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David Niven tells his life story (or at the least the first part of it) in this book, and he does it in wonderfully entertaining, genuinely amusing and often quite touching fashion.  From his early life with a distant stepfather, through his life in the Highland Light Infantry, before deciding to give up a military career to try his luck in Hollywood (although he returned to Britain to fight in World War II), Niven takes the reader on a journey packed with anecdotes and funny interludes.

As he explains in the introduction, he drops names all over the place, particularly while talking about his film career, but he remains respectful throughout, and his genuine affection and respect for many of his contemporaries comes through.  His stories – both of his Hollywood life, and his military career – are peppered with laugh-out-loud one-liners; several times I would burst out laughing and then insist on reading bits out to my husband.  Niven is truly a wonderful storyteller and raconteur – he is also self-effacing and honest about his own shortcomings, and modest about his talents as an actor.

Details of his film career also reveal some of Hollywood’s machinations, and by the end of the book – which was published in 1972 – it’s clear that he is unhappy about a changing film industry.

Unlike many such memoirs, Niven did not use a ghostwriter – the writing is his own – and he has a lovely turn of phrase, but is also capable of showing genuine emotion, such as when he describes the tragic death of his first wife, which had me struggling to hold back tears.

If you are at all interested in David Niven, or Hollywood in the 40s – 60s, I would definitely recommend this book.

 

 

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New York drama critic Larry McKay (David Niven) and his wife Kate (Doris Day) live in an apartment with their four rambunctious boys and their pet dog.  Although they have dreamed of moving to a quiet house in the country for years, Larry’s new-found celebrity as a famous critic makes him start enjoying the busy city life.  When they do move to a country house, there is conflict as Kate finds that she likes the life there, while Larry is still trying to maintain the social whirl that is the New York theatre scene.

That brief recap makes the film sound more like a drama than a comedy, but this IS a comedy.  I didn’t find it laugh-out-loud funny, but there were lots of amusing moments in it.  I also think that David Niven and Doris Day are both so appealing and such likeable actors, that I couldn’t help but enjoy watching them, and they do play perfectly off each other.

The supporting cast are good too – Janis Paige as an actress who tries to tempt Larry away from his wife; Richard Haydn as their playwright friend Alfred, who falls out with Larry after Larry criticises his latest production; and Spring Byington as Kate’s mother.  However, my favourite co-star was Hobo the dog, who refused to walk outside, and was apparently spooked by every other creature, including a frog and a squirrel!

It’s not the best film of either Day’s nor Niven’s career, but it is an enjoyable couple of hours, and well worth seeing, particularly if you are a fan of either actor.

Year of release: 1960

Director: Charles Walters

Producers: Martin Melcher, Joe Pasternak

Writers: Jean Kerr (book), Isobel Lennart

Main cast: David Niven, Doris Day, Janis Paige, Spring Byington, Richard Haydn, Patsy Kelly, Jack Weston

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Patty O’Neill (Maggie McNamara) is an aspiring actress, who meets successful architect Don Gresham (William Holden) at the top of the Empire State Building, and ends up back at his apartment, where he hopes to seduce her, but she is determined not to let that happen!  Complications arise in the shape of Don’s ex-fiancee Cynthia (Dawn Addams), who lives in the apartment above Don, with her father, the bordering-on-alcoholic playboy David Slater (David Niven).  When David Slater sets eyes on Patty, he decides he fancies her for himself, and the stage is set for some sparkling comedy.

At the time of its release, this film was considered to be risqué, due to its use of the words, “virgin,” “seduce,” and “mistress.”  It was in fact the first post-Hayes Code film to use these words, and was banned from certain cinemas, due its use of these words.  Obviously, by today’s standards, it is very tame, but if it has lost some of its shock value, it certainly has not lost any of its comedy.

McNamara is lovely as Patty – a sweet, and somewhat naive girl, who nonetheless has a habit of blurting out whatever pops into her head, be it appropriate or not!  (I was shocked to discover that McNamara committed suicide at the age of just 49 – she simply fizzed with life and wit in this role.)  Holden is great as the increasingly frustrated Don, and Niven was surely made for the role of Slater.  All three leads bounce off each other terrifically; they are the main parts of a very small cast, and in the hands of different actors, this might not have been nearly so successful, but it works brilliantly.  The only weak link in the cast was Addams as Cynthia, but as Cynthia is only a minor character, this did not affect my overall enjoyment of the film.

The film is an adaptation of a play, and I can certainly see how this would work on stage, as the vast majority of the action takes place in Gresham’s and Slater’s respective apartments, with just a couple of scenes outdoors, on top of the Empire State Building.  There is much running around and misunderstanding, and a lot of the humour comes from the rivalry between Don and David.  Holden was at his glorious best in the 1950s (frankly, I don’t know how Patty could have resisted Don), and Niven’s comedic touch is spot on – he has terrific one-liners!

Overall, the film is an absolute joy and delight, and definitely one I would recommend.

Year of release: 1953

Director: Otto Preminger

Producer: Otto Preminger

Writer: F. Hugh Herbert (play and screenplay)

Main cast: William Holden, David Niven, Maggie McNamara, Dawn Addams

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This is a 1946 movie, starring David Niven and Kim Hunter. Niven (who is outstanding here), plays Peter Carter, a British airman in World War II, who jumps out of his burning plane, to – he believes – certain death. In his last moments, he makes radio contact with an American woman (Hunter) working for the American Air Force. When he wakes up, he thinks he is in heaven, but realises that despite the odds, he has actually survived the fall. He meets June, the woman he was talking to on the radio and they fall in love. But in the afterworld, Peter’s presence is awaited – he was not supposed to survive the jump and only did so because Conductor 71 – a being employed to bring souls to heaven – missed Peter. Peter then has to take part in a celestial trial to fight for the right to remain alive and on earth…

The storyline sounds like something straight out of science fiction, and in a way it is, but this film is so much more than that. I was captivated from the start, and will certainly be watching this film again (and again). David Niven is perfect as Peter – conveying his new found love and affection, his utter bewilderment when Conductor 71 arrives to take him to the afterlife (never referred to as ‘heaven’), and his anger at his life being taken away from him just when he has met someone he wants to share it with.

Kim Hunter – largely unknown at the time of this film – is lovely as June. She brings humour to the role, and such vulnerability. Excellent support is provided by Marius Goring as Conductor 71 – who alternates between being hilarious and slightly creepy; and Roger Livesey, as a Doctor who tries to help Peter and June.

The film used colour to great effect – life on earth is shown in normal colour, but the afterlife is shown in black and white. Indeed, the afterlife seems a dull, monotonous place to reside, and the message which I took away from the film was that we should treasure our life on earth while we have it – it’s all we can be sure of, after all.

This film was originally made due to a request from the Ministry of Defence, who wanted to emphasise the importance of British and American cohesion and mutual respect (at the time it was made there was hostility between the two countries, and this does tend to come through in some of the trial scenes). However, it clearly transcended it’s original purpose. This is a lovely moving film, with humour and pathos, and it is very thought provoking; additionally the note-perfect cast make this a joy to see.

If you haven’t seen this film before now, don’t miss out any longer!

Year of release: 1946

Directors: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Writers: Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger

Main cast: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Roger Livesey, Marius Goring, Raymond Massey

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Perfect viewing for the Christmas season, this 1947 films stars Cary Grant as an angel (and really, who wouldn’t want Cary Grant as their Christmas angel?!) named Dudley.  David Niven plays Bishop Henry Brougham, who is desperately trying to raise funds for a new cathedral to be built.  Such is his concern over this matter that he has started to neglect his wife (Loretta Young), and they no longer have any kind of social life or quality time together.  Dudley comes to earth and reveals his identity as an angel only to Bishop Brougham; to everyone else, Dudley is Henry’s new assistant.  Dudley soon finds friends and fans – Henry’s wife Julia soon befriends him, their daughter Debby adores him, the staff at the house all think he’s wonderful…even the sceptical Professor Wutheridge is charmed by Dudley.  Everyone in fact, except Bishop Brougham, who thinks that he is being replaced in his family’s affections…

The premise of this film (an angel sent down to earth to help a man desperate for guidance) might sound similar to another Christmas classic – It’s A Wonderful Life.  It really isn’t, however.  This film is altogether lighter in tone, with plenty of funny moments.  This was apparently Cary Grant’s least favourite role out of the many he played in his career, but whatever he thought of it, I thought he was truly delightful in this film.  He totally embodied the part of Dudley, and his childlike joy and insistence on being happy made this very much a feel-good movie.  Niven is also great as the Bishop, although he has less room to ‘play around’ with his part, being as he is, rather dour for much of the picture.  Loretta Young looked simply stunning, and was also great as Julia – a woman who had almost forgotten what it felt like to have fun.

Overall, the film is charming and just lovely.  Definitely one to watch over Christmas!

Year of release: 1947

Director: Henry Koster

Writers: Robert Nathan (book), Robert E. Sherwood, Leonardo Bercovici, Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder

Main cast: Cary Grant, David Niven, Loretta Young, Monty Woolley

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This 1958 movie centres on the lives of a group of permanent residents at a Bournemouth hotel.  It’s out of season and they are the only people stopping there.  Inevitably, their lives become intertwined.  Wendy Hiller (who won an Oscar for her role) is Pat Cooper, the manageress of the hotel who presides over events with patience and good sense.  David Niven (who also won as Oscar for his performance despite appearing on screen for total of less than 16 minutes) is Major Angus Pollock, a man who is about to see his life unravel – an event which divides the other residents into those who want to see him ejected from the establishment, and those who are more sympathetic.  Rita Hayworth is absolutely stunning as lonely fashion model Ann Shankland, who comes to the hotel to see her former husband John Malcolm (Burt Lancaster, who also co-produced the film), although John is now engaged to Pat Cooper.

This really is a rather lovely film; its charm sort of crept up on me and I realised that I was really enjoyed watched the tangled webs which these characters wove.  The cast was uniformly excellent, with not a poor performance among them.

The film is based on two one-act plays by Terence Rattigan, but here the two stories are interwoven, to excellent effect (the title is taken from the separate tables where the guests sit in the dining room).  It does feel a little bit like watching a play, especially as every scene is based at the hotel.  The whole gamut of human emotion is displayed here, from despair to joy, anger to love, friendship and disdain.  I especially warmed to the characters of Pat Kerr and Sybil Railton-Bell (Deborah Kerr), a young woman who is downtrodden and dominated by her mother.

There were some great scenes, but my favourite was unquestionably the final scene, which appropriately took place in the dining room, featuring the separate tables of the title.  There are no spoilers here, so I won’t reveal more, except to say that it was very satisfying ending to a very entertaining film, and highly recommended.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Delbert Mann

Writers: Terence Rattigan (play), John Gay, John Michael Hayes (uncredited)

Main cast: Rita Hayworth, Burt Lancaster, David Niven, Deborah Kerr, Wendy Hiller

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