Wolf Rilla

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Wolf Rilla (1920–2005) was a film director and writer of German background, although he worked mainly in English.[1]

Rilla worked on both versions of Village of the Damned, in the first as director and in the second as a writer. He wrote many influential books for students, such as The Writer and the Screen: On Writing for Film and Television and The A to Z of Movie Making.

Early life and career[edit]

Rilla was born in Berlin, where his part-Jewish father Walter Rilla was a prominent actor.[2] In common with many others in entertainment and the arts, Walter recognised the dangers when Hitler came to power, and the family moved to London in 1934 when Wolf was 14. He completed his schooling at the enlightened co-educational Frensham Heights School, Surrey, and went on to St Catharine's College, Cambridge. In 1942 he joined the BBC World Service's German section, transferring to television in the late 1940s.

He left the BBC staff in 1952 to pursue his ambition to make films, but continued to take on television productions as a freelance. In the cinema he was dependent at first on Group 3, an idealistic production company set up by the National Film Finance Corporation with Michael Balcon, John Baxter and John Grierson in charge. The idea was to give young talent a chance to make low-budget quickies, unfortunately - as it turned out - to no great acclaim. But by 1960 Rilla was working regularly for MGM in Britain. He directed his father, along with George Sanders and Richard Johnson, in Cairo (1963), a remake of John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, with Tutankhamun's jewels in a Cairo museum now the target of the robbers.[3]

His masterwork remains Village of the Damned, from John Wyndham's sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos.[4] As well as directing it, Rilla was responsible, with Geoffrey Barclay and the American screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, for the adaptation.[5] George Sanders also starred in this, with Barbara Shelley.[6]

For television he dabbled in all manner of series, from The Adventures of Aggie, a 1956 BBC sitcom aimed chiefly at the American market, to the TV version (1969–71) of radio's popular Send for Paul Temple detective series. His novels included Greek Chorus, The Dispensable Man, The Chinese Consortium and one simply entitled Movie.

Personal life[edit]

Rilla married the actress and director Valerie Hanson after they appeared together in a BBC TV production of The Portugal Lady, and they had a daughter, Madeleine, in 1955. In 1967 he married Shirley Graham-Ellis, a publicist for tea suppliers Jacksons of Piccadilly and London Films. Rilla and Graham-Ellis had a son, Nico, who as a filmmaker himself continued a family tradition that now spans three generations and 85 years, although now he has since left the film business and become a Chef. His daughter Madeleine died in a car crash in 1985.

After Rilla had held office in both the film technicians' union ACTT and the Directors' Guild, he and Shirley moved to the south of France, to buy and run a hotel at Fayence in Provence.[4]



  1. ^ "Wolf Rilla".
  2. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Rilla, Wolf (1920-2005) Biography". www.screenonline.org.uk.
  3. ^ "Cairo (1963) - Wolf Rilla - Synopsis, Characteristics, Moods, Themes and Related - AllMovie". AllMovie.
  4. ^ a b Obituary, The Guardian, Monday 24 October 2005, http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2005/oct/25/guardianobituaries.film
  5. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960)".
  6. ^ "Village of the Damned (1960) - Wolf Rilla - Review - AllMovie". AllMovie.

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