It was a very sad day for The Cult Movie Review and indeed the horror movie genre as a whole at the sad passing of director Roy Ward Baker on 5th October 2010. His influence and talent as spread across several decades and he leaves a legacy within television and films of great standing? Born Roy Horace Baker, on December 19th 1916 in London, his prolific career would span some of the most important moments in the genre’s history including his association with horror icons Hammer Films and later his dealings with the production company Amicus and his early association with none other than Alfred Hitchcock, Baker becoming his assistant director (uncredited) in Hitchcock’s ‘1938 classic, The Lady Vanishes.
During WW II Baker served in the Army and then transferred his services to the Army Kinematograph unit in the year 1943, producing documentaries and teaching material for the troops. It was during this time that he worked with the Writer and Producer Eric Amber who would after the war give Baker the director’s chair for a film adaptation of Ambers Thriller novel and screenplay The October Man ’47 starring John Mills. Amber and Baker would work together again in Baker’s defining moment as a director but not until Baker returned from a spell in Hollywood. After spending seven years from ’52-’58 in the climate of tinsel town in which during that time he notably directed Richard Widmark and Marilyn Monroe in the ’1952 thriller, Don’t Bother To Knock based upon the Charlotte Armstrong novel. On his return to England in ’58 the big moment arrived and he began working on an adaptation of the Walter Lord book, A Night to remember, based upon the sinking of the Titanic. Eric Amber would write the screenplay for the film version of Lord’s book and the rest as they say would become history, the film gained critical acclaim throughout the film world and would in later years influence Director James Cameron to direct his box office phenomena Titanic ’97. In ‘1959 A Night to Remember was awarded a Golden Globe for Best Foreign English Language film. From ’61-63 Baker worked on several more movies from a poor Western starring Dirk Bogart and John Mills the Singer Not the Song ’61 were it was noted that Bogart and Mills only tolerated each other for the sake of Baker’s film, let us just say that their relationship on set was at best fractious. In that same year Baker directed John Mills again in the controversial Flame in the Streets ’61. This film dealt with very controversial subject matter regarding the changing face of the UK dealing with subject matter that included topics such as racial tension and the union rights for West Indian Immigration Workers in particular. The film also dealt with the subject of multi racial relationship within a cultural climate of change. The following year Baker would again direct John Mills in the Second World War drama The Valiant ’62. Baker’s next project was a move into comedy when he directed Michael Crawford and Nyree Dawn Porter in coming of age film Two Left Feet ’63 based on David Stuart Leslie’s novel. Baker then spent the next four years directing for television, concentrating on the serial format and from ‘1963-1967, worked on, Zero One ’62-63, The Human Jungle ’64, Gideon’s Way ’64-65 and The Baron ’66-67. Baker’s next project after working on The Baron was a return to films and also his first association with the Hammer franchise and his inevitable walk into horror movie history, directing the wonderful acting abilities of Andrew Keir in the Sci-Fi, horror classic, Quatermass and the pit ’67. The Hammer connection continued when in ’68 Baker directed two episodes of a TV series called Journey to Midnight or “Journey to the Unknown” the episodes in which Baker directed were ‘Poor Butterfly’ and ‘The Indian Spirit Guide’ featuring the acting talents of such notables and up and coming stars Edward Fox and Julie Christie and also featured British acting stalwart Bernard Lee. The acting legend Joan Crawford (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane ‘62) was originally to be hostess of the stories but later had her scenes deleted. It was in that same year Baker was to direct Crawford’s Co Star in said movie Bette Davis, (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane ’62.) This is one of Baker’s finest movie moments and also one of the greatest acting performances of Davis’s long and illustrious career, who performs majestically in this delightfully dark and twisted comedy, The Anniversary ’68, which was originally going to be directed by Alvin Rakoff. It was alleged however that Bette Davis was unhappy at the choice of director and he was subsequently replaced by Ward Baker. This was yet another Hammer production that Baker worked upon and it would not be their last collaboration. For a time Baker returned to the media of television directing and from ’65 – 68 directed eight episodes of the cult classic TV series The Avengers and also served his tenure and intertwined his work between this series with another British classic TV series, The Saint ’63-68. This particular series was notable for discovering and establishing the talents of one Roger Moore future movie icon and the greatest James Bond there has ever been thus far. In ‘1969 Baker spent the year working on other TV series including, Department S, The Champions, Moon Zero Two, The Spy Killer and two episodes of the wonderful Randall and Hopkirk (Deceased.) It was after he directed the made for TV espionage movie, Foreign Exchange ‘70, that Hammer Horror fans where rewarded with three Roy Ward Baker classics. The Vampire Lovers ’70, based on J.Sheridan La Fanu’s, 1871 original story Carmilla. This was to be the first of two wonderful performances from Hammer legend Ingrid Pitt, who would return that very year in the glorious and notorious Hammer masterpiece Countess Dracula ‘70, which will be reviewed by The Cult Movie Review. The Vampire Lovers also featured the legend that was the late and great Peter Cushing, another long time working associate with Baker and Hammer icon. Baker swiftly followed this production with Hammers Dracula franchise and worked with the wonderful Christopher Lee who reprised his role as the dark lord of vampirism in Scars of Dracula ’70, however it was the final offering of this illustrious year both for Baker and Hammer that he directed the breathtaking re-working of Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and with the wonderful re-write by Brian Clemens for the big screen and a slight change in gender metamorphosis to the original title to make this production and dare I say it, this film is still one of the finest moments in Hammers illustrious canon as Dr Jekyll and Sister Hyde ’70 was given a cinematic birth. Starring the late Ralph Bates in his greatest performance, wonderful and inspiring, then align that with the wonderful performance of the stunning Martine Beswick who takes vamping to the greatest of heights and really does give meaning to the word lustful in this acting part. Again this particular pleasure will be given a full detailed review as it thoroughly deserves and is without doubt for me Baker’s finest and most controversial horror epic, a film that as indeed not been equalled or even surpassed on many levels since. What also makes this film great aside from the above delights is the fact it caused the BBFC so much in the way of worry, which was always a good thing to do? After this pinnacle Roy Ward Baker would return to television and direct Roger Moore and the late Tony Curtis (The Boston Strangler ‘68, to which Curtis should have won the Oscar for Best Actor!) in four episodes of The Persuaders! ’71-72, in that same two year period he also directed four episodes of the popular Jason King TV series.
His return to movies was also a welcome return to the horror genre and a new beginning regarding collaboration with another famous horror production company Amicus. Baker’s first offering under the new partnership was the character based short portmanteau led tales, Asylum ’72, with a cast including Peter Cushing, Herbert Lom, Charlotte Rampling, Patrick Magee and J.C. himself Robert Powell. In ‘1973 Baker briefly returned to the small screen and directed one episode of the Robert Vaughn, Nyree Dawn Porter led feature The Protectors ’73, before returning to Amicus and directing the short story based horror compendium, The Vault of Horror ’73, again featuring a superb cast including the likes of Denholm Elliott, Tom Baker pre – Dr Who. Curd Jurgens, Edward Judd, Anna and Daniel Massey and the brilliant Terry Thomas. Baker would re-unite with Peter Cushing in his next, often overlooked effort, And Now the Screaming Starts! ’73. This tale of a ghostly entity, curses and supernatural pregnancy is given an Amicus cast that includes Herbert Lom, Patrick Magee, Stephanie Beacham and Ian Ogilvy – who would later work with Baker on two episodes of Return of the Saint ’78. It was ‘1974. I am genuinely a big fan of the aforementioned work and again this particular movie highlights Baker’s substantial genre work. Soon after both Peter Cushing and Baker would once again join forces, which was not unusual in dynamic! What was strange with this project however was the uniqueness and the bizarre nature of this Hammer movie and its strange title to boot. The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires aka: 7 Brothers of Dracula, 1974 was strangely, both a horror and a martial art movie combined. The storyline concerns the journey of Count Dracula to a small remote Chinese village. Cushing played another member of the Van Helsing dynasty, his character travels to China in pursuit of his evil foe The Count on this occasion played by John Forbes- Robertson who also had appeared in the horror genre numerous times for both Hammer and Amicus. With its B-movie stylings and production values it seemed to abandon all that was normal to the genre and almost mock what had gone before it. In recent years ‘Golden Vampires’ as mysteriously become a cult pleasure for many people both in and outside of horror purity and pretension. This would be Bakers last work for some four years and the first time since ‘1945 that he had taken such a major hiatus.
When Baker finally returned to the directing fold it was again within television production and he re-visited old territory with a new characterisation of Simon Templar in, Return of the Saint’78. In ‘1979 Baker returned to the small screen and directed three episodes of the World War II drama Danger UXB ‘79, which dealt with the trials and tribulations of a bomb disposal unit that attempted to deactivate, decommission unexploded bombs during the blitz, a job with a high risk rate attached. In ‘1980 Baker returned to the big screen with an Amicus production The Monster Club, which starred the legends that were Vincent Price, Donald Pleasence, John Carradine, Richard Johnson and frequent horror siren Britt Ekland. He followed that with a foray into the world of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character by directing one episode of the series Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson ’80. It was the acclaimed TV mini series The Flame Trees of Thika ‘81 that allowed Baker to work with a member of the Mills family again this time it was not the father John but his daughter Hayley Mills. This was TV drama of the highest order and became a indicator for the great British drama to come, indeed ‘Thika’ was to become a standard barer and revered the world around. The year that followed Baker directed an episode of the Sam Waterston based TV series Q.E.D. ’82 (Quentin E. Deverill.) It would be a further two years before Baker worked again but when he did return he did so in some style. Again working for television and working with long time acting associates Peter Cushing and John Mills in The Mask of Death ’84, in which Cushing would reprise his role as Sherlock Holmes, a role he had played in Hammer’s version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes tale The Hound of the Baskerville ’59, directed by long time Hammer associate Terence Fisher. This would be the last time Cushing, Mills and Baker worked together, ending a long and comprehensive working relationship between the three of them.
Roy Ward Baker would continue his long and distinguished directing career in TV. Between ‘1984-85 by directing nine episodes of the Peter Bowles comedy, drama The Irish R.M. (Resident Magistrate) following that up in ’86 by directing seven episodes of the comedy TV series Fairly Secret Army. Let us not forget that from ‘1979 – ’89 he worked on eighteen episodes of the very popular TV series Minder which starred George Cole and Dennis Waterman. Baker then worked on a little known series Saracen ’89. In ‘1992 Roy Ward Baker finally bowed out of his long directing career with three episodes of comedy, drama TV series The Good Guys, starring Nigel Havers. His body of work is massive and his contribution in the horror genre alone is greatly appreciated and The Cult Movie Review as nothing but great admiration for this legend of British Cinema and television, it is indeed a great loss of a great man. E.D. Leach.