Clayton, Jack

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Nationality: British. Born: Brighton, Sussex, 1 March 1921. Family: Married 1) actress Christine Norden; 2) Kathleen Kath; 3) Haya Haraneet. Career: Trained as racing ice skater. Third assistant director, assistant director, then editor, London Films, 1935–40; served in Royal Air Force Film Unit, finally Commanding Officer, 1940–46; associate producer, Romulus Films, 1950s; directed first feature, Room at the Top, 1958. Awards: Special Prize, Venice Festival, for The Bespoke Overcoat, 1956; Best Director Award, British Academy, for Room at the Top, 1959. Died: 26 February 1995, in Slough, Berkshire, England.

Films as Director:


Naples Is a Battlefield (+ sc, co-ph—uncredited)


The Bespoke Overcoat (+ pr)


Room at the Top


The Innocents (+ pr)


The Pumpkin Eater


Our Mother's House


The Great Gatsby


Something Wicked This Way Comes


The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne


Memento Mori (for TV) (+ co-sc)

Other Films:


Bond Street (Parry) (2nd unit d); An Ideal Husband (A. Korda) (pr mgr); The Queen of Spades (Dickinson) (assoc pr)


Flesh and Blood (Kimmins) (assoc pr)


Moulin Rouge (Huston) (assoc pr)


Beat the Devil (Huston) (assoc pr)


The Good Die Young (Gilbert) (assoc pr)


I Am a Camera (Cornelius) (assoc pr)


Sailor Beware! (Panic in the Parlor) (Parry) (pr); Dry Rot (Elvey) (pr); Three Men in a Boat (Annakin) (pr)


The Story of Esther Costello (Miller) (assoc pr, 2nd unit d)


The Whole Truth (Guillermin) (pr)


By CLAYTON: articles—

"Challenge from Short Story Films," in Films and Filming (London), February 1956.

"The Way Things Are," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Filmsand Filming (London), April 1974.

"I'm Proud of That Film," an interview with M. Rosen, in FilmComment (New York), July/August 1974.

"Feats of Clayton," an interview with Nick Roddick, in Stills (London), November-December 1983.

Interview in American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1987.

"Jack Clayton Back on Track: The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne," in Films and Filming (London), no. 410, November-December 1988.

Interview in Film en Televisie (Brussels), no. 394, March 1990.

"Beware the Eyes. Martin Stephens," an interview with Jessie Lilley, in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock), no. 20, Fall 1995.

On CLAYTON: book—

Craston, George M. A., Jack Clayton: A Guide to References andResources, Boston, 1981.

On CLAYTON: articles—

Cowie, Peter, "Clayton's Progress," in Motion (London), Spring 1962.

McVay, Douglas, "The House That Jack Built," in Films andFilming (London), October 1967.

Houston, Penelope, "West Egg at Pinewood," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1973.

Gregory, C. T., "There'll Always Be Room at the Top for Nothing but the Best," in Journal of Popular Film (Bowling Green, Ohio), Winter 1973.

Houston, Penelope, "Gatsby," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1974.

"Gatsby le magnìfique," in Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), January 1975.

Rebello, Stephen, "Jack Clayton's The Innocents," in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), June-July 1983.

Sinyard, Neil, "Directors of the Decade: Jack Clayton," in Films andFilming (London), September 1983.

Saada, Nicolas, "Amnésies," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), November 1988.

Lefévre, Raymond, "Jack Clayton. Made in England," in Revue duCinéma, no. 448, April 1989.

Sinyard, Neil, "Jack Clayton," in Cinema Papers (Fitzroy), no. 78, March 1990.

McIlroy, Brian, "Tackling Aloneness: Jack Clayton's The LonelyPassions of Judith Hearne," in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury), vol. 21, no. 1, January 1993.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 6 March 1995.

Obituary, in Film-Dienst (Cologne), 14 March 1995.

Loban, Lelia, "The Haunting and The Innocents," in Scarlet Street (Glen Rock), no. 20, Fall 1995.

Obituary, in Psychotronic Video (Narrowsburg), no. 20, 1995.

Chase, Donald, "Romancing the Stones. Jack Clayton's The Innocents," in Film Comment (New York), vol. 34, no. 1, January-February 1998.

* * *

Though nearly forty before directing his first feature, Clayton had a solid professional grounding as associate producer. His credits, though few, have been mostly major productions. Though he disclaims consciously auteurial choices, his films evince a heavily recognisable temperament. True, his approach is national-generational, insofar as his heavy, faintly expressionistic, blocking-in of a basic mood perpetuates the lyrical emphasis conspicuous in such "quality" films of the 1940s as Brief Encounter, Odd Man Out, and Dead of Night. His penchant for themes of melancholy, frustration, obsession, hallucination, and hauntings are also amply evident.

Clayton attracted much critical praise, and an Academy Award, with The Bespoke Overcoat, a "long short" brought in for $5,000; writer Wolf Mankowitz adapted Gogol's tale of a haunted tailor to London's East End. Clayton's first feature was Room at the Top, from John Braine's novel. Laurence Harvey played the ambitious young Northerner who sacrifices his true love, played by Simone Signoret, to a cynical career-move, impregnating an industrialist's innocent daughter. Its sexual frankness (as the first "quality" film to carry the new X certificate) and its class-consciousness (its use of brand-names being as snobbery-conscious as James Bond's—though lower-class) elicited powerful audience self-recognition. It marked a major breakthrough for British cinema, opening it to other "angry young men" with their "kitchen-sink realism" and social indignation (though politically more disparate than legend has it).

Clayton kept his distance from such trends, turning down both Saturday Night and Sunday Morning and The L-shaped Room, to select a very "literary," Victorian, ghost story, The Innocents, from Henry James's The Turn of the Screw. Deborah Kerr played the children's governess who sees ghosts by sunlight while battling to save her charges from possession by the souls of two evil, and very sexual, servants. Is the lonely governess imagining everything, or projecting her own evil? The Pumpkin-Eater adapted Penelope Mortimer's novel about a mother of eight (Anne Bancroft) whose new husband, a film scriptwriter, bullies her into having a hysterectomy. In Our Mother's House, a family of children conceal their mother's death from the authorities to continue living as a family—until their scapegrace father (Dirk Bogarde) returns and takes over, introducing, not so much "reality," as his, disreputable, reality.

The three films are all but a trilogy, brooding with "haunted realism" over the psychic chaos between parental—especially mother—figures and children caught in half-knowledge of sexuality, death, and individuality. Atmospheres sluggish or turbulent, strained or cavernous, envelope women or child-women enmeshed in tangles of family closeness and loneliness. If The Innocents arraigns Victorian fears of childhood sexuality, it acknowledges also the evil in children. The Pumpkin Eater balances assumptions of "excessive" maternal instinct being a neurotic defence by raising the question of whether modern superficiality is brutally intolerant of maternal desire. Our Mother's House concerns a "lost tribe" of children, caught between the modern, "small-family" world, infantile over-severity (with dangers of a Lord of the Flies situation) and adult dissipation (with Dirk Bogarde somewhat reminiscent of The Servant). Its echoes of other films may do it injustice.

Several years and aborted projects later came The Great Gatsby, an ultra-lavish version of Scott Fitzgerald's tale of the lost love of a bootlegger turned socialite. It's a 1920s yuppie story, but its glitzy surfaces and characters even wispier than their originals acquire an icy, sarcophagal air. Almost as expensive, Something Wicked This Way Comes, from Ray Bradbury, about an eerie carnival touring lonely prairie towns to snare unsatisfied souls, evokes children's storybook illustrations, but proved a heavy commercial failure. The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne reverted to more intimate and lacerating material—Brian Moore's novel of a genteel but alcoholic spinster (Maggie Smith) courted by an opportunist (Bob Hoskins) for the money he mistakenly thinks she has.

Clayton's "family trilogy" achieves a strange osmosis of 1940s "lyrical realism" and a more "calligraphic" sensitivity, of strong material and complicated interactions between profoundly different people. The resultant tensions between a central subjectivity and "the others," emphasise the dark, confused, painful gaps between minds. If the films border on the "absurdist" experience (Pinter adapted the Mortimer), they retain the richness of "traditional" themes and forms. Critics (and collaborators) keenly discussed shifts between Mortimer's first person narration and the camera as third person, and the relegation of Fitzgerald's narrator to onlooker status. Even in the lesser films, "shifting emphases" (between gloss and core in Gatsby, space and emotion in Wicked) repay re-seeing, and Clayton's combinations of fine literary material with a troubling temperament make powerful testimony to their time and to abiding human problems.

—Raymond Durgnat