Thursday, November 3, 2016

Screenwriter & Film Director Muriel Box

Add filmmaker Muriel Box to the conversation.  When we talk of women film directors of the 1940s and 1950s, there are two names that we always mention because they were the two most widely-known women who took control behind the camera.  They were Dorothy Arzner.  Her credits include THE WILD PARTY (1929), SARAH AND SON (1930), HONOR AMONG LOVERS (1931) and MERRILY WE GO TO HELL (1932).  All four of those starred Fredric March.  SARAH AND SON made Arzner the first woman to direct a performer to an Oscar nomination.  Ruth Chatterton was nominated for Best Actress.  Arzner went on to direct films starring Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Joan Crawford and Lucille Ball.  The other woman in Hollywood to shatter the glass ceiling and take control behind the camera was popular and acclaimed actress Ida Lupino.  She was a star who became a director and continued to act.  She made space in the glass ceiling so other actresses in the future like Barbra Streisand, Penny Marshall and Jodie Foster could also direct.
Well, there was another woman.  She was in Great Britain.  She'd won an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and then she went on to direct films.  Her name is left out of the female directors conversation -- but I feel she should be included.  Ever heard of Muriel Box?  She was a screenwriter and director who, in her day, may have been the only Oscar winning female screenwriter to become a film director.  That's Muriel Box in the photo above this paragraph.  Here's Muriel Box (left) directing Shelley Winters in the 1954 comedy, CASH ON DELIVERY.
Did you see Hitchcock's 1948 film, ROPE, starring James Stewart?  Remember the matronly Mrs. Atwater at the beginning of the movie making chit-chat about movie star James Mason?  She loved that he looked so dangerous.  Like a handsome menace. (In the 1950s, James Mason would be dangerous for Hitchcock in the classic NORTH BY NORTHWEST).  The 1945 British drama, THE SEVENTH VEIL, is a rich example of what Mrs. Atwater meant.  This was the film that made Hollywood really notice the British actor.  He'd been a leading man in British movies since 1939.  When THE SEVENTH VEIL opened in the U.S. and qualified for the Academy Awards, it brought Oscars for Best Original Screenplay to Muriel Box and her then husband, Sydney Box.
In THE SEVENTH VEIL, Mason plays the elegant brute who helps a young woman improve and excel artistically as a pianist while he belittles her emotionally.  It's a very dark relationship in this psychological melodrama.  James Mason fans need to see this one.

By 1949, Muriel Box had become a British film director.  Her first assignment, 1949's THE LOST PEOPLE,  was a post World War 2 drama that featured a screen newcomer named Richard Attenborough.  A year after she directed Shelley Winters, she directed the exquisite screen comedienne Kay Kendall and Peter Finch in a TV satire that's perfect fare for Christmastime viewing.  It's 1955's SIMON AND LAURA.  It focuses on TV in its early days, celebrity status and marriage.  Two sophisticated actors are married.  A new BBC TV producer comes up with the idea of making their unscripted home life a show.  Yes, it's what we now call "reality television."  However, the producer doesn't know that their marriage has gone sour.  And they don't tell the producer because they really need the money. 

Kay Kendall was a luminous talent who was taken from us way too soon.  She died of leukemia.  She practically stole the 1957 MGM musical comedy LES GIRLS from Gene Kelly.  And rarely did we see Peter Finch play comedy and sport a mustache.  He did both in SIMON AND LAURA.  The comedy gave Finch his first lead role in a British film.

Of course, Simon and Laura's live Christmas broadcast experience is destined to be a holy -- and funny -- mess.  SIMON AND LAURA was based on a play by Alan Melville.
The last film that Muriel Box directed was the adaptation of hit stage comedy.  It was 1964's RATTLE OF A SIMPLE MAN starring sexy Diane Cilento and Harry Corbett.  In this romantic comedy, a group of sports fans heads to London for a soccer match.  One of the guys winds up with a sweet prostitute.  We find out that the shy, unsophisticated fellow is...a 40 year old virgin.

The Broadway production of the early 1960s play starred Tammy Grimes, the gifted Tony winning actress who died last weekend at age 82.

Writer/Director Muriel Box gave moviegoers a male 40-year-old virgin about 40 years before Hollywood did in a hit comedy starring Steve Carell.

Oscar winning screenwriter and film director Muriel Box needs to remembered and added to the Women In Film conversation.

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