January 2, 2017


Ralph Thomas (1915-2001) b. Hull, England.

Ralph Thomas

The older brother of Gerald Thomas, this British director is more associated with mainstream British cinema of the post-war years, although he too has a successful comedy series to his name in the ‘Doctor’ films. These were also box office till-breakers in their day, and must be recorded as Ralph Thomas‘ best-known achievement. In fact he made more dramatic films than his brother even if only a few of these were successful with critics and public alike. Generally speaking, Ralph Thomas had a good, light, breezy style and chose subjects that lent themselves to attractive publicity campaigns. From the late 1950s, however, the quality of his work began to decline along with the standards of studio-based commercial British cinema, and only Quest for Love (1971), itself but a partial success, stands out as a minor gem in his later work. Very briefly a reporter, Thomas joined British Lion in 1934 and became an assistant editor before war service interrupted his career. He joined the Rank Organisation and, after cutting his teeth on trailers, began directing in 1949. He had some success with The Clouded Yellow (1951), a very English version of a film noir, with a suspenseful climax. He had little subsequent success until Doctor in the House (1954). This collection of old medical jokes, draped across a slim storyline about young trainee doctors, proved to be exactly what the public wanted, starting a run of medical comedies that continued unabated until the early 1970s. Thomas now entered his most successful period, making Doctor at Sea (1955), a good war film, Above Us the Waves (1955), with well-manoeuvred tension and exciting underwater sequences; continuing his profitable association with Dirk Bogarde, a Canada-set outdoor thriller, Campbell’s Kingdom (1957); a presentable version of A Tale of Two Cities (1958), with Bogarde as Sydney Carton; and a moving weepy, The Wind Cannot Read (1958), about a doomed romance between an RAF officer and a Japanese girl. Thomas came unstuck when he attempted to out-Hitch the Master with a version of The 39 Steps (1959) that lacked flair and fluency, and, as the 1960s progressed, his comedies became broader and less palatable, ending with the lamentable Percy (1971-1974) films. But he did make Quest for Love (1971), a beguiling piece of science-fiction about parallel worlds, with a tight grip on its subject in the first two and last two reels, but a bit of a sag in the middle. Thomas’ career pattern was rather the opposite.

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