Singing Neame's Praises
Tomorrow marks what would have been the 105th birthday of a witty British gentleman who wore many cinematic hats – cameraman, cinematographer, producer, screenwriter, director – and who would go on storytelling about his moviemaking career right up until his death six years ago at age 99. Ronald Neame (1911-2010) worked alongside giants: he photographed One of Our Aircraft Is Missing for Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and collaborated six times with David Lean on adaptations of Noel Coward (This Happy Breed, Blithe Spirit, Brief Encounter), Charles Dickens (Great Expectations, Oliver Twist) and H.G. Wells (The Passionate Friends). Ultimately, he would stand tall himself as a director, guiding Alec Guinness four times (each one memorable, especially The Horse’s Mouth and Tunes of Glory, Neame’s personal favorite), Deborah Kerr and Walter Matthau twice each, the only film siblings Maximilian and Maria Schell made together (The Odessa File), and the riveting drama that brought Maggie Smith her first Oscar® (The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, currently available on Twilight Time hi-def Blu-ray). He was no stranger to big-studio filmmaking, as The Man Who Never Was, Scrooge and, most popularly, The Poseidon Adventure can attest, and he’s also known as the director of the last movie made by another towering screen talent, Judy Garland. One could go on recounting the troubles that beset the filming of I Could Go On Singing (1963), the show-biz musical drama that indelibly captured on the Panavision screen the electrifying immediacy of the great Garland in her concert performances and interwove four songs with the slender but still moving story of a performer who reunites with a former love (Dirk Bogarde) and the son (Gregory Phillips) she left in his keeping while she pursued a career on “the lonely stage.” (The source material was a 1958 Studio One in Hollywood teleplay by Robert Dozier named The Lonely Stage). At the time of the London-based filming, Garland was facing legal troubles with Sid Luft over custody of her children, and these triggered destructive, suicidal tendencies that wrought havoc with the production schedule. With Garland pal Bogarde as interlocutor, Neame worked steadily and professionally to keep his temperamental leading lady on track because, as Garland biographer Gerald Clarke recounted, “when she was good, Judy was so good that, in Bogarde’s words, ‘she left you breathless.’” A particularly poignant seven-minute hospital scene between the ex-lovers, which Bogarde crafted from conversations between him and Garland, took on a startling, autobiographical intensity for which Neame and his crew hastily improvised their filming setup because, as Neame would later recount, “I knew that I would never, ever, get anything like that again.” For all its soap-opera elements, I Could Go On Singing is a miraculously effective and tenderly intimate look behind the footlights, as well as a record of indelible Garland renditions of Cliff Friend’s Hello, Bluebird, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s It Never Was You, Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz’s By Myself and Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg’s I Could Go On Singing, plus a smidgen of Gilbert and Sullivan to boot. Through panic, patience and persistence, Neame and his collaborators righted a ship that might have otherwise become the S.S. Poseidon. Neame poignantly recounts the delicate balancing act of lensing Garland’s final number at the London Palladium here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LKXwsWEV-ek. TT’s well-appointed hi-def Blu-ray I Could Go On Singing features an Isolated Score Track (with some effects) and two great commentaries, one boasting a you-are-there feel with producer Lawrence Turman talking with TT regulars Lem Dobbs and Nick Redman, and another with film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros analyzing the dedicated work of Bogarde and Neame. Curtain rises May 10. Preorders open April 27.