Mackendrick, Alexander

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Nationality: Scottish. Born: Boston, 1912. Education: Glasgow School of Art. Career: Commercial artist, animator of advertising films, also worked in Holland with George Pal, 1930s; made short propaganda films for Ministry of Information, World War II; later head of documentary and newsreel department of Psychological Warfare Branch, Rome; joined Ealing Studios as scriptwriter, 1946; directed first feature, Whisky Galore, 1946; signed contract with Hecht-Lancaster (Harold Hecht and Burt Lancaster) to make Sweet Smell of Success in U.S., 1956; Dean, Film Dept. of California Institute of the Arts, Valencia, from 1969; resigned Deanship, continued to teach at CalArts, from 1978. Died: 22 December 1993, of pneumonia.

Films as Director:


Whisky Galore (Tight Little Island) (+ co-sc)


The Man in the White Suit (+ co-sc)


Mandy (The Story of Mandy; Crash of Silence)


The Maggie (High and Dry) (+ story)


The Ladykillers


Sweet Smell of Success


Sammy Going South (A Boy Ten Feet Tall)


A High Wind in Jamaica


Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'mFeelin' So Sad (Quine) (d add'l scenes); Don't Make Waves

Other Films:


The Blue Lamp (Dearden) (add'l dialogue)


By MACKENDRICK: article—

Interview with Bernard Cohn, in Positif (Paris), February 1968.

Interview with Kate Buford, in Film Comment (Los Angeles), May-June 1994.


Balcon, Michael, A Lifetime of Films, London, 1969.

Barr, Charles, Ealing Studios, London, 1977.

Perry, George, Forever Ealing, London, 1981.

Kemp, Philip, Lethal Innocence: The CinemaofAlexanderMackendrick, London, 1991.

On MACKENDRICK articles—

Cutts, John, "Mackendrick Finds the Sweet Smell of Success," in Films and Filming (London), June 1957.

"Alexander Mackendrick," in Films and Filming (London), January 1963.

Sarris, Andrew, "Oddities and One-Shots," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

"Mackendrick Issue" of Dialogue on Film (Washington, D.C.), no. 2, 1972.

Barr, Charles, "Projecting Britain and the British Character: Ealing Studios," in Screen (London), Summer 1974.

Goldstone, P., "Focus on Education: The Mackendrick Legacy," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), March 1979.

"Alexander Mackendrick," in Film Dope (London), June 1987.

Kemp, Philip, "Mackendrick Land," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1988/89.

Obituary, in Variety (New York), 3 January 1994.

Obituary, in Time, 3 January 1994.

Obituary, in New Yorker, 31 January 1994.

Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), February 1994.

Obituary, in Mensuel du Cinéma, February 1994.

Obituary, in Sight and Sound (London), February 1994.

Obituary, in Classic Images (Muscatine), March 1994.

Claes, G., "A Dieu," in Film en Televisie + Video (Brussels), May/June 1994.

Buford, K, "Do Make Waves: Sandy," in Film Comment (New York), May/June 1994.

Frears, Stephen, "Sandy Mackendrick," in Positif (Paris), June 1994.

* * *

In 1955 Alexander Mackendrick made The Ladykillers, the last of his four Ealing comedies. Two years later, in Hollywood, came his brilliantly acid study of corruption and betrayal, Sweet Smell of Success. At first glance, the gulf is prodigious. Yet on closer examination, it narrows considerably: the apparent contrast between the two films becomes little more than a matter of surface tone. For behind the comedies that Mackendrick made for Ealing can be detected a mordant humor, a pessimism, and even an instinct for cruelty that sets them apart from the gentle sentimentality of their stablemates (Hamer's Kind Hearts and Coronets always excepted). The mainstream of Ealing comedy, even including such classics as Passport to Pimlico and The Lavender Hill Mob, presents (as Charles Barr has pointed out) "a whimsical daydream of how things might be." There is little of that daydream about Mackendrick's films; at times—as in The Ladykillers—they edge closer to surrealist nightmare.

In Whisky Galore the English outsider, Captain Waggett, is subjected by islanders to continual humiliation, unalleviated even in their triumph by the slightest friendly gesture. Similarly Marshall, the American tycoon in The Maggie, is abused, exploited, and physically assaulted by the Scots he encounters. Both workers and bosses in The Man in the White Suit turn violently upon Sidney Stratton, the idealistic inventor; and The Ladykillers culminates in a whole string of brutal murders. Not that this blackness detracts in the least from the effectiveness of the comedy. Rather, it lends the films a biting edge that makes them all the funnier, and may well explain why they have dated far less than most other Ealing movies.

A constant theme of Mackendrick's films is the clash between innocence and experience. Innocence connotes integrity, but also blindness to the interests of others; experience brings shrewdness, but also corruption. Generally, innocence is defeated, but not always: in The Ladykillers it is serenely innocent Mrs. Wilberforce who survives—as does Susan Hunsecker in Sweet Smell of Success, albeit at a price. Children feature prominently in Mackendrick's films—especially Mandy, Sammy Going South, The Maggie—and often embody the principle of innocence, though again not always. In A High Wind in Jamaica, against all audience expectations, it is the pirates, not the children they capture, who prove to be the innocents and who suffer death for it. As so often with Mackendrick's characters, they are doomed by their lack of perception; trapped, like the deaf heroine of Mandy, in a private world, they see only what they expect to see.

Mackendrick established a reputation as an exacting and perfectionist director, bringing to his films a visual acuteness and a flair for complex fluid composition to support the tight dramatic structure. After Sweet Smell of Success, though, the quality of his work is generally considered to have declined, and he has made no films since 1967. A planned project on Mary Queen of Scots (intriguingly outlined by Mackendrick as "a sophisticated French lady landed in Boot Hill") never materialised. From 1969 to 1978 he headed an outstanding film department at the California Institute of the Arts; but the withdrawal of such a subtle and individual director from active filmmaking is greatly to be regretted.

—Philip Kemp

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