Friday, December 4, 2009

Farewell to Arms

When I was younger, I enjoyed watching screen actor Richard Todd who always seemed to play the quintessential British Army officer [in movies such as The Longest Day, The Dam Busters, D-Day The Sixth of June and many others]. I enjoyed the stoic image he portrayed and so was saddened to hear of his passing [aged 90]. Originally considered by Ian Fleming as the first choice for the role of James Bond [which he lost out to Sean Connery in a peculiar twist of fate] he worked continually in film, theatre and also in later years - raising awareness about the risks of depression. His later life was tinged with tragedy with the suicides of two of his sons, which sparked him initiating a campaign to warn parents of the dangers of depression in the young. Despite always showing his stiff upper lip in his military roles, Todd was born an Irishman in Dublin 90 years ago.

The Telegraph has a lengthy obituary on the life of Richard Todd -

In his autobiography, Caught in the Act (1986), Todd recalled that, while training as an actor, he appeared in the crowd scenes for two Will Hay movies and as an extra in A Yank at Oxford (1938). But the main focus of his ambition was the stage. After leaving drama school he performed in regional rep and in 1939 joined the newly-founded Dundee Repertory Theatre.

The Second World War temporarily prevented Todd from advancing his career. He volunteered the day after war was declared and was commissioned in the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in 1941. In 1943 he applied to become a parachutist, and in May of that year was posted to the 7th Parachute Battalion – part of the 6th Airborne Division. For the Normandy landings, he was made the Assistant Adjutant.

In a later article about his D-Day experiences Todd compared the pre-briefing for the landings to "the readthrough and cast list for a new production at the Dundee Rep", and likened himself to an actor who had just been "told the minor role I was to play" after having been "subjected to a four-year rehearsal for the big first night". Yet throughout those years he had kept his profession secret, terrified that he might be put in charge of Ensa: "Not even my closest friends knew I was an actor."

After the war Todd rejoined Dundee Rep before making his West End debut in The Hasty Heart. In 1948 he was invited to London for a screen test and won a film contract with Associated British Pictures.

After making his screen debut in For Them That Trespass (1948) and his triumph in The Hasty Heart, Todd travelled to Hollywood to appear as a bridegroom with a murky past in King Vidor's Lightning Strikes Twice (1950), then starred as Marlene Dietrich's former lover – and a murder suspect – in Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950).

There followed an orgy of swashbuckling heroics in Disney's The Story of Robin Hood and his Merrie Men (1952), The Sword and the Rose (1953) and Rob Roy, The Highland Rogue (1954), which served only to prove that Todd was no Errol Flynn.

His role as Peter Marshall in A Man Called Peter persuaded Henry Koster to cast Todd in his Virgin Queen (1955) as a roguish Sir Walter Raleigh whose dalliance with lady-in-waiting Joan Collins angers Elizabeth I (Bette Davis), before casting him in D-Day, the Sixth of June the following year.

The Dambusters (1954) marked the beginning of a fruitful collaboration with the director Michael Anderson. He went on to appear in Anderson's Yangtse Incident (1956), as the commander of a crippled frigate breaking a Chinese blockade, and in the Hitchcock-style Chase a Crooked Shadow (1958), he played the mysterious stranger claiming to be the late brother of the heiress Kimberley Prescott (Anne Baxter). He returned as a Wing Commander (this time named Kendall) for their last film together, Operation Crossbow (1965).

Todd worked with a variety of other directors. He was the leader of the escape committee in Don Chaffey's PoW camp movie The Danger Within (1959), and in Leslie Norman's The Long and the Short and the Tall (1961) he played the leader of an Army patrol sent out into the Malaysian jungle. The same year he produced as well as starred in the bedroom farce Why Bother to Knock?

Todd was
Ian Fleming's first choice to play James Bond in Dr No (1962), but a scheduling clash gave the role to Sean Connery. Instead he played Inspector Harry Sanders in Lawrence Huntington's Death Drums Along The River (1963), a role he reprised in Coast of Skeletons the following year. In a rather more unlikely casting, he played a counter-culture hippie guru professor in The Love-Ins (1967).

By the late 1960s Todd's star had waned, and his later film parts were mostly forgettable, with the possible exception of Michael Winner's remake of The Big Sleep (1978), in which he played the police commissioner opposite Robert Mitchum's Philip Marlowe.

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