Two United Kingdom character acting stalwarts share today as a birthday, one an aristocratic lion cherished as an all-time greats of stage and screen, the other a capable, “regular Joe” veteran who elevated many an ensemble by his presence. To cinema historian David Shipman, writing in The Great Movie Stars: The Golden Years, the quintessentially British Ralph Richardson (1902-1983), born 115 years ago and knighted in 1947, was “particularly good at projecting the intellectual ‘ordinary’ man and the aristocrat ‘sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought.’ He is nimble, blunt, trusting, but there is an intelligence which overrides every other quality.” To John Alderton, a fellow Upstairs Downstairs cast member, the red-haired Scotsman who portrayed the iconic manservant Hudson, Gordon Jackson (1923-1990, who would have become 94 today and was awarded Order of the British Empire honors in 1979), was “the sweetest, gentlest man I have ever met. To have worked with him was a privilege, to be counted as a friend was an honor.” Between the pair of them, Twilight Time has had the honor and privilege of their fine work, playing roles both high-born and lower-class, in seven dandy hi-def Blu-ray titles, two of which have sold out (Richardson’s 1966 Khartoum and Jackson’s 1965 Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines) and five of which remain available.
Sir Ralph contributes three finely etched portrayals in the distinguished ensembles of the Carol Reed/Graham Greene espionage comedy Our Man in Havana (1959) as the befuddled spy master “C,” director Otto Preminger’s stirring Leon Uris adaptation of Exodus (1960) as the conflicted but ultimately compassionate British Gen. Sutherland, and, with a twinkle and a blithe serenity in chilly totalitarian surroundings, as the Librarian, keeper of the global corporatocracy’s super-computer, in director Norman Jewison’s futuristic dystopian fable Rollerball (1975). Jackson, so memorable on the Allied side as “Intelligence” in the 1963 prisoner-of-war epic The Great Escape, switched allegiances to play the cautiously cynical military aide to dogged German murder investigator Omar Sharif in the early Warsaw-set sequences of director Anatole Litvak’s disquieting all-star World War II suspense thriller The Night of the Generals (1967). Two years later, he graduated to perhaps his most prominent and heartrending pre-Upstairs Downstairs role under Ronald Neame's direction as Gordon Lowther, the reserved and proper music instructor/ church choirmaster at Edinburgh’s Marcia Blaine School for Girls, who tries – and fails – to capture the feckless heart of Maggie Smith’s tempestuous title character in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (1969, available only here: http://screenarchives.com/title_detail.cfm/ID/28400/THE-PRIME-OF-MISS-JEAN-BRODIE-1969/). Five great 1080p experiences are given added luster by the welcome craft of two masterful embodiments of dutiful butlers – Sir Ralph’s indelible Baines of another Reed/Greene project, The Fallen Idol (1949), and OBE Gordon’s devoted Angus Hudson of the Bellamy household. The long screen service of both birthday honorees remains distinguished and proud.