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Michael Anderson, the British director who received an Oscar nomination for overseeing the sprawling spectacle Around the World in 80 Days and later helmed the cult sci-fi classic Logan’s Run, has died. He was 98.
Anderson, who also demonstrated a command of war films by directing The Dam Busters (1955) — often cited as an inspiration for the climax of the first Star Wars film — The Yangtse Incident (1957) and Operation Crossbow (1965), died Wednesday in Vancouver, a spokeswoman for his family said.
With his death, Romeo and Juliet‘s Franco Zeffirelli, 95, is now the oldest living person to receive a best director nom, according to film researcher and The Hollywood Reporter contributor Rhett Bartlett.
His stepdaughter, Laurie Holden, has appeared as recurring characters on such TV series as The X-Files, The Shield, The Walking Dead and The Americans.
Anderson also is survived by his third wife, actress Adrianne Ellis.
A native of London, Anderson called the shots for such British leading men as Michael Redgrave (Dam Busters, 1984, The Wreck of the Mary Deare), Alec Guinness (Operation Crossbow, The Quiller Memorandum), Peter Ustinov (Logan’s Run), Richard Todd (Chase a Crooked Shadow), Laurence Olivier (The Shoes of the Fisherman) and, of course, David Niven, the urbane star of Around the World in 80 Days (1956).
A THR review called the three-hour United Artists film, based on Jules Verne’s 1873 adventure novel, “the greatest show ever seen on stage or screen,” and it captured the best picture Oscar as one of its five Academy Awards.
Anderson, who made the film when he was just 35 — stepping in for John Farrow just days into production — was nominated but lost out to George Stevens of Giant (the only Academy Award that film received from its 10 noms). Farrow shared the Oscar for adapted screenplay.
First-time movie producer Michael Todd, who came from Broadway, purportedly told exhibitors that Around the World in 80 Days was much more than a film: “Movies are something you can see in your neighborhood theater and eat popcorn while you’re watching them … Show Around the World in 80 Days almost exactly as you would present a Broadway show.”
The film centers on Phileas Fogg (Niven) and his valet, Passepartout (Mexican comic actor Cantinflas), as they try to win a £20,000 bet by circling the globe in record time. Among the more than 40 “world famous stars” in the movie were Shirley MacLaine, Frank Sinatra, John Gielgud, Edward R. Murrow, Noel Coward, Charles Boyer, Ronald Colman, Robert Newton, Marlene Dietrich, Buster Keaton, Victor McLaglen and Red Skelton.
Around the World in 80 Days set records for the most camera set-ups (more than 2,000), sets and costumes; the most people (68,894) photographed in separate worldwide locations (140 in 13 countries were used); and the greatest distance traveled to make a film (4 million air-passenger miles).
Its budget — an estimated $6 million (the equivalent of roughly $55 million today) — was huge as well. The film grossed $42 million domestically, or about $385 million now, second to only The Ten Commandments that year. (On the other hand, a 2004 Disney remake of Around the World in 80 Days, starring Steve Coogan and Jackie Chan, was a critical and commercial flop.)
Eighteen months after the original film was released, Todd died in a plane crash, making a widow of Elizabeth Taylor.
MGM’s Logan’s Run (1976) focused on society in the year 2274, where population control is practiced by killing off citizens once they reach age 30. The opening titles read: “Sometime in the 23rd century … the survivors of war, overpopulation and pollution are living in a great domed city, sealed away from the forgotten world outside.”
British star Michael York, who had worked with Anderson a year earlier in Conduct Unbecoming (1975), starred as Logan-5 opposite Jenny Agutter and Farrah Fawcett-Majors. The film earned $50 million worldwide and would mark Anderson’s high-water mark as a feature director.
Anderson was born Jan. 30, 1920. His father was a stage actor, and his grand-aunt was American actress Mary Anderson (Lifeboat, Gone With the Wind). He served in the British Army’s Royal Signal Corps, where he met Ustinov; the two soon co-wrote and co-directed Private Angelo (1949), a war comedy about an Italian soldier (Ustinov) in World War II who tries, rather unsuccessfully, to avoid violence.
Anderson returned to the theater of war with the highly regarded Dam Busters, about a British demolition team led by Redgrave and Todd that tries to blow up a Ruhr dam in Germany. The film garnered an Oscar nomination for best effects.
Anderson recruited Redgrave again for the 1956 release of 1984, the first movie adaptation of George Orwell’s 1949 dystopian novel.
Anderson’s other forays into sci-fi included Doc Savage: Man of Bronze (1975), produced by George Pal (director of the 1960 film The Time Machine), and an adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, a 1980 NBC miniseries starring Rock Hudson.
His directorial résumé also includes the Ireland-set Shake Hands With the Devil (1959), starring James Cagney; The Naked Edge (1961), with Gary Cooper (in his final film) and Deborah Kerr; the melodrama All the Fine Young Cannibals (1960), starring real-life husband and wife Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood; the Tony Curtis poodle comedy Wild and Wonderful (1964); Pope Joan (1972), starring Liv Ullmann; Dino De Laurentiis’ Jaws ripoff Orca (1977); and his final credit, The New Adventures of Pinocchio (1999).
Two of his sons followed him into show business: Character actor Michael Anderson Jr. played the brother of John Wayne and Dean Martin in The Sons of Katie Elder (1965) and Doc in Logan’s Run, and David Anderson served as an assistant director on three James Bond films.
Anderson’s autobiography, titled Directed by …, is soon to be published.
On May 17, a newly restored and redigitalized version of The Dam Busters will be presented in 4K live from the Royal Albert Hall in London and simulcast into 400 U.K. theaters to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Royal Air Force’s daring WWII operation on which the film is based.
A private memorial service will be held this summer at his home on the Sunshine Coast of Canada. Donations can be made to the Toronto nonprofit theater company Famous People Players.
News of his death was first reported by Matthew Moore of The Times of London.
In March 1941, Anderson, future Lawrence of Arabia director David Lean and their wives were hiding under the stairs in a house as the Germans bombed London during World War II. After an “all-clear” signal sounded, they decided to risk a trip to the famed Cafe de Paris nightclub in the West End to have dinner, he recalled in an interview that aired a few years ago on Saturday Night at the Movies in Canada.
“But my wife [Betty] wasn’t feeling really well and then Lean’s wife said let’s not go,” he said. “That was the night the Cafe de Paris was bombed. [Most] everyone inside was killed.”
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