Jack Clayton, director of such classic ’60s British dramas as “Room at the Top” and “The Pumpkin Eater,” died Feb 25 at a hospital in Slough, Berkshire, England, following a short illness. He was 73.
A friend said Clayton suffered from heart and liver problems.
Although Clayton directed relatively few films, he belonged to a generation of British filmmakers – including David Lean and Carol Reed – who worked their way up through the industry over a long period.
At a time when “personal” cinema was becoming the fashion, Clayton carried the crafts-manlike tradition of directors like Anthony Asquith (for whom he worked as assistant director on the 1946 pic “While the Sun Shines”) out of the ’50s and into the ’60s. All his films were derived from published novels.
Born in Brighton, Clayton left school at 15 to break into the film biz. During the ’30s, he worked in a variety of jobs for producer Alexander Korda’s London Films, and for directors Victor Seastrom and Michael Powell.
After serving in World War II with the Royal Air Force, working on newsreels and docus for its film unit, he worked in a producing capacity on Korda pix such as “An Ideal Husband” (1947), “The Queen of Spades” (1949), “Moulin Rouge” (1952) and “I Am a Camera” (1955).
His first shot at direction, “The Bespoke Overcoat,” based on a Gogol story, copped a 1956 Oscar for best two-reel short.
Clayton’s 1959 feature bow, “Room at the Top,” from the bestselling novel by John Braine, immediately established him as a director.
“Room at the Top” was nominated for best picture, and Simone Signoret and screenwriter Neil Paterson won Oscars.
Although the pic came at a time when frank working-class dramas were all the rage in the U.K., Clayton refused to be pigeonholed as an “angry young director” along the lines of Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson.
He turned down similar kitchen-sink fare like “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning” (which was directed by Reisz) and “The L-Shaped Room” (Bryan Forbes).
Following the Deborah Kerr starrer “The Innocents” (1961), from the Henry James story “The Turn of the Screw,” Clayton drew from Anne Bancroft one of her best performances in “The Pumpkin Eater” (1964), a portrait of a failing middle-class marriage. Bancroft was nominated for an Oscar. Film also starred Peter Finch and James Mason, and was scripted by Harold Pinter from Penelope Mortimer’s novel.
Clayton’s first film in color was “Our Mother’s House” (1967), starring Dirk Bogarde, about a group of London kids who avoid being put into an orphanage by keeping their mother’s death a secret. Clayton also produced.
The pic drew mixed reviews and was a low point in Clayton’s career. He returned to the screen in 1974 with the Francis Ford Coppola-scripted “The Great Gatsby,” an expensive flop.
During the ’80s, Clayton worked more successfully but infrequently. Despite good reviews for pic “The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne” (1987, starring Maggie Smith and Bob Hoskins), he never rescaled the heights of the ’60s.
His last feature was the 1992 BBC telepic “Memento Mori,” also featuring Maggie Smith, which toured festivals. He also directed the horror-fantasy “Something Wicked This Way Comes” (1983), from the Ray Bradbury novel.
Clayton was married three times, to actress Christine Norden, to Katherine Kath, and to Israeli actress Haya Harareet (“Ben-Hur”), who survives him. He had no children.