Pages

03 April 2013

Ann Todd

After 15 years of largely nondescript film roles, English actress and producer Ann Todd (1909 - 1993) had her breakthrough in the romantic psychodrama The Seventh Veil (1945). She played a vulnerable pianist opposite tormenter James Mason. Today, the pretty actress is probably best known for her role in Alfred Hitchcock's court drama The Paradine Case (1947). She was married to director David Lean and later she produced a series of travel films.

Ann Todd
Belgian postcard by Victoria, Brussels, no. 639. (Imported from Italy. Printed by C.C.M., no. 22). Photo: Paramount.

Ann Todd
British postcard by Astra. Photo: publicity still for The Passionate Friends (1949, David Lean). Caption: "Entrancing Ann Todd, starring in the Cineguild production "The Passionate Friends", poses in the foam-white dress that she wears to a fancy-dress Ball in the Film. The design is pure winter-halter fragile and lovely as porcelain."

Ann Todd
British postcard. Photo: Eagle Lion.

Wartime Flirtation
Ann Todd was born as Dorothy Anne Todd in Hartford, England, in 1909 to a middle-class Aberdeen family. Her brother was Harold Brooke (real name Todd), who would write plays and several screenplays with his wife Kay Bannerman. Ann was educated at St. Winifrid's School, Eastbourne. The family moved to London and after school, she trained as a drama teacher at Central School. In 1928, this lead to West End walk-ons and from 1931 on to bits in films. During the 1930’s, she appeared in The Ghost Train (1931, Walter Forde) opposite Jack Hulbert, the mystery The Return of Bulldog Drummond (1934, Walter Summers) with Ralph Richardson, and the early sci-fi masterwork by Herbert George Wells, Things to Come (1936, William Cameron Menzies). Her best role of this period was as Ralph Richardson's neurotic wife in South Riding (1938, Victor Saville). After years of largely mediocre stage roles she scored in 1943 a big hit as a murderess in Enid Bagnold's play Lottie Dundas. She became a popular film actress with a showy bit part as Robert Donat's wartime flirtation in Perfect Strangers/Vacation from Marriage (1945, Alexander Korda) and suddenly she became an international star with The Seventh Veil (1945, Compton Bennett). David Absalom comments on his site British Pictures: “By any standards, The Seventh Veil is trashy. It's the story of a concert pianist and her masochistic relationship with her guardian James Mason. A psychosomatic illness prevents her playing (brought on by Mason smashing his stick on her hands as she plays). When psychiatrist Herbert Lom gets involved matters come to a head but she is reunited with Mason. Trash or not, it's hugely enjoyable and the fashionable combination of a sadistic James Mason and Freudian analysis made this a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic.” Ann Todd had finally acquired the stardom that 15 years of largely nondescript film roles had failed to deliver. Brian McFarlane adds in the Encyclopedia of British Cinema: “The film was a heady mixture of psychiatry, (popular) classical music and charismatic leading performances and it was just what audiences wanted at the end of World War II. Unfortunately, Todd never again had such a box-office hit.”

Ann Todd
Vintage postcard. Photo: Eagle Lion.

Ann Todd
British postcard.

Brief Encounter-style Triangle
Ann Todd went to Hollywood. To international audiences she is now perhaps best known for her role as Gregory Peck's long-suffering wife in Alfred Hitchcock's disappointing courtroom drama The Paradine Case (1947). Back in England, she appeared in the melodrama, So Evil My Love (1948, Lewis Allen). Brian MacFarlane comments: “she gave what may be her finest performance (...) as the missionary's widow who returns to England, and lets down her hair, literally and figuratively, to her very great cost. Her chiselled blonde beauty, with its conflicting suggestions of propriety and sensuality, brilliantly caught by Max Greene's lustrous camera, was never more skilfully used, and she rose to poignant heights at its conclusion.” At that time Todd was a big star but she was in her late thirties, an age when the career of a film beauty begins to falter. A series of poor films slowed the momentum slightly, but it was her relationship with David Lean that finished her. They met when he directed her in The Passionate Friends (1949), an upmarket, unmoving re-telling of a Brief Encounter-style triangle. They left their respective families and married. He also directed her next two films, Madeleine (1950), the story of the notorious Madeleine Smith, a role which Todd had already tackled on the stage in the play The Rest Is Silence (1944) by Harold Purcell; and The Sound Barrier (1952). According to David Absolom it was clear Lean was obsessed with her: “The films are just excuses for Todd to look beautiful but expressionless and are the best work of neither of them. Only in the third of these, The Sound Barrier, when Todd was just one of an all-star cast and the relationship was cooling is there much evidence that David Lean could direct.” Unlike Madeleine, the film was a great success and won three BAFTAs. Todd was nominated for a BAFTA award as Best Actress.

Ann Todd
British postcard in the Picturegoer Series, London, no. W 195. Photo: Sidney Box Productions.

Ann Todd
Dutch postcard, no. a.x. 206. Photo: Film en Toneel.

Ann Todd
British postcard. Photo: publicity still for The Passionate Friends (1949).

Lady Macbeth and The Shrew
In 1954, Ann Todd broke away from Lean to make the courtroom drama The Green Scarf. In 1954-1955 she did a season at the Old Vic theatre company which included playing Lady Macbeth and The Shrew. She excelled in a leading role as a desperate mother in Joseph Losey's suspenseful Time Without Pity (1957) with Michael Redgrave, and that same year she made her Broadway debut in Four Winds. Eventually film and theatre lost their appeal to her and in the mid-1960’s, she began a second career as a maker of documentaries, which she wrote, produced, and sometimes directed. She filmed these short travelogues, with titles as Thunder in Heaven (1964, Geoffrey Gurrin), in places as far apart as Iona and Nepal. She continued to act on stage occasionally, as in The Vortex (1965). Before the war. she had been in the first British TV serial, Ann and Harold (1938) and in later years she made TV appearances in both the US and the UK. In 1961 she played her first supporting feature film role in 15 years in the horror film Taste of Fear (1961, Seth Holt). Later she played supporting roles in such features as The Fiend (1971, Robert Hartford-Davis) and The Human Factor (1979, Otto Preminger) based on the Graham Greene novel. She played her last feature film role in The McGuffin (1985, Colin Bucksey) with Charles Dance. Ann Todd was married three times. Her first husband, Victor Malcolm, was a brother of famed TV presenter Mary Malcolm, and a grandson of Lillie Langtry. They had a son, David. Her second and third husbands (Nigel Tangye and David Lean) were first cousins. With Tangye, who acted as a technical adviser on Things to Come (1936, William Cameron Menzies) and Conquest of the Air (1940, Zoltan Korda), she had a daughter, Ann Francesca. Francesca was Ann's character’s name in The Seventh Veil. Ann Todd died from a stroke in 1993 in London, aged 84. In 1980 she had published her autobiography, The Eighth Veil, an allusion to the film which had made her a star in Britain. David Absalom concludes his bio on British Pictures: “At the height of her career, she was a curiously unsympathetic figure - sombre, almost sullen, her face a mask. Only occasionally, when she was caught smiling, was there a suggestion that beneath the mask there was someone worth getting to know.”


Trailer of The Passionate Friends (1949). Source: K8nairne (YouTube).

Sources: David Absalom (British Pictures), Brian McFarlane (Encyclopedia of British Cinema), Wikipedia, Turner Classic Movies, Philippe Pelletier (Ciné Artistes) (French), AllMovie, and IMDb.

No comments: