British director J. Lee Thompson, whose more than 50 films included the original “Cape Fear,” “The Guns of Navarone,” “Planet of the Apes” sequels, and nine Charles Bronson movies, has died. He was 88.
Thompson, who spent summers in Canada, died Friday of congestive heart failure in Sooke, British Columbia, publicist Robert Rooney said Monday.
“He was a very large directorial presence,” said co-producer Pancho Kohner. “He was a gentleman and such a pleasure to work with. Everyone who worked with him once wanted to work with him again and again.”
Kohner collaborated with Thompson to make Bronson action films including “St. Ives,” “Ten to Midnight,” “Messenger of Death,” “White Buffalo,” and what became Thompson’s last film, “Kinjite,” in 1989.
“Those two had an excellent rapport,” Kohner told The Associated in a telephone interview regarding Bronson and Thompson..
“They had a great respect for each other. Charlie could identify with Lee. Lee was a bantamweight boxer in England and a B-29 tailgunner in World War II. One man had an English accent and the other one had a Pennsylvania coalminer’s accent,” Kohner added.
Thompson also worked several times with Gregory Peck, including 1962’s “Cape Fear;” with Anthony Quinn, in 1978 in “The Greek Tycoon;” with Yul Brynner in “Taras Bulba,” 1962 and again the next year in “Kings of the Sun.”
“Working with Lee, you were spoiled,” Kohner said. “He had the uncanny ability to play the film in his mind. He would know exactly what shot he needed so there was no wasted effort. He was a talented craftsman.”
Born in Bristol, England, Thompson got his start as an editing assistant in Elstree Studios in London and worked with actors as a dialogue coach on Alfred Hitchcock films. He had two plays performed in London’s West End before he was 20 years old. His first film was “Murder Without Crime” in 1950.
He moved to the United States after the Academy Award-nominated “The Guns of Navarone,” in 1961 starring Peck and Quinn, and tackled American subjects such as the musical “Huckleberry Finn,” in 1974; “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” 1972 and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes,” 1973.
Thompson, who was an avid dog owner, never let an animal get hurt in his Westerns, Kohner said. He won European awards for “Woman in a Dressing Gown,” 1957, “Ice Cold in Alex,” 1958, and “Tiger Bay,” 1959.
Thompson is survived by his wife of 40 years, Penny; a daughter and a granddaughter. His son, Peter Lee, is deceased. The family spent winters in Los Angeles.