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June 19, 2010


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Victor Morton

My favorite film of his as a director is THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE, which bears same relationship to inspirational teacher movies like MR. CHIPS as Bong Joon-ho's MOTHER does to inspirational mother movies like MRS. MINIVER. That is, an apparent example of the genre that turns out to be the evil twin, the doppelganger of the kind of teacher/mother figure. Without (and this is BRODIE/MOTHER's genius) turning their protagonists into evil caricatures whose comeuppance we're revelling in.

And I'm glad someone else loves BLITHE SPIRIT and its ghostly color cinematography. Neame also lensed two other early David Lean films -- THIS HAPPY BREED in color (less successful than BLITHE SPIRIT I think) and IN WHICH WE SERVE in b/w (quite excellent).

Keith Uhlich

I'll always love Neame for assaying Judy Garland's last vehicle, "I Could Go On Singing" from 1963. A Technicolor musical with Cassavetes rawness ("A Child is Waiting" immediately preceded it, natch) and some brilliant long takes for both the numbers and the fight/reconciliation scenes between Garland and Dirk Bogarde. R.I.P., Mr. Neame.

Glenn Kenny

@ Victor: Yes, "Miss Jean Brodie" is another good'un, not least due to the ever-sublime presence of young Miss Pamela Franklin...It gets short shrift, I think, because of the association most people who know of the film's existence at all make with rather appalling hit song contributed to the film by the dread Rod McKuen, a song that goes horribly against all of the currents the film itself dives quite eagerly into.

@ Keith: Yes, Neame's work on the underrated, underseen and extremely interesting "I Could Go On..." is heroic in several respects.

Owain Wilson

I've always had tremendous affection for these old school gentlemen who unpretentiously just kept on making movies, whatever the scale, style or subject.

For better or worse, I will always think of Ronald Neame as the director of Meteor, a TV staple of my childhood. I was interested in films and filmmakers at a very young and remembered his name from that movie.

He died at a magnificent age. All the best to you ...

Victor Morton

Glenn: I know THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE isn't terribly well-remembered today, but I have no idea what song you're even referring to (is it even in the film ... I certainly don't recall it). I would have guessed BRODIE's (lack of) rep is a function of Neame's non-star-director status and its tradition-of-quality appearance with Maggie Smith as a (surprise at the time) Oscar winner in a plum role. Or mibby it's jis anti-Scottish prehjuhdiss!!!

For me, the film's felicities are ... well ... basically all the actors. There's Smith, of course -- a mannered actress but absolutely perfect for this kind of self-theatricalizing character. But also Celia Johnson as the headmistress -- kinda shocking in her age after the memories of her in those 40s Lean/Neame/Coward films, and the memories if her steely everywoman strength now deployed in a more authoritarian context. Gordon Jackson will always for me be the butler in UPSTAIRS DOWNSTAIRS, but here again that (then-future) association as the respectable bourgeois. And the girls are all well-cast, both by Neame and by Miss Brodie.

To bring thus back to Neame and what Mr. Wilson just said, THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE was a major novel by a Catholic author (Muriel Spark) and then adapted into a hit play and then, based in that and by the same adapter, into this film. Neame knew that this was an actor's piece, a theatrical property that needed to be presented in a theatrical mode (Spark's novel was not as theatrical, but it's just this side of unadaptable in its pure form). So Neame effaced himself as a director and directed the film in a functional professional manner designed to show off the actor or actors in the frame. And he got the right performances from them.

Kent Jones

The song in question is "Jean," embedded in the DNA of anyone who listened to AM radio in 1969/70. I am reminded of a remark made by David Steinberg on a talk show: "Rod McKuen is my second favorite poet. My first favorite is everybody else."

I just saw THE MAN WHO NEVER WAS for the first time, quite a striking film - impressively somber, quite moving, a striking performance from Clifton Webb, an absolutely fascinating (true) story.

Victor Morton

Well now, my curiosity piqued and "thanks" (and never has a word been used with greater sarcasm in the history of written English) to Google and iTunes, I have now heard "Jean." And I can say with absolute certainty that it doesn't appear in the movie (some if the melodies may ... the song or the words, no).

I can also say definitively that this is one of the worst songs in the history of ever "Jean, Jean, roses are red, th leave have gone green. Come out to the meadows and play, Jean." I am not making this up, and I speak as someone with a very high for pop-music cheese. That crap song is worse than Richard Harris' cake melting in the rain (which at least inspired a pretty good disco song).

"Thanks," Glenn.

Chris O.

Wow, 99. RIP, Mr. Neame. My dad teaches graduate/undergrad classes in leadership & management and screens TUNES OF GLORY for his students to demonstrate different styles of leadership. It's some years since I've seen it but I remember thinking Guinness and Mills' performances were pretty flawless.

Kent Jones

Glenn, it was Oliver whose version had the most airplay, right?

Victor, you've obviously never heard "Sometimes When We Touch" by Dan Hill.

Barbara Roisman Cooper


Yes, Ronald Neame wrote an autobiography, Straight From the Horse's Mouth, which I wrote with him. For four years, he shared the most fabulous stories in a gentlemanly, gracious manner. I agree that the publisher is charging an outrageous price for the book. However,
if there are admirers of Mr. Neame who are interested in the book, I would be delighted to have them contact me. I can offer the book at the 'author's price,' plus s&h. His story is the history of British -- and American -- film. The don't make 'em like that any more.
Barbara Roisman Cooper


File this in the "he was still alive?!??!" category for me...but sad nonetheless. Tunes of Glory is one of my all time favorite films, and I'd put Guinness in a Neame film against anyone anytime anywhere. They had a special affinity that created magic on the screen.

The Siren

Victor, I am also a huge fan of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and am enjoying your comments on it. You are right, the song (with lyrics) does not appear in the movie although the theme is played several times. BUT -- it is played with lyrics over the closing credits, unless my memory is playing tricks. Which I doubt, as I have seen it oh, about ten times.

I know we are all supposed to revere teachers, and we do, but for anyone who ever had a teacher or mentor who was a less-than-benign influence, the movie is a wonderful dose of acid.

Stephen Bowie

The title song for THE PRIME OF MISS JEAN BRODIE was removed from the opening credits & replaced with an instrumental for the DVD ... at least, if I'm remembering the reviews correctly.

For me, that and TUNES OF GLORY are Neame's best films, with THE CHALK GARDEN coming in a close third and THE HORSE'S MOUTH an unaccountably overrated misfire. The switcheroo that Victor alluded to in his first post is one of the most brilliant intellectual coups I've seen in a movie ... although it seems to be the kind that not enough cinephiles take note of.

A friend and I did a great untranscribed/unpublished interview with Neame in his house way at the top of Beverly Hills about a dozen years ago, and also saw him feted at the British-American something-or-other with an astonishing guest list (John Mills introduced him!) and, because it was at such a weird venue, no pesky movie geeks milling about except us and one gauche autograph hound. Neame had a much younger wife, and I'm convinced that's the secret to living to be 99.

Pete Apruzzese

A quick trip to Netflix streaming shows the film with an instrumental main title and a sung end title (dreadful) using the same melody.

The Siren

Aha Pete, I remembered correctly. Didn't realize it was on Netflix streaming. How nice, maybe I'll watch again. Ten times is not enough...

Stephen Bowie

Kent, really, you're a Dan Hill hater? Oh, man, and I used to have so much respect for you. The honesty's too much.


Thanks for this, Glenn-- I knew Neame's name, but didn't realize he'd worked on so many of my favorite films (HOPSCOTCH was a perennial in my house growing up, but I was too young to notice the directorial credit). I picked up THE HORSE'S MOUTH awhile back, and this makes me want to finally sit down and watch it.

I hope this doesn't sound morbid, but I just wanted to say that you write very graceful, insightful and touching obituaries and remembrances, and despite the sadness of their occasion, I always enjoy reading your thoughts on filmmakers, actors and others who've just passed. Thank you for that.


I agree with the praise for THE HORSE'S MOUTH - still, along with LA BELLE NOISSEUSE, the best movie about painting I've ever seen - and HOPSCOTCH. I should give BRODIE another try; I admire Smith's performance, but something about the movie leaves me cold.


When The Poseidon Adventure opened in December 1972 I saw it 5 times in 2 weeks. One of my favorite films of my youth. I have no shame or guilt in saying I love the film and will always see it thru young eyes.

Glenn Kenny

Thanks to Barbara Roisman Cooper for her generous offer, which I may well take her up on. Should she like to return to the thread and leave some contact information that others might do same, I'd be much obliged.

@ Kent, yes, the Oliver version (Oliver was the Brit pop mini-sensation who did name himself after the Lionel Bart adaptation of the Dickens book, yes) was the bigger hit, but I have wretched memories of McKuen's own rendition, half-whispered in his individualistic sprechgesang manner as opposed to the swelling crescendos Oliver favored ("till the leaves in the meadow come home my way," or whatever the hell he's saying). This would seem to be one of those rare instances in which inability to clear video rights for music actually enhances the value of a film!

Kent Jones

GK, it would seem that Oliver was actually born and bred in North Carolina, and that his nom de voix (or whatever you call it) was his real middle name. God knows I have plenty of other things to think about on this overcast Sunday morning in New York, but my fancy has been momentarily caught by memories of top forty radio - top thirty at the station where my dad was the morning DJ. I had forgotten about Oliver's other chartbuster (from HAIR), "Good Morning Starshine" - "gliddy gloop gloopy/nibby nobby nooby/la la la lo lo..."


Gambit does not get enough credit. It's better than Charade.

Glenn Kenny

@ Kent: I did not know that about "Oliver." Or maybe I did, and forgot it. My top 40 radio station in that day was, natch, 77 WABC, and Dan Ingram was my favorite DJ. And "Good Morning Starshine" was ubiquitous. Sabba sibby sabba.


Steven Bowie is close. PART of "Jean," was played in the movie over the closing credits, they cut the song off just before the chorus. WOR used to play the original cut. On DVD they replaced the song fragment with an instrumental of the tune.


I want to comment on "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" being ignored in cinephile memory. It appears that when they ponder over what the best movies were of a particular year or time, they don't use as a criterion, "Did this movie have the best female performance of the year?" While winning an oscar isn't proof of anything, I think many believe the Academy made a reasonable choice. She's the choice of both Michael Gebert's Enclyopedia of Movie Awards and Jon Mulich's Hindsight Awards. Nick's Flicks Picks did choose Jane Fonda in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. I don't know if that movie has a better reputation than The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. On the other hand both surely have a better reputation than the other three nominees (Anne of a Thousand Days, The Sterile Cuckoo, The Happy Ending).

But this hasn't helped them overall. Looking at my own top ten for that year, women are minor or non-existent in The Wild Bunch, Kes, The Wild Child, Z or The Red Tent. Movies are an unusually male dominated medium. Looking at the 182 directors or directorial teams that have more than one entry in theyshootpictures.com top 1000 movies, only 3.5 are women (the first one is Leni Riefenstahl, and the 0.5 is Daniele Huillet). How many great movies are dominated by women in the way that, for instance, Grand Illusion, or Lawrence of Arabia or 2001: A Space Odyssey are dominated by men? Well, there's Persona, and not much else actually. Even movies where women are clearly the most important characters, like All About Eve, or Celine and Julie Go Boating or Jeanne Dielman, have a larger male presence. I'm reminded that when Ingmar Bergman died, some people criticized his talents as more of the theatre than on the cinema. Since getting your actors to act falls clearly into the first category, I suspect that a focus on the second would undercut attention to female performance (an area, of course, in which Bergman was particularly strong in.)

Stephen Bowie

Oliver is one of my favorite fellow North Carolinians, somewhere in between George Grizzard and Sidney Blackmer. His one-hit wonder status remains troubling to me.


Well said, Partisan. Another problem Jean Brodie faced when reviewed by the critics was that the short novel the film was based on had an odd style, a unique charm that resulted from Ms. Spark's habit of writing a novel from beginning to end in pen and submitting it without even looking at the result. She jumped about in a non-linear fashion, predicting a major event, reminiscing about it afterward, but skipping over it when it's time came in the plot. Any attempt to reproduce that style would have made a mess of the whole thing. Mr. Neame notoriously did not read the novel before adapting it, that was all for the best, I'm sure.

If you borrow or rent the DVD, don't send it back without watching the film with the commentary. Mr. Neame and Pamela Franklin split the commentary duties, which was a splendid idea. If Ms. Smith's performance has been unfairly neglected, Ms. Franklin's supporting performance has been inexplicably ignored. At the end of the novel, Sandy is so disillusioned she embraces her lover's (and the author's) faith and enters a nunnery; Mr. Neame ends the film by studying Ms. Franklin's face as she walks away from the school; her expression is as perfect as every other aspect of that astonishing performance.

Paul Anthony Johnson

I think Maggie Smith's performance is fine. It's a very on target characterization, and though Smith is a little broad, well, then, so is the character (or 'self-theatricalizing,' as Mr. Morton put it above). But it's not a performance that surprises me much - once you've got a sense of Smith's peculiar rhythms and range in the role, then nothing much sneaks up on you, not even the ending. I think Pamela Franklin's does some stuff that's much trickier and subtler, like that close-up the movie closes with, though that's arguably as much due to the opportunities the story provides as the relative skill of the actresses. Which gets at why I have no problem leaving the movie off my list of great films - once Miss Jean Brodie starts spouting off in praise of Mussolini, the rest of the picture seems rather overdetermined. That said, it's got terrific use value as a cudgel to beat over the heads of DEAD POETS SOCIETY and every other movie that has even spouted similarly precious nonsense.

Speaking of '69 and great performances from women,Partisan neglected my favorite - Françoise Fabian in Rohmer's MY NIGHT AT MAUD'S, in a performance I find richer and more surprising than any of the Academy's options. Unfortunately, 1969 was about the time interesting roles for women in American cinema began drying up, as the movie brats evidently found nothing quite so fascinating as masculinity in all its pathological manifestations. Almost all the great female performances of 1969 that I've seen are French, not just Fabian, but also Simone Signoret in ARMY OF SHADOWS, and Catherine Deneuve in MISSISSIPPI MERMAID. Comparison with American cinema of that year turns out to be a rather depressing activity, with Katherine Ross going too far out of her way let us know how deeply unimpressed she is by the fact she's been cast alongside Redford and Newman in BC&SDK, and Ingrid Bergman attempting to go mod for CACTUS FLOWER. Jane Fonda is good, if a bit mannered, in THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY?, but my favorite performance from an actress in Hollywood movie that year is probably Kim Darby in TRUE GRIT.

Jack Gibbs

Partisan - I'll admit to being a little confused by the classification of Celine and Julie...and Jeanne Dielman...as being films that have a "larger male presence." (Is this a "larger than"?) There is no denying that the cinema has been largely male-dominated but these films you single out as falling into that categorization don't appear to be the proof in the pudding as you make them out to be (and what of other Rivette films, Duelle, Noroit, Le Pont du Nord, Up/Down/Fragile, Secret Defense?). One also can't view male or female focused films in a vacuum as the movies have largely been about the relationships between the two (largely not excluvisely of course).

Similarly, would you care to elucidate the idea of cinema as undercutting female performance? I ask not as a critique, merely as I am not sure I entirely grasp what you are saying.

Victor Morton

"once Miss Jean Brodie starts spouting off in praise of Mussolini, the rest of the picture seems rather overdetermined."

See, that's exactly the part (and the Franco element, which is a much lesser part of the book**) where the movie becomes fascinating to me. Miss Brodie is a classic "progressive educator" -- she tries to "bring out" what is in students and develop their potential as whole persons and sexual beings rather than stuff their heads with rote facts and approved books, matters over which she defies tight-assed repressive (and repressed) authority (I'm oversimplifying the story and Miss Brodie's motivations obviously -- but all those elements are there). In every significant way except her fascist sympathies and their effects on Mary McGregor, Miss Brodie is coded as sympathetic to the typical liberal viewer and the typical "teacher-hero" template. And the film carries this portrayal through to the bitter end. And while the film waters down Spark's Catholicism, it replaces it with as discomfiting a political-social matrix as GABRIEL OVER THE WHITE HOUSE.

** And not a terribly accurate one in the film. Franco backers in 30s Scotland (and everywhere else in Protestant Christendom) were mostly Catholics, not respectable Scots who refer acidly to "the Church of Rome."

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