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Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Montage: STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN & Lt. Col David Niven, formerly of the HLI

From the great film duo of
Writen/Directed: Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger
DP: Jack Cardiff
Peter: David Niven
June: Kim Hunter

One of Lt Colonel Niven’s first film after six years of active service mostly in the Rifle Brigade and SAS (Commandos; North Africa, Sicly, D-Day, Normandy). He was very modest about his military service some of which appears to have been top secret. He claimed to have been born in Kirriemuir, Scotland but this was a polite fiction; he was actually born in London from a family of Scottish descent. Nonetheless, he loved Scotland and had an emotional tie to the land of his ancestors. He was a Leal Mon.

He was a graduate of Sandhurst and served 11 years in the British Army beginning his career with the HLI (Highland Light Infantry). His first choice was the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. His father was killed at Gallipoli and he was partially raised by a wounded piper of the Argylls. His semi-fictional autobiographies are charming .

I read them in Spanish while living in Spain in the late 70’s and early 80’s.
The Moon's a Balloon: Reminiscences, London, 1971.
Bring on the Empty Horses, London, 1975.

He had a small part in DODSWORTH with Walter Huston and MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY with Clark Gable and Charles Laughton

The Dawn Patrol (1938 with Errol Flynn (as Lt. Scott) was really his break out role; if you think about it he made a career of playing himself (a debonair British officer with derring-do)

One of the few glimpses we have of his WWII service he was giving his men a pep talk before a particularly dangerous mission and Niven is reported to have said: “ You chaps have to remember you only have to do this once. I’ll have do to it all over again with Errol Flynn!” It got a lot of laughs from his men. He was, it was said a very brave and beloved commander. He was an acquaintance of Winston Churchill who admired him greatly because he knew that Niven –already a star in America- did not have to come back to England in 1939.

Some of my favorite Niven films are: The Bishop's Wife (1947) with Loretta Young and Cary Grant

Enchantment 1948) with Teresa Wright (From the Rumer Godden novel Take Three Tenses: A Fugue in Time, which I found charming; 2007 is Rumer Godden's Centenary Year; she was a very religious and spiritual woman; Rumer Godden converted to Roman Catholicism in 1968. "I like the way everything is clear and concise," she remarked propos her new religion. "You'll always be forgiven but you must know the rules.”
Around the World in Eighty Days (as charming a Phileas Fogg as you will meet and Ronald Colman had a cameo in that film) ; as a boy I read every Jules Verne Novel
Separate Tables ( with Deborah Kerr; he won an Oscar for his performance as a phoney Major)
I think the first film I ever saw him in was Please don’t Eat the Daisies (1961) with Doris Day. It was a nice family movie.
The Guns of Navarone (1961) I saw in the movies as a small boy and thought it was the greatest film of all time. It wasn’t but it was grand entertainment and beautifully filmed and acted.
55 Days at Peking (1963) with Charlton Heston was also one of my favorite films of all time; I am very fond of the soundtrack which is right up my alley. This film is as close to an international Tattoo as you will every find and is still entertaining even if an aging , overweight boozy Ava Gardner is not very convincing as a glamorous beauty.
The Pink Panther (1964) may be his most famous film after all these years and he certainly helped make that charming comedy tick.
His later films were much less memorable.


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