The announcement of Clive Donner’s death in September, 2010, reminded film buffs of a certain age of some good film-making and some good times, but chiefly it made one reflect anew on just how fleeting glory can be in the movie business. Clive Donner’s directing career lasted from the late 1950s into the 1990s, but it was essentially confined to just seven years in the 1960s; once the Swinging London decade was over, it was downhill all the way for him. The fates conspired, and fortune did not smile. It’s a sad story.
Born in 1926, Donner got into the film business as a teenager, partially through the good offices of Michael Powell. He assisted in the cutting-rooms on some of the bigger British movies of the half-decade following the war, including a couple made by David Lean; he was a clever young fellow, and he became an editor in his own right very quickly. His credits as cutter include a few widely-remarked films (Genevieve, I Am A Camera) and he achieved his ambition to direct at age 30 with a small thriller called The Secret Place, following it quickly in 1957 with a 76-minute movie about mistreated children, Heart Of A Child. At the start of the 60s, he did two one-hour B-pictures derived from Edgar Wallace (Marriage Of Convenience and The Sinister Man), some TV segments, commercials and training films, and in 1962 had a breakthrough of sorts with a movie called Some People. This film was openly intended as propaganda for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme to help young people and let them find a sense of self-worth. It couldn’t have seemed too promising, but Donner and his screenwriter, John Eldridge, made something of it, critics remarked on its freshness and originality, and he was on his way.