British filmmaker Ronald Neame dies

Credits include 'Poseidon Adventure,' 'Great Expectations'

Ronald Neame, a British filmmaker whose career dates to serving as assistant cameraman on the first feature film made with sound in Great Britain, Alfred Hitchcock's "Blackmail" (1929), has died. He was 99.

He died Wednesday in Los Angeles. BBC correspondent Peter Bowes, a family friend, said Neame never recovered after a fall.

Neame's directing credits spanned six decades and included "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" (1969) -- for which Maggie Smith won the Oscar for best actress -- "The Poseidon Adventure" (1972) and the Walter Matthau starrers "Hopscotch" (1980) and "First Monday in October" (1981).

As a producer, Neame was involved with three British classics: "Brief Encounter" (1945), "Great Expectations" (1946) and "Oliver Twist" (1948). "Encounter" and "Expectations" were the fruition of a production partnership called Cineguild that Neame had formed with David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allan.

As a screenwriter, Neame earned Oscar noms for the screenplays of "Encounter," adapted from a Noel Coward play, and "Expectations," from Charles Dickens' novel. He shared those distinctions with Lean and Havelock-Allan.

Cineguild broke up in 1947 with a fallout between Neame and Lean when the latter replaced him as director of "The Passionate Friend." Neame rebounded, making his directing debut on the thriller "Take My Life" for Arthur Rank.

Before directing, Neame was cinematographer on "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" (1942) and received an Oscar nom for its special effects, which he shared with sound designer C.C. Stevens.

Two of his films were nominated for the Palme d'Or at the Festival de Cannes: "The Man Who Never Was" (1956) and "Jean Brodie."

Following his directorial debut on "Life," Neame followed up with another noir-ish drama, "Golden Salamander" (1950).

He next produced "The Magic Box" (1952). After that, he focused on directing, most auspiciously with the Alec Guinness starrer "The Card" in 1952, which won him notice as an actors' director. Accordingly, he landed bigger assignments, directing Gregory Peck in "The Million Pound Note" (1954), which was filmed in Technicolor.

From 1955-64, he directed an eclectic list of films, including "Man Who Never Was," "The Seventh Sin" and "Windom's Way." During the period, he also formed Knightsbridge Films with art director John Bryan. With United Artists' backing, the company produced two Guinness starrers directed by Neame: "The Horse's Mouth" and "Tunes of Glory. The latter received a BAFTA nomination for best British film in 1961, and both were nommed for the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival.

He also directed Judy Garland's last film, "I Could Go on Singing" (1963), and the following year "The Chalk Garden," starring Deborah Kerr. In 1965, he directed "Mr. Moses," starring Robert Mitchum, and then helmed "A Man Could Get Killed" (1966).

In 1966, he ventured to Los Angeles to direct Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine in "The Gambit," followed by "Jean Brodie" and the film musical "Scrooge," starring a singing Albert Finney.

Although he was to spend many years in California directing films, the subject matter of Neame's films generally were British.

He directed such international-intrigue movies as "The Odessa File," from Frederick Forsyth's thriller.

In 1986, he directed "Foreign Body." Four years later, he directed a final project, "The Magic Balloon," which was a promo film for Douglas Trumbull's Showscan process.

Neame was born April 23, 1911, in London. His father, Elwin Neame, was a film director, and his mother, Ivy Close, was an actress who stared in films like Abel Gance's "La Roue."

He was educated at the University College School and Hurstpierpoint College. At age 14, owing to the death of his father in a car accident, he went to work at Elstree Studios as a messenger.

In a comparatively short time, Neame was promoted to lighting cameraman (cinematographer) on "The Gaunt Stranger" and in 1941 met Lean on "Major Barbara." Subsequently, he graduated to director of photography and production supervisor on "In Which We Serve."

At that juncture, they formed Cineguild with Havelock-Allan as an independent unit within the Rank Organization. Cineguild began by adapting three Noel Coward plays: "This Happy Breed," "Blithe Spirit" and "Brief Encounter."

During the period, mogul Arthur Rank dispatched Neame to the U.S. to research how to better equip British studios postwar.

Neame also penned an autobiography, "Straight From the Horse's Mouth," detailing his varied and colorful career.

He was married to the former Beryl Heanley from 1932 until they divorced in 1973. They had one son, producer Christopher Neame. Since 1993, Ronald Neame had been married to Donna Friedberg.

Neame was awarded the Commander of the British Empire in 1996.

Funeral announcements were pending.
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