side.'"-
Reed invited Annakin to move from camera work into the ranks of directing. From there Annakin came into initial contact with the profession in which he would spend the rest of a productive professional life.
As soon as the war ended Annakin was off on his new career. He struck pay dirt with the 1947 release "Holiday Camp"- starring Jack Warner, a comedy about family activity surrounding one of the famous Butlin camps, where British families spend vacations economically. The film's success was further validated by three additional films made on the activities of the Huggett family.
One year later another Annakin comedic gem was released with "Miranda"- starring a saucy Glynis Johns as a mischievous mermaid complicating the lives of married couple Googie Withers and Griffith Jones.
In another 1948 release Annakin turned in one of his eminent directing efforts in the concluding segment of "Quartet,"- a film based on four short stories by Somerset Maugham, in which the distinguished author provided an introduction and close. Annakin's "The Colonel's Lady"- was breathtaking in structure and execution.
Nora Swinburne portrays a kindly, secluded woman who is ignored and cheated upon by her selfish British country aristocrat husband, played by Cecil Parker.
When Swinburne gains fame for a book of poetry built upon a woman finding the love of her life, Parker feels that he has been humiliated and that she has cheated on him. To his ultimate shock, she tells him that he was the male model in the story, the man she had loved early in their relationship before he profoundly changed.
The success of "Quartet"- was followed up by "Trio"- in 1950 with three Maugham stories being dramatized. Annakin directed two of the segments, "Mr. Know-All"- and "The Verger."-
Annakin's versatility was once more evidenced in the 1951 release "Hotel Sahara"- with Yvonne De Carlo and Peter Ustinov cast as co-proprietors of a hotel set in neutral desert expanse during World War Two, delivering double duty laugh lines. De Carlo uses her charms to prevent dismissal from their own enterprise as she regales forces of both sides of the conflict while Ustinov constantly fears for the worst.
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