Tuesday, August 26, 2014

One of his early films is missing

The death of Richard Attenborough (or Dickie Attenborough or Lord Attenborough but NOT Lord Richard Attenborough), announced last week was not exactly tragic news. He was nearly ninety, frail and unwell for a long time and the proud possessor of a spectacular filmography. Nevertheless, many of us felt sad in that the news of his death, coming so soon after the news of Lauren Bacall's, reminded us that the greats of the film industry are going and not being replaced by an adequate number and of adequate calibre.

My own preference is for Attenborough's early films, many of which have a noirish tinge and one, Brighton Rock, is a classic. In fact, a good many of those films were classics. Another one of my favourites is The League of Gentlemen that, for some reason, has not been revived for a many years, despite an excellent plot, a sharp script and a stellar cast.

Yet there is a film that is missing. Well, it is not exactly missing in that I have seen it as did a good many people who were attending the National Film Theatre but it seems not to be listed anywhere.

A few years ago the NFT screened one of Attenborough's early films, Dancing with Crime, in which he plays a newly demobbed taxi driver who tries to steer clear of the post-war black market gangs but gets drawn into action when one of his childhood friends with fewer scruples is killed. His part of the cheerful, strong-minded Ted Peters who wants to get on in life honestly and settle down with his childhood sweetheart (played by Sheila Sim) is as different as it could be from the one he played in the same year, Pinky in Brighton Rock. Dancing with Crime was a good enough film though as black market films go not as good as the brilliant and rarely shown Noose or, as it appears to be known now, The Silk Noose.

There was, however, an extra attraction to that showing: a short film made in 1953 by Eric Fawcett and scripted by Peter Brook, entitled Box for One. In it Attenborough plays brilliantly a minor hoodlum who realizes that he has somehow fallen foul of a big gang and makes ever more frantic phone calls from an old-fashioned phone box (that box for one). I shall not reveal the ending but I can reveal that Sidney (Sid) James appears in it briefly, thus creating one solitary film that links the ultra intellectual Peter Brook with the considerably less intellectual Sid James.

The problem is that this film is not listed in any of the filmographies: not in Attenborough's, not in James's and not in Brook's. What we do find on the latter is two other versions of the Box for One, one made in 1949 with Marius Goring in the main part and no director credited and one made in 1953 for the BBC's Wednesday Theatre, directed by Tony Richardson with Robert Helpmann in the main role. There is also a Danish TV play of 1956, written by Peter Brook (and presumably translated), called Telefonboksen, which I assume to be the same play or, at least, similar to the original. Wikipedia also lists a 1958 Australian version, also starring Robert Helpmann (and here).

But where is the Richard Attenborough version listed? I have seen it, I tell you.


  1. I believe you:

    British Crime Film Double Bill, Richard Attenborough: BFI Southbank

    "So that's 2 films, our fabulous company and a film so rare, it doesn't exist on the internet. The only information about Box for One online - a cast list of 5 actors, one of whom is Sidney James. That's the Sid James. Worth your ticket price right there."


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  3. Not exactly, Mikgen. Those are BFI and related links. I knew the BFI had a copy as I saw it and kept the programme. But it is still not listed anywhere else. That is the odd thing.