Friday, August 29, 2008

Romulus Returns

Romulus Films
No doubt stung by criticism that its late night roster of the complete J Arthur Rank film library was starting to show the strain of repetition, after some 20 plus years of faithful service, the ABC has gone out and acquired some more old British films. It appears now to be the proud owner of the Alexander Korda/London Films library and, more recently, has also been screening what would appear to be the entire output of the independent production and distribution company Romulus Films. In other contexts, presenting the entire out put of a significant producer like Romulus might be quite noteworthy. But then again there is nothing in the publicity material which suggests that we should treat this as a bit of a cinematheque moment as the titles are run through. And the copies are plain old pan and scan a distinctly ordinary effort which suggests that its all been acquired o.n the cheap

Romulus was founded by James and John Woolf. They were the sons of pioneer producer C. M Woolf who co-founded the J. Arthur Rank production empire. In 1949 the Woolf brothers set up a production company and the initial modus operandi was to attract Hollywod stars and directors to Britain to make quality pictures. The first is often claimed to be Albert Lewin's exotic Pandora and the Flying Dutchman with James Mason and Ava Gardner but the official lists indicate two films before it, The Late Edwina Black (Gordon Parry) and I'll Get You for This (Joseph M Newman). Romulus then had a couple of big hits directed by John Huston, The African Queen and Moulin Rouge, and kept trying intermittently with Hollywood casting in Beat the Devil, The Iron Petticoat and I Am A Camera. When the so-called British new wave came along in the late fifties Romulus produced a number of films that fitted into the category of working class drama, most notably the ground breaking Room at the Top, The L-Shaped Room, and Term of Trial. One of the brothers, John, was the discoverer of Laurence Harvey he of the finely chiselled cheekbones and the sporter of that alarming quiff of hair that seemed to stand up for several feet in front of his face. He was the first Leningrad Cowboy. Harvey appeared in more than a few of the Romulus films, most notably The Good Die Young, I am a Camera, Three men in a Boat, Women of Twilight (in which he has a cameo which requires him to sing in a deep baritone voice clearly not his own) and of course his defining part as Joe Lampton in Room at the Top.

The sad news for all those enthralled with this information is that the ABC has already screened most of the films mentioned above and is unlikely to screen them again for a year or so. The good news is that there are still, if the Corporation has indeed acquired the company's complete output, more than a few films remaining to be screened. They may or may not include some of the company's later productions which were done with major studios, most notably The Pumpkin Eater, Jack Clayton's best film. The ABC may also have acquired Clayton's first film, a short adaptation of Pushkin's The Bespoke Overcoat, a film which I've never managed to catch


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