Sunday, February 21, 2010

R.I.P. Lionel Jeffries

For fans of Victorian and Steampunk films, Lionel Jeffries should be a familiar name, or at least you're familiar with his works. He played Professor Cavor, discoverer of Cavorite, in the film adaptation of "The First Men In The Moon", he directed the classic film "The Amazing Mr. Blunden" (a childhood favorite of mine I used to watch around Christmas) and "The Water Babies", but most of us would remember him as Grandpa Potts in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" (even though there was a six month age difference between him and Dick Van Dyke, who played his son). Here's the condensed obituary from The London Guardian:

Lionel Jeffries, actor, screenwriter and director, born 10 June 1926; died 19 February 2010. As an actor Lionel Jeffries, who has died aged 83, was a master of comic unease. This was perhaps fuelled by the personal unease he felt in a sex-and-violence era which overtook the gentler sensibilities he sometimes brought to his acting. He was in a stream of British and Hollywood films. Some roles, such as Lieutenant McDaniel in Bhowani Junction (1956), the Hollywood version of John Masters's novel about India's struggle for independence, were serious dramatic parts; others, such as Dr Hatchet in Rank's Doctor at Large (1957), were slighter and more risible. He enhanced Blue Murder at St Trinian's (1957), about the madcap girls' school, and was Grandpa Potts in the successful children's film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968), alongside Dick Van Dyke. But he was far from comic as the splenetic Marquis of Queensberry, hounding Oscar Wilde to prison over his son's liaison with the homosexual playwright, in The Trials of Oscar Wilde (1960). Three of Jeffries's scripts were made into films. The first was based on E Nesbit's novel The Railway Children, which Jeffries adapted in pursuit of his belief that there were more wise children than wise adults. When he took his script to Forbes, then head of production at Elstree, Forbes asked him who he visualised as the director. Jeffries replied: "I know it's a crazy idea and not on, but I've always secretly harboured a longing to direct it myself." The finished film impressed Forbes by its "great style and warmth" and was a financial and cult success, being shown year after year on television, especially at Christmas time. The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972), which he also directed, was a science-fiction film in which Diana Dors played against glamorous type as the repulsive Mrs Wickens. The film won him a gold medal for best screenplay at the International Science Fiction and Fantasy Festival in Paris in 1974. Wombling Free, which Rank made in 1977, was another children's favourite. He also directed the films Baxter! (1973), and The Water Babies (1979), after Charles Kingsley. He is survived by his wife Eileen and his children.

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