Saturday, November 21, 2015

Book review - "The Many Lives of Cy Endfield Film Noir, the Blacklist, and Zulu" by Brian Neve (2015)

How good a filmmaker was Cy Endfield? He made one movie that has passionate devotees - Zulu - but the others are far, far less well known. After the triumph of Zulu his career bewilderingly failed to gain momentum. I was familiar with glimpses - the mysterious Sands of the Kalahari, being booted off De Sade, the beyond-weird Universal Soldier - but this superb biography answers all those questions and more.

Endfield was from Scranton Pennsylvania; like so many directors of his era, he was the son of immigrants, and was whip smart, getting into Yale. He earned contacts in the progressive theatre scene of the 1930s, knowing Orson Welles and Paul Gallico, and joining the Communist Party. He eventually found his way to Hollywood and whinged/nagged/networked his way into filmmaking jobs, doing a stint for Mercury at RKO, then making a short for MGM, Inflation. This was extremely highly regarded - but also so powerful it was considered anti-capitalist and found it hard to get distribution. It was to be the first in a series of career blows that would frustrate Endfield.

He was a hard worker and wrote as well as directed so managed to find work - radio dramas (including "The Argyle Secrets" for Suspense which I review elsewhere on this blog), then making comedies at Monogram, and working his way up to some highly regarded film noirs, notably The Sound and Fury. It seemed Endfield's career was back on track then he was hit with another blow - being blacklisted.

Endfield fled to England. He eventually found work again in TV and then movies, writing and directing, forming a notable collaboration with actor-producer Stanley Baker: A Child in the House, Hell Drivers, Jet Storm, then of course Zulu. This was a big hit and really should have put Endfield back in the A league again. But his follow up, Sands of the Kalahari, flopped and Endfield could never get his groove back - by this stage he was too cranky, too old, probably too tired after so many knock backs. He was booted off De Sade, Universal Soldier was a mess, was unable to get financing for other projects; he worked increasingly in other areas - computers, tried writing a play (the man was ferociously intelligent); he had a life long interest in magic and was very serious about it. Critics rediscovered him but it was probably too little too late for his sense of self-respect.

For all his many admirable qualities Endfield wasn't always an easy person to like - he was prickly, temperamental, sulky; he bailed on a first marriage and child (the blacklist was a big part of this, in his defense); seemed reluctant to help out with the war effort. But he had talent, intelligence and made some entertaining films. Its a shame his early 50s film noirs aren't better known, for instance. He was a fascinating character who deserved a good biography, and he got one.

No comments: