Thursday, 17 July 2014


Your next film was Gawain and the Green Knight.  When did your interest in the King Arthur legend begin?

I had been working on Gawain since immediately after ‘1917’ in 1969. We even made a 10-minute test sequence [in 1970] starring David Leland (later a director) as Gawain – he would have been far better than Murray Head.

Was it a difficult film to make on such a low budget?
Not particularly – my choice of locations (castles restored in the 19th century) gave the film a huge budget look…

The film was the last of actor Nigel Green, who plays the Green Knight.  What do you recall of Green?  He is dubbed in the film by Robert Rietty....
Nigel Green was amazing. I didn’t know he was having emotional troubles; they didn’t surface… then, while we were cutting the film, Nigel killed himself. We still needed him to post-synch [dub] certain lines. These were done by Rietty. It was painful in finally dubbing [mixing] the film – in having to go round and round many, many times – to watch Green going through the ritual suicide of the Green Knight on the screen.

You had some other fine character actors in the film, including Robert Hardy, Ronald Lacey, Geoffrey Bayldon and Murray Melvin... any memories of them?
Lots of memories of all of them. I later went on to work with all but Geoffrey Bayldon (liked him and his work, just never the right part came up).

How did the film perform when it came out, critically and commercially?
The film was recut by United Artists as part of a row between Carlo Ponti and UA. The wonderful music which was to have been finished by Gryphon was replaced by Ron (633 Squadron) Goodwin – which ruined it. I disowned it.We had made a medieval ‘Easy Rider’ which would have been really successful; UA ruined it.

It has become a very difficult film to see in recent years... is there any chance of a proper DVD or blu ray release?
I have a deal to make a collector’s edition of both ‘Sir Gawain’ and ‘Sword of the Valiant’ with the original 1970 test sequence too. But MGM/UA won’t play – the bastards.

Your next film is, I think, your finest: Ghost Story.  How did this project come about?
I had already developed the script. I wanted to get away from Studios, from control, and from the grip of the Unions…

The film, like I MONSTER, is interesting for its emphasis on the bric a brac and minutiae of the dรฉcor... is this something you were consciously looking to evoke?
For some of this, I have to thank Peter Young – who I got to art direct ‘Ghost Story’. He had been the set-dresser on ‘I, Monster’ – and neither of us particularly liked Curtis’ sets, so my instruction to Peter had been to cover them over with pictures, furniture and bric-a-brac so we couldn’t see them! Also, we were making a film with scenes in the 19th century… so lots of stuff in any household.

Barbara Shelley plays a small role in the film... how did she come to be cast and what are your memories of her?
Ronald Lacey was originally to play the lead, Talbot – but he was too ill to come to India (doctor’s orders). He helped the production a lot, especially in casting. He had met Barbara. She liked the script and project and came on board. She got on well with everyone – and her memories of the film are on an interview with her on the Nucleus DVD.

Leigh Lawson would go on to appear in Polanski's Tess - do you have any recollection of him?
He is a great actor – and he had to deal closely with Marianne Faithfull… I really liked his work, and cast him for a major part in ‘Sword of the Valiant’.

The film has an eerie ambience, much is left ambiguous and/or unexplained... do you prefer this approach in horror films?
Yes – your own imagination… that’s you, the reader… is probably far better than we can make on film. That’s why radio plays have the best visuals… if you understand me!

Your next feature would be Sword of the Valiant.  It is, in essence, a higher budget remake of your earlier Gawain.  How do you feel the two films compare? 
I wanted to remake ‘Sir Gawain’ as UA had ruined it. My early Gawain was a kind-of peace-and-love knight, but by the time I made ‘Sword’ in 1981-2, my own vision of the middle ages had changed and Gawain was much tougher. But at least ‘Sword’ is basically what I set out to make, and it stands up well.

Did you have a hard time working with Canon - were Golan and Globus prone to interfering?
They didn’t interfere, but just wouldn’t pay. The film was stricken with strikes, walk-outs and delays. I spent 10 years suing them for my fees. The release of the film never took place as Cannon Films was operating a fraud at the time. In the not too distant future, you will be able to read two long books I wrote at the time, ‘Set-Up’ and ‘Stairs of Sand’ – these cover all the dirt about what really went on on ‘Sword’ and my uncompleted film ‘The Bengal Lancers!’. It makes chilling reading.

The cast is very eclectic and includes Peter Cushing in one of his last roles... did he seem different to you compared to I MONSTER?
No, dear Peter was just the same – his great careful work, attention to detail and costume and excellent relations with everyone. I wish I could have spent more time with him.

How did you fare working with Sean Connery?
Sean was also a consummate professional – one of the hardest workers I’ve worked with. No trouble with him!  We needed a plaster cast of his head for some Special FX. In the plaster shop at Elstree Studios, Sean was on the table, face covered with plaster and with two straws sticking out so he could breathe, when one of the plasterers told me that a few weeks before they’d been casting the hand of a famous actress, and she hadn’t been able to take a ring off. Due to swelling while casting and other complications that actress ended up losing a finger! I looked over at Sean and was shit-scared until he was back to normal…

Miles O'Keeffe was being groomed for stardom... did you find him to be good to work with?  Were you pleased with his performance?
He was difficult to work with because he had no confidence working with English actors and trying to act English. It was a nightmare – I ended up re-voicing him. However, I gave him another chance as an American on ‘The Bengal Lancers!’ – and in that he was beginning to be really shaping up…

Trevor Howard also appears in the film... do you have any recollections of him?
Trevor was a truly great actor – but better use him before lunch, before the alcohol starts to have its effect!

After this film, you stopped making movies... why?
Because of an enormous insurance fraud committed during the production of ‘The Bengal Lancers!’ in India in 1984. It took me until 1995 to recover from Technicolor trying to steal the film that was shot, bankrupt my company, steal my house – all to cover up the fact that the Technical Director of the lab had been bribed to sent false rushes reports to us in India! Finally, my book on all this – ‘Stairs of Sand’ – will tell all. I am giving away a pilot copy of the book in the PCASUK competition!

Can you tell use a little about the 'Avalon' story, which you at one time hoped to develop into a film. How far in development did this project get and what prevented it going into production?
‘Awakening Avalon’ is an extraordinary Arthurian story…. And recently I dusted it off and now it’s been published on Amazon. It’s a good read… in its development I was helped by Lorenzo Semple Jr, the great American screenwriter (who died aged 91 in March, sadly). The whole Technicolor drama killed the film. It was all cast – including what would have been Lee and Cushing’s last movie together.


Do you have any desire to get back "into the game," so to speak?
Yes, I am now working on my own adaptation of my novel ‘The Pain of Mrs Winterton’ – a dramatic story set in India 1938-41. Shooting next year. Novel will start in the USA this autumn.

Are there any films or filmmakers that are particularly inspiring to you?  Do you keep up with modern cinema?
Yes, of course I keep up. Oh, so many good directors… but I still like ‘Closely Watched Trains’ as one of my favourites, by Jiri Menzel (1968). I fell in love with it long before I knew anything about Czechoslovakia (I now live in Prague).

And lastly, how would you sum up your career as a director?
Not dead yet! My best work is coming out right now – novels, and my films will be great… new ones! 

Stephen, thank you for your time and for the interview!
My pleasure!

Questions: Troy Howarth
Images and design: Marcus Brooks

No comments:

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...