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Mills, (Sir) John

MILLS, (Sir) John



Nationality: British. Born: Felixstowe, Suffolk, England, 22 February 1908. Military Service: Royal Engineers, 1940, began making propaganda films; medical discharge for duodenal ulcer, 1941. Family: Married 1) the actress Aileen Raymond, 1931 (divorced 1940); 2) the actress Mary Hayley Bell, 1941, daughters: the actresses Juliet and Hayley, son: Jonathan. Career: At 16, clerk with Ipswich corn merchant; 1927—London stage debut in chorus of The Five O'Clock Revue; joined repertory company The Quaints, tour of Far East; 1931—in stage version of Noël Coward's Cavalcade; 1932—film debut opposite Jessie Matthews in The Midshipmaid; 1938—invited by Tyrone Guthrie to join Old Vic company; 1949–50—produced and appeared in two films, The History of Mr. Polly and The Rocking-Horse Winner; 1961—on Broadway in Terence Rattigan's Ross; 1967—in TV series Dundee and the Culhane; 1977—on stage in Separate Tables, Goodbye, Mr. Chips, 1982, Little Lies, 1983, and Pygmalion, 1987; 1989—in TV mini-series Around the World in 80 Days, Night of the Fox, 1990, and The Sands of Time, 1992. Awards: Best Actor, Venice Festival, for Tunes of Glory, 1960; Best Supporting Actor Academy Award, for Ryan's Daughter, 1970; knighted, 1977; London Evening Standard Special Award, 1979. Agent: ICM, 388 Oxford Street, London W1, England.

Films as Actor:

1932

The Midshipmaid (Midshipmaid Gob) (de Courville) (as Golightly)

1933

Britannia of Billingsgate (Hill) (as Fred); The Ghost Camera (Vorhaus) (as Ernes Elton)

1934

A Political Party (Norman Lee) (as Tony Smithers); The River Wolves (Pearson) (as Peter Farrell); The Lash (Henry Edwards) (as Arthur Haughton); Doctor's Orders (Norman Lee) (as Ronnie Blake); Those Were the Days (Bentley) (as Bobby); Blind Justice (Vorhaus) (as Ralph Summers)

1935

Brown on Resolution (Forever England; Born for Glory; Torpedo Raider) (Forde) (as Able Seaman Albert Brown); Car of Dreams (Melford and Cutts) (as Robert Miller); Royal Cavalcade (Regal Cavalcade) (Bentley and others) (as boy); Charing Cross Road (de Courville) (as Tony)

1936

First Offence (Bad Blood) (Mason) (as Johnnie Penrose); Tudor Rose (Nine Days a Queen; Lady Jane Grey) (Stevenson) (as Lord Guildford Dudley)

1937

O.H.M.S. (You're in the Army Now) (Walsh) (as Cpl. Bert Dawson); The Green Cockatoo (Four Dark Hours; Race Gang) (Menzies and William K. Howard) (as Jim Connor)

1939

Goodbye Mr. Chips (Wood) (as Peter Colley as a young man)

1940

Old Bill and Son (Dalrymple) (as young Bill Busby); All Hands (Carstairs—short); Dangerous Comment (short); Now You're Talking (short)

1941

Cottage to Let (Bombsight Stolen) (Asquith) (as Lt. George Perrey); The Black Sheep of Whitehall (Hay and Dearden) (as Bobby)

1942

The Young Mr. Pitt (Reed) (as William Wilberforce); In Which We Serve (Coward and Lean) (as Shorty Blake); The Big Blockade (Frend) (as Tom)

1943

We Dive at Dawn (Asquith) (as Lt. Freddie Taylor)

1944

Victory Wedding (Matthews—short); This Happy Breed (Lean) (as Billy Mitchell); Waterloo Road (Gilliat) (as Jim Colter)

1945

Total War in Britain (Rotha—doc) (as narrator); The Way to the Stars (Johnny in the Clouds) (Asquith) (as Peter Penrose)

1946

Great Expectations (Lean) (as Pip Pirrip); Land of Promise (Rotha—doc) (as voice)

1947

So Well Remembered (Dmytryk) (as George Boswell); The October Man (Baker) (as Jim Ackland)

1948

Scott of the Antarctic (Frend) (as Capt. Robert Falcon Scott)

1949

The History of Mr. Polly (Pelissier) (as Alfred Polly, + pr); Friend of the Family (Hill—doc) (as narrator); The Flying Skyscraper (short) (as narrator)

1950

The Rocking-Horse Winner (Pelissier) (as Bassett, + pr); Morning Departure (Operation Disaster) (Baker) (as Lieut. Comdr. Armstrong)

1951

Mr. Denning Drives North (Kimmins) (as Tom Denning)

1952

The Gentle Gunman (Relph and Dearden) (as Terence Sullivan)

1953

The Long Memory (Hamer) (as Davidson)

1954

Hobson's Choice (Lean) (as Willie Mossop)

1955

The Colditz Story (Hamilton) (as Pat Reid); The End of the Affair (Dmytryk) (as Albert Parkis); Above Us the Waves (Thomas) (as Commander Frazer); Escapade (Leacock) (as John Hampden)

1956

War and Peace (King Vidor) (as Platon Karatayev); It's Great to Be Young (Frankel) (as Mr. Dingle); The Baby and the Battleship (Jay Lewis) (as "Puncher" Roberts); Around the World in Eighty Days (Anderson) (as London cabbie)

1957

Town on Trial (Guillermin) (as Supt. Mike Halloran); The Circle (The Vicious Circle) (Thomas) (as Dr. Howard Latimer)

1958

Dunkirk (Norman) (as Corporal Tubby Binns); Ice Cold in Alex (Desert Attack) (J. Lee Thompson) (as Capt. Anson); I Was Monty's Double (Hell, Heaven or Hoboken) (Guillermin) (as Major Harvey)

1959

Tiger Bay (J. Lee Thompson) (as Superintendent Graham); Season of Passion (Summer of the 17th Doll) (Norman) (as Barney)

1960

Swiss Family Robinson (Annakin) (as Mr. Robinson); Tunes of Glory (Neame) (as Lt. Col. Basil Barrow)

1961

The Singer Not the Song (Baker) (as Father Keogh)

1962

Flame in the Streets (Baker) (as "Jacko" Palmer); The Valiant (Baker) (as Captain Morgan); Tiara Tahiti (Kotcheff) (as Lt. Col. Clifford Southey)

1964

The Chalk Garden (Neame) (as Maitland)

1965

The Truth about Spring (Thorpe) (as Tommy Tyler); King Rat (Forbes) (as Smedley-Taylor); Operation Crossbow (The Great Spy Mission) (Anderson) (as General Boyd)

1966

The Wrong Box (Forbes) (as Masterman Finsbury)

1967

The Family Way (Boulting) (as Ezra Fitton); Chuka (Gordon Douglas) (as Colonel Stuart Valois); Africa—Texas Style! (Marton) (as Wing Commander Howard Hayes)

1969

Run Wild, Run Free (Sarafian) (as Moorman); Oh! What a Lovely War (Attenborough) (as Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig); Lady Hamilton (Emma Hamilton; The Making of a Lady) (Christian-Jaque) (as Sir William Hamilton); La morte non ha sesso (A Black Veil for Lisa) (Dallamano) (as Insp. Franz Bulov)

1970

Adam's Woman (Return of the Boomerang) (Leacock) (as Sir Philip); Ryan's Daughter (Lean) (as Michael)

1971

Dulcima (Nesbitt) (as Mr. Parker)

1972

Lady Caroline Lamb (Bolt) (as Canning); Young Winston (Attenborough) (as General Kitchener)

1973

Oklahoma Crude (Kramer) (as Cleon Doyle)

1975

The Human Factor (Dmytryk) (as Mike McCallister)

1976

Dirty Knight's Work (Trial by Combat; Choice of Weapons) (Connor) (as Bertie Cook)

1977

The Devil's Advocate (Green) (as Blaise Meredith)

1978

The Big Sleep (Winner) (as Inspector Jim Carson); The Thirty-Nine Steps (Sharp) (as Colonel Scudder); Dr. Strange (De Guere—for TV)

1979

Zulu Dawn (Hickox) (as Sir Henry Bartle Frere); Quatermass Conclusion (Haggard) (as Prof. Bernard Quatermass)

1982

Gandhi (Attenborough) (as Lord Chelmsford)

1983

Sahara (McLaglen) (as Cambridge); A Woman of Substance (Sharp—for TV) (as Henry Rossiter)

1984

Masks of Death (Baker)

1985

Murder with Mirrors (Lowry—for TV) (as Lewis Serrocold); Edge of the Wind (Ives—for TV)

1986

When the Wind Blows (Murukami—animation) (as voice of Jim Bloggs); Hold the Dream (Sharp—for TV) (as Henry Rossiter); Witnesses


1987

Who's That Girl? (Foley) (as Montgomery Bell)

1989

The Lady and the Highwayman (Hough) (as Sir Lawrence Dobson); A Tale of Two Cities (Monnier)

1990

Ending Up (Sasdy—for TV) (as Bernard)

1991

The Last Straw

1992

Galaxies Are Colliding

1993

Harnessing Peacocks (James Cellan Jones—for TV) (as Bernard); Frankenstein (Wickes—for TV) (as DeLacey)

1994

Deadly Advice (Fletcher) (as Jack the Ripper)

1996

Hamlet (Branagh) (as Old Norway)

1997

Bean (Mel Smith) (as Chairman)

1998

Cats (Mallet—for Video) (as Gus the Theatre Cat)

1999

The Best of British Cinema (as himself—for Video)



Film as Director and Producer:


1966

Sky West and Crooked (Gypsy Girl)

Publications


By MILLS: book—


Up in the Clouds, Gentlemen Please, New Haven, 1981.


By MILLS: article—

Interview in Photoplay (London), July 1980.

On MILLS: book—

Tanitch, Robert, John Mills, London 1993.

On MILLS: articles—

Johnson, Ian, "Mills," in Films and Filming (London), June 1962.

Current Biography 1963, New York, 1963.

Williams, J., "Oscar, Oscar," in Films Illustrated (London), July 1971.

Marill, Alvin, "John Mills," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1971.

Dacre, R., "John Mills," in Film Dope (Nottingham, England), January 1990.

Stars (Mariembourg, Belgium), September 1991.

Roberts, J., "John Mills," in Classic Images (Muscatine, Iowa), August 1992.


* * *

Whether stuck in the middle of the desert (Ice Cold in Alex) or stuck in the frozen climes of the South Pole (Scott of the Antarctic) or stuck at sea (In Which We Serve) or stuck in a prisoner-of-war camp (The Colditz Story), John Mills is so unfailingly cheerful, brave, and decent one gets the sense that were he to be cast against type, perhaps to play Adolf Hitler or Genghis Khan, we would warm to his performance and have him home to tea nonetheless.

It is surely significant that Mills first came to prominence in the war years, a period of consensus in British politics when decency—as embodied in 1946 by the Attlee government—was briefly fashionable, and where class, privilege, and good looks were not the sole criteria on which the British movie star was judged. As Jeffrey Richards has observed, Mills's great achievement has been "to show the qualities of English decency operating at every level of society." In 1947, Mills toppled Gainsborough Studios' aristocratic "cad and rotter," James Mason, from his perch at the top of the popularity polls. It is quite inconceivable that Mills would ever have bludgeoned Margaret Lockwood with an iron poker (as Mason did in The Man in Grey). Nor, in later life, would Mills have been happy corrupting nymphets (as Mason did in Lolita). Whether as character actor or leading man, Mills maintained morals, principles, and basic humanity. Given the opportunity to follow Granger and Mason to Hollywood, he plumped for Britain.

Sometimes, Mills could exude an irritating sanctimony and smugness. As Pip in David Lean's Great Expectations, he is dull and bland beside the gallery of Dickensian grotesques (Finlay Currie as the shaven-headed convict, Mr. Jaggers, Miss Havisham, and company); it seems very unlikely that Jean Simmons would ever have fallen for such a lackluster hero. And in Lean's This Happy Breed, Mills's decency and loyalty to Nöel Coward's quaint ideal of the family—Mills's portrayal of the boy-next-door—as in In Which We Serve, is faintly grating.

In the 1950s, as prosperity set in, and as Churchill and then Macmillan attempted to gnaw away at the "consensual decency" of the previous decade, Mills stood as a totem of the old values. Generally, British 1950s war films are seen as symptomatic of imperial anxiety, of Albion attempting to cope with its loss of significance in the world, with the growing pains of Suez and the disappearing empire. As British world influence dwindles, British filmmakers try to reinvoke martial myths of the recent past. Seen in such a light, Mills, forever dressed in khaki, seems a reactionary figure in such films as Tunes of Glory, which was, of course, that film's point about his character.

It comes as something of a surprise to discover that Mills, like Cagney (to whom, although gentler with grapefruits, he is in some sense a British parallel), started off his career in musical comedy. Somehow, one does not think of him singing and dancing. In later years, Mills tried to break away from his Mr. Decent type; he played a deformed deaf-mute in Lean's Ryan's Daughter, a performance that won a him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, although it borders on the freakish. He marvelously played the stiff-necked dad of newlyweds Hywell Bennett and daughter Hayley in The Family Way. And he has even attempted to play the villain from time to time—as in the serial killer omnibus Deadly Advice, where he played Jack the Ripper. As General Haig, the butcher of the Somme who sent hundreds of thousands of British soldiers to their death, in the earlier Oh! What a Lovely War, he laced his villainy with sympathy to create a realistic human portrait. In all these films, he demonstrated that he is a far more versatile actor than his war-hero persona often allowed. Nonetheless, he will always be remembered as brave Shorty Blake with the stiff upper lip or as Courageous Captain Scott—as the chivalric and conscientious protagonist of a dozen British war movies.

—G. C. Macnab, updated by John McCarty

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