January 2, 2017


Wolf Rilla (1920-2005) b. Berlin, Germany.

Director, writer and television producer Wolf Rilla was born in Berlin, where his part-Jewish father Walter Rilla was a prominent actor. When Hitler came to power the family moved to London in 1934. Rilla completed his schooling at Frensham Heights School, Surrey, and went on to St Catherine’s College, Cambridge. In 1942 he joined the BBC World Service’s German section, transferring to the pioneer television service in the late 1940s at Alexandra Palace. He left the BBC staff in 1952 to pursue his ambition to make films, but continued to take on television productions as a freelance. In the cinema, Rilla made his feature film directorial debut writing and directing the minor Glad Tidings (1952). After a series of low-budget second features at Nettlefold Studios for Butchers and Insignia, Rilla joined Group 3, an idealistic production company set up by the National Film Finance Corporation with Michael Balcon, John Baxter and John Grierson in charge. Rilla’s first film for Group 3 was End of the Road (1954), a compassionate study of old age starring Finlay Currie. The first of Rilla’s films to attract critical attention, The Blue Peter (1955), starred Kieron Moore as a shell-shocked war hero whose cynical view of the world is altered when he becomes an athletics director at a boy’s camp. The Scamp (1957) was an effectively sentimental story of the attempts of a teacher (Richard Attenborough) to raise an unruly youth while the boy’s drunken father is abroad. Bachelor of Hearts (1958), a frivolous tale of university adventures, was a big success, partly due to its German star Hardy Kruger. By 1960s Rilla had made a handful of films for the Rank Organisation and was working for MGM in Britain, with whom he would direct two films. The first of these was a chilling version of Village of the Damned (1960), from John Wyndham’s sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos. As well as directing it, Rilla was responsible, with Geoffrey Barclay and the American screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, for the adaptation. Costing only $ 82,000 to make, the film grossed $ 1.5m in the US and Canada alone. In Rilla’s second film for MGM, he directed his father, Walter Rilla, along with George Sanders and Richard Johnson, in Cairo (1963), a remake of John Huston’s The Asphalt Jungle, with Tutankhamun’s jewels in a Cairo museum now the target of the robbers During these years, Rilla would occasionally be guest director on television plays, and from the Sixties on, most of his work was in television, where he directed or scripted a variety of shows, from plays to the Paul Temple series. His lasting contribution to the popular culture of his day was educational. He lectured at the London International Film School, and wrote A-Z of Movie Making (1970), one of the most lucid, comprehensive and intelligent guides to writing for the industry. After Wolf had held office in both the film technicians’ union ACTT and the Directors’ Guild, he and his wife Shirley moved to the south of France, to buy and run a hotel, Le Moulin de la Camandoule, at Fayence in Provence.

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