Cinematographer and director. Nationality: British. Born: London, 23 April 1911; father, Elwin Neame, director of silent films, mother Ivy Close, actress. Education: University College School and Hurstpierpoint College. Family: Married 1) Beryl Heanly 15 October 1933; one son, Christopher Elwin; 2) Dona Friedberg 12 September 1993. Career: Became messenger and tea boy at British International Film Studios, 1925; clapper boy and camera assistant on Hitchcock's Blackmail, 1929; became director of photography, 1934; became producer at Cineguild with Noel Coward, David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allen (company made Great Expectations (1946), Oliver Twist (1947), and The Passionate Friends (1948); as director of photography became known for the quality of colour filming; turned to directing in 1947; teacher of direction at University of California, Los Angeles from 1992; member of Directors' Guild of America, American Film Institute, Academy of Motion Pictures, Arts and Sciences (Governor, 1977–79), British Academy of Film and Television Arts (London and Los Angeles), Savile Club (London). Awards:
Commander of the British Empire (CBE), 1996. Address: 2317 Kimridge Road, Beverley Hills, CA 90210, U.S.A.
Films as Cinematographer:
Give Her a Ring (Giving You the Stars) (Woods); Girls Will Be Boys (Varnel)
A Star Fell From Heaven (Merzbach); Weekend Millionaire(Woods); Music Hath Charms (Bentley, Esway, Summers and Woods); Joy Ride (Hughes); Invitation to the Waltz (Reinhardt); Honours Easy (Brenon); Drake of England (Drake the Pirate, Elizabeth of England) (Woods)
Once in a Million (Woods); The Improper Duchess (Hughes);The Crimes of Stephen Hawke (King); Cafe Colette (Danger in Paris) (Stein)
Keep Fit (Kimmins); Feather Your Nest (Beaudine); Brief Ecstasy (Dangerous Secrets) (Bréville); Against the Tide (Bryce)
Who Goes Next? (Elvey); The Ware Case (Stevenson); Second Thoughts (The Crime of Peter Frame) (Parker); Penny Paradise (Reed); It's in the Air (George Takes the Air) (Kimmins); I See Ice (Kimmins); The Gaunt Stranger (The Phantom Strikes) (Forde)
Young Man's Fancy (Stevenson); Trouble Brewing (Kimmins); Let's Be Famous (Forde); The Four Just Men (The Secret Four) (Forde); Come on George (Kimmins); Cheer Boys Cheer (Forde)
Saloon Bar (Forde); Return to Yesterday (Stevenson); Let George Do It (Varnel)
Major Barbara (Pascal, French and Lean)
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing (Powell and Pressburger); In Which We Serve (Coward and Lean)
This Happy Breed (Lean) (+ sc)
Blithe Spirit (Lean) (+ sc)
Films as Director:
Take My Life
The Golden Salamander (+ co-pr, co-sc)
The Card (The Promoter)
The Million Pound Note (Man with a Million)
The Man Who Never Was
The Seventh Sin
Windom's Way; The Horse's Mouth (+ pr)
Tunes of Glory
Escape from Zahrain (+ pr)
I Could Go on Singing
The Chalk Garden
A Man Could Get Killed; Gambit
Prudence and the Pill
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
The Poseidon Adventure
The Odessa File (Die Akte Odessa, Der Fall Odessa)
Meteor (+ ro as British Representative)
First Monday in October
The Magic Balloon (+ sc)
Blackmail (Hitchcock) (asst ph)
Brief Encounter (Lean) (co-pr, co-sc); Great Expectations(Lean) (co-pr, sc)
Oliver Twist (Lean) (pr)
The Passionate Friends (One Woman's Story) (Lean) (pr)
The Magic Box (Boulting) (pr)
Hitchcock: Shadow of a Genius (Dial H Hitchcock: The Genius Behind the Showman, Dial H for Hitchcock) (Haimes—for TV) (ro as himself)
By NEAME: articles—
"Return of the Native," interview with G. Fuller, in Stills, no. 25, March 1986.
"Remembering Hitchcock," in DGA (Los Angeles), vol. 22, no. 2, May-June 1997.
On NEAME: books—
Pratley, Gerald, The Cinema of David Lean, South Brunswick, New Jersey, 1973.
Silver, Alain, and James Ursini, David Lean and his Films, London, 1974.
Low, Rachel, Film Making in 1930s Britain, London, 1985.
On NEAME: articles—
Bawden, J., "Ronald Neame," in Films in Review (New York), vol. 38, no. 1, January 1987.
Pulleine, T., "Practically Born in a Film Studio," in Films and Filming (London), no. 391, April 1987.
"1207 Ronald Neame," in Film Dope (Nottingham), no. 47, December 1991.
"Icons: Ronald Neame," in Films in Review (London), 1 May 1996.
Quinlan, David, "Ronald Neame," in Quinlan's Directors, London, 1999.
On NEAME: film—
Ronald Neame on the Director, 1985.
* * *
A key figure in the British film industry in the mid-twentieth century Ronald (sometimes known as Ronnie) Neame has been involved in some capacity in over some seventy feature films. Besides his work as a cinematographer, he has had success as a producer, a screenwriter, and, since 1947, as a director. Although he continued to work into the 1990s, he will best be remembered as director of the 1970 disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure, and of comedies such as The Million Pound Note and The Card. As a cinematographer Neame made his most important contributions through his use of Technicolor on the David Lean films This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit. Given that he was born in 1911, it is perhaps surprising that Neame was the second generation of his family to be involved in filmmaking. Even though his father, Elwin Neame, was a director of silent films in which his mother starred, Ronald Neame did not begin his career with any privileges. But within seven years, he did work his way up from tea boy to director of photography at British International Film Studios. It is interesting, given his father's profession, that Neame's most significant contribution before he became director of photography was as assistant to cinematographer Clyde de Vinna on Alfred Hitchcock's thriller, Blackmail. Hitchcock's eleventh feature was released in both silent and sound versions, placing the beginning of Neame's career at the very start of British sound film. Blackmail is also important from the point of view of cinematography because it was one of the earliest films to have been made using cameras mounted on wheels, anticipating modern "dollies" by several years.
It was in his collaboration with Noël Coward, David Lean, and Anthony Havelock-Allen, however, that Neame produced his best work as a cinematographer. Together they formed Cineguild, establishing David Lean as among the best British directors, and Ronald Neame as his equal in colour cinematography. Neame was one of only four cinematographers used by Lean in his fifty year career. In This Happy Breed and Blithe Spirit, for which Neame also wrote the screenplays, he set new standards in the use of the Technicolor process. Both films are noted for the warmth of their colour photography and the effectiveness with which the camera catches the quality of light.
Neame's enthusiasm for filmmaking, and for colour photography in particular, led him to producing and finally directing by the late 1940s. Take My Life, his directorial debut, is a strong thriller, which builds the tension through a series of small-scale set pieces, and is helped along by the photography of Guy Green, another of Lean's favoured cinematographers. Such attention to detail would seem to be a consequence of his career behind the camera, for it became a hallmark of Neame's direction. His ability to place the camera became ever more assured, and in the 1950s he was at the forefront of colour film direction.
Neame's detailed visual style has proved successful for a range of film types, from thrillers to melodramas. But it is in gentle comedies, such as The Million Pound Note, an adaptation of a Mark Twain story in which Gregory Peck struggles to spend the large denomination banknote of the title, that his direction seems most comfortable. At his best, he also drew excellent performances from his leading actors. Alec Guinness in the title role of The Card and Gene Hackman as the troubled but heroic priest in The Poseidon Adventure both give of their best, while Maggie Smith is impressive in the entertaining but otherwise thin adaptation, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Neame has been nominated for Oscars as a writer, producer, director, and for special effects. Probably his best film, Tunes of Glory, a tense army melodrama, was nominated for a BAFTA in 1961. Although his technical accomplishments in the 1930s and 1940s undoubtedly helped when it came to directing, his films, good-looking though most of them are, lack the broad insight of a master such as Lean. Nevertheless, Neame's output has consistently scored at the box office if not with the critics.
From his beginnings running errands, to his retirement with a knighthood as a grand old man of British cinema, Ronald Neame has played a part in most aspects of the filmmaking process. With a history that spans a century of cinema, the Neame family business continues with his son, Christopher, who works as a film producer.