J. Lee Thompson
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|J. Lee Thompson|
J. Lee Thompson in the 1970s
|Born||John Lee Thompson
1 August 1914
|Died||30 August 2002
Sooke, British Columbia
John Lee Thompson (1 August 1914 – 30 August 2002), better known as J. Lee Thompson, was a British film director, active in London and Hollywood. Known to his family as Jack Lee, he was the brother of famous poet and writer Laurie Lee.
Murder Without Crime was mostly ignored upon release. Thompson's first movie success was one he directed and co-wrote, The Yellow Balloon (1953), the story of a child who is blackmailed into helping a criminal after accidentally causing his friend's death. The Weak and the Wicked (1954), portrays the lives of women in prison and is based on memoirs by Joan Henry, who became Thompson's second wife.
Thompson earned a reputation in Britain for social dramas besides occasional comedies and musicals. He was also known for collaborating with top British actors. After the comedies For Better, For Worse (1954) starring Dirk Bogarde, As Long as They're Happy (1955), and An Alligator Named Daisy (1955) starring Donald Sinden, he returned to the theme of female prisoners in Yield to the Night (1956), an anti-capital punishment tale with Diana Dors as the condemned prisoner.
The late 1950s continued Thompson's 'kitchen sink' dramas, focusing on plights of the average Briton. Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957), with Yvonne Mitchell, Anthony Quayle, and Sylvia Syms, deals with the collapse of a 20-year marriage. The Good Companions (1957) gives a dour, semi-musical view of the theatrical world.
Thompson's strongest period of British films was undoubtedly 1958–60, during which he made Ice Cold in Alex (1958), North West Frontier (1959), No Trees in the Street (1959), Tiger Bay (1959), and I Aim at the Stars AKA Wernher von Braun (1960). Ice Cold in Alex, the story of a British army unit trecking across North Africa in World War II, was a major success featuring John Mills, Sylvia Syms, Anthony Quayle, and Harry Andrews; it won three BAFTA Awards, including Best British Film. Hayley Mills also earned a BAFTA for Most Promising Newcomer in Tiger Bay, portraying a 12-year-old girl who refuses to betray a sailor accused of murder.
Thompson vaulted to international fame with The Guns of Navarone (1961) as a last-minute replacement for director Alexander Mackendrick. His take-charge attitude during its production earned him the nickname 'Mighty Mouse' from lead actor Gregory Peck. The Guns of Navarone, a World War II epic filmed on location in Rhodes, Greece, was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Thompson for Best Director.
The success of that film won him entry into Hollywood, where he directed Cape Fear (1962), a psychological thriller with Gregory Peck, Robert Mitchum, Polly Bergen, and Lori Martin. Based on a novel called The Executioners by John D. MacDonald, Cape Fear shows how a sex offender can manipulate the justice system and terrorise an entire family. Highly controversial for its time, the film was cut heavily in both the United States and UK.
Thompson maintained a steady career in Hollywood through the 1960s, 70s, and 80s. He retained his knack for working with dynamic actors, joining Yul Brynner in the Cossack epic Taras Bulba (1962) and the Mayan Indian epic Kings of the Sun (1963); Shirley MacLaine in What a Way to Go! (1964) and John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965); and Deborah Kerr in the occultist Eye of the Devil (1967). Thompson also proved capable of working in different genres, including Western (Mackenna's Gold, 1969), espionage (The Chairman, 1969) and science fiction (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle for the Planet of the Apes). While in the US, he continued to dabble with British productions such as Return from the Ashes (1965) and Country Dance AKA Brotherly Love (1970).
In the late 1970s and 1980s, Thompson's reputation declined, and he spent the remaining years of his career in low-budget exploitation films. One musical film foray was Huckleberry Finn (1974) starring Jeff East and Paul Winfield. He became a favourite of action star Charles Bronson, pairing up in the Warner Bros. crime story St. Ives (1976), an unconventional western called The White Buffalo (1977), and a Casablanca spinoff, Caboblanco (1980). Their work at Cannon Films lasted throughout the 1980s with such pulp action titles as 10 to Midnight (1983), Murphy's Law (1986), Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987), and Thompson's last film as a director, Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989). Other titles included The Evil That Men Do (1984, through ITC Entertainment and Tri-Star Pictures), The Ambassador (1984), King Solomon's Mines (1985), and the Chuck Norris vehicle Firewalker (1986). Several of these films were edited by Thompson's son Peter. After Kinjite, Thompson retired.
Thompson died of congestive heart failure on 30 August 2002, at his vacation home in Sooke, British Columbia, Canada, aged 88.
- Nominated Best Director Academy Award, The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- Nominated Best Director Golden Globe, The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- Nominated Best Director Directors Guild of America, The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- Nominated Best Film BAFTA, Tiger Bay (1959)
- Nominated Best Film BAFTA, North West Frontier (1959)
- Nominated Golden Bear Berlin International Film Festival, Tiger Bay (1959)
- Winner FIPRESCI Prize Berlin International Film Festival, Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
- Nominated Golden Bear Berlin International Film Festival, Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
- Winner Special Mention Berlin International Film Festival, Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)
- Winner FIPRESCI Prize Berlin International Film Festival, Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)
- Nominated Golden Bear Berlin International Film Festival, Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)
- Nominated Palme d'Or Cannes Film Festival, Yield to the Night (1956)
- Murder Without Crime (1950)
- The Yellow Balloon (1953)
- For Better, for Worse (1954)
- The Weak and the Wicked (1954)
- As Long as They're Happy (1955)
- An Alligator Named Daisy (1955)
- Yield to the Night (1956)
- The Good Companions (1957)
- Woman in a Dressing Gown (1957)
- Ice Cold in Alex (1958)
- North West Frontier (1959)
- No Trees in the Street (1959)
- Tiger Bay (1959)
- I Aim at the Stars (1960)
- The Guns of Navarone (1961)
- Cape Fear (1962)
- Taras Bulba (1962)
- Kings of the Sun (1963)
- What a Way to Go! (1964)
- John Goldfarb, Please Come Home (1965)
- Return from the Ashes (1965)
- Eye of the Devil (1967)
- Mackenna's Gold (1969)
- Before Winter Comes (1969)
- The Chairman (1969)
- Country Dance (1970)
- Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
- A Great American Tragedy (1972) (TV)
- Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
- Huckleberry Finn (1974)
- The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975)
- The Blue Knight (1975) (TV)
- Widow (1976) (TV)
- St. Ives (1976)
- The White Buffalo (1977)
- The Greek Tycoon (1978)
- The Passage (1979)
- Caboblanco (1980)
- Happy Birthday to Me (1981)
- Code Red (1981) (TV)
- 10 to Midnight (1983)
- The Evil That Men Do (1984)
- The Ambassador (1984)
- King Solomon's Mines (1985)
- Murphy's Law (1986)
- Firewalker (1986)
- Death Wish 4: The Crackdown (1987)
- Messenger of Death (1988)
- Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989)
Notes and references
- "J. Lee Thompson, 88, Director of 'Guns of Navarone'". The New York Times. 6 September 2002.
- "J. Lee Thompson". Britishpictures.com.
- "J. Lee Thompson". Britmovie.co.uk.
- "J. Lee Thompson Profile". DVD Review.