I wrote the screenplay of Robin Maugham's The Servant for
Michael Anderson in 1962 but he wasn't able to find finance for
the film. The script found its way to Joseph Losey. I went to
see him in his house in Chelsea. "I like the script." he said.
"Thanks." I said. "But there are a number of things I don't like
"What things?" I asked. He told me. "Well, why
don't you make another movie?" I said and left the house.
Two days later he called me. "Shall we try again?"
I said "Okay." I went back to his house, we did
further work on the script and over the next twenty-five years
we worked on three more screenplays and never had another cross
It's strange to think that The Servant
was written almost forty years ago. The film still seems as fresh
as a daisy to me, whilst stinking of moral corruption. I think
Joe Losey and the cameraman Douglas Slocombe did a superb job
and Dirk Bogarde and James Fox made a wonderful couple.
For some obscure reason, The Pumpkin Eater
has never been released as a video and only very occasionally
shown on television, so it is little known. This is sad because
Jack Clayton was a director of great distinction. The book, by
Penelope Mortimer was the story of a woman with many children,
a very successful husband, all material comforts, but who nevertheless
inhabits a desert island of the mind. She is totally and irrevocably
alone. Anne Bancroft gave a fine performance and James Mason one
of unforgettable viciousness.
The Quiller Memorandum, based on a spy
story by Adam Hall, fell, I think, between two stools: One, the
Bond films and the other, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold.
In other words the film never quite made up its mind as to which
path it was taking. It was seriously intended but at the same
time couldn't resist received ideas of the "spy movie", too often
resorting to melodrama. Nevertheless the neo-Nazi theme was, I
believe, treated quite boldly and in some respects (the character
of Inge) with subtlety. When it was shown in West Germany and
dubbed into German the distributors changed the neo-Nazis to communists.
Sam Spiegel financed the writing of Accident
on which I worked with Joe Losey. When I had finished the script
Spiegel read it and asked us to meet him in his office. He sat
behind his classic producer's desk, the script in his hand, and
stared at us.
"You call this a screenplay?" he said. "I don't
know who these people are, I don't know what their background
is, I don't know what they're doing, I don't know who's doing
what and why, I don't know what they want, I have absolutely no
idea what is going on, how can you call this a screenplay?"
Joe and I sat in silence. Joe finally said "I
know what's going on."
"So do I." I said. "You two might know what's
going on." Spiegel said. "But what about all the millions of peasants
We took the screenplay elsewhere.
The novel by Nicholas Moseley was a first person
narrative, highly subjective, incorporating "streams of consciousness".
I tried to go with that in an early draft but very quickly realised
that "streams of consciousness" are fatal in the cinema. I settled
for a hard, spare, tight, objective scrutiny and Joe Losey carried
that scrutiny through in the shooting of the film. In consequence,
I think it's a film of great economy and poise and a truly chilly
Mike Nichols was originally to direct The Last
Tycoon but he withdrew after some months work on the script
because he couldn't get on with Sam Spiegel in his capacity as
producer. Elia Kazan took over. My own relationship with Sam had
changed, indeed mellowed, over the years and I didn't find working
with him too difficult. He could be testing but he was without
question shrewd, knowledgeable and imaginative.
The film itself I found disappointing. I thought
it too romantic and the casting of the central female role was
underpowered. Monroe Stahr was one of Robert de Niro's first leading
parts. He was impressive.
An independent producer called Max Rosenberg came
to me with Langrishe, Go Down, a novel by Aidan Higgins,
on which he had taken an option. It was a brilliant, haunting
book and I much enjoyed adapting it. Naturally, the finance could
not easily be found and it languished as a project for some years.
Finally, David Jones at the BBC came across the script and was
determined to direct it. He did, in Ireland, in 1978. The film
was true to both the script and the book and I thought it tough
and delicate. Jeremy Irons scored a bull's-eye with his portrait
of the unscrupulous German student. The film was shown once on
television and hasnšt been seen since.
I have never written an original film. But I've
enjoyed adapting other people's books very much. Altogether, I
have written twenty-four screenplays. Two were never shot. Three
were rewritten by others. Two have not yet been filmed. Seventeen
(including four adaptations of my own plays) were filmed as written.
I think that's unusual. I certainly understand adapting novels
for the screen to be a serious and fascinating craft.
13 September 2000