January 2, 2017


Vernon Sewell (1903-2001) b. London, England.

British writer and documentarist who turned to a mixture of dark thrillers, comedies and chiller films, and made dozens of second-features in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s – by which time he was also working busily in TV.

He often supplied his own screenplays, although these are not usually as strong as his direction, which at its best chills the spine. His ‘B’ features, however, were all too often at the very moderate level of the British cinema of the time. Trained in engineering, Sewell broke into the British film industry with the coming of sound, as an assistant cameraman at Walton Studios. He also worked as an art director and film editor in the early 1930s, and had already had experience of direction by the time he joined Gaumont British instructional in 1937, making several short documentaries for them. He began to turn to features in the 1940s, most notably with The Silver Fleet (1943), a good war film with a typically fine performance from Ralph Richardson as a Dutch submarine manufacturer in the clutches of the Nazis. This was well written and tightly directed, as was Latin Quarter (1945), which was hardly the musical its title might suggest, but a pre-Hammer horror style movie about a demented sculptor who hides his victims in his work; the theme was much revamped in the peak years of the horror film, although few of the film’s successors could manage as blood-curdling a climax.

Most of Sewell’s subsequent films are insignificant quickies, although some of them do make one regret that Sewell did not continue to gain major assignments. Johnny, You’re Wanted (1956) is a film of great charm about a runaway boy, while several of his early 1960s films – The Man in the Back Seat (1960), House of Mystery (1961) and Strongroom (1962) among them are thrillers that exert a grip tighter than their low budgets would seem to promise. Of the later films, Curse of the Crimson Altar (1968) is a big disappointment considering that Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee and Barbara Steele were all involved; but The Blood Beast Terror (1968) does have its moments, particularly in frightening, high-angle shots of a runaway coach at night-time.

In life, Sewell had for many years been a keen yachtsman and some of his films reflect this interest, as well as his documentary training. In television, he worked as assistant director on an episode of the trail-blazing series The Avengers.

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