Bryan Forbes, one of the better-known British film directors of his generation, has died at the age of 86. Forbes started out in movies as an actor, but later said that he lacked the “arrogance” to make a successful career out of it. (Once established behind the camera, he did continue to make fleeting appearances in his own movies, in movies made by his friends, or sometimes just for the hell of it. For instance, in Peter Sellers’ second Inspector Clouseau film A Shot In The Dark, Forbes appeared as a nudist camp attendant, under the pseudonym “Turk Thrust.”) As a filmmaker, and—from 1969 until his resignation in 1971—as chief of film production at EMI, he tried to bring literate and unusual material to English films. Still, he may be best remembered for one of his least typical movies and one of the few he made for Hollywood, The Stepford Wives (1975).
Forbes made his feature acting debut in Hour Of Glory (1949), and worked steadily in small parts throughout the 1050s, but he began to make a bigger mark as a writer with his script for The Cockleshell Heroes (1955). He wrote and acted in the 1960 comedy The League Of Gentlemen, which co-starred Richard Attenborough, and that same year, he and Attenborough started their own production company to make the labor drama The Angry Silence.
In 1961, Forbes made his directing debut with the Attenborough-produced Whistle Down The Wind, featuring Alan Bates as a fugitive murderer whom farm children mistake for Jesus Christ. He also wrote and directed The L-Shaped Room (1962); Séance On A Wet Afternoon (1964), starring Attenborough and an Oscar-nominated Kim Stanley; the POW camp drama King Rat (1965); The Whisperers (1967), which earned Edith Evans an Oscar nomination; the Michael Caine caper film Deadfall (1968); and the tragic love story Long Ago, Tomorrow (1971). He also directed the 1966 comedy The Wrong Box.
After a long time away from the director’s chair, Forbes directed The Stepford Wives, from William Goldman’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s bestseller. The movie’s title has since become common slang for anyone who seems robotically straight-laced—invoked to describe more than one political spouse on the campaign trail—and for that it’s arguably Forbes’ most famous and lasting film. But for Forbes, the production was not a happy experience, and he publicly clashed with Goldman, then the hottest screenwriter in Hollywood.
After writing and directing the Cinderella movie The Slipper And The Rose (1977) and the long-after-the-fact sequel International Velvet, Forbes’ productivity slowed to a trickle, before finally coming to a halt. His last screen credit was for the screenplay of Attenborough’s Chaplin in 1992, but he was reportedly unhappy that his old friend and collaborator had brought in his old nemesis, William Goldman, to rewrite his work.
From 1955 until his death, Forbes was married to the actress Nanette Newman, who appeared in several of his films, including The League of Gentlemen, The L-Shaped Room, Séance On A Wet Afternoon, The Wrong Box, The Whisperers, Deadfall, Long Ago, Tomorrow, The Stepford Wives, and International Velvet.