Main UWE Website
about   •   Michael Klinger   •   catalogue   •   interviews   •   documents   •   images   •   Publications   •   conference / events   •   links   •   contact   •   home


Andrew Spicer: The Creative Producer - The Michael Klinger Papers;
• Paper given at the Faculty of Television Production and Film Studies at Lillehammer University College, Norway, 31 January 2011

Thanks to Audun and Eva for the invitation

Some of you may know my work, but in brief I’ve developed three main research foci: constructions of masculinity; film noir and British cinema. It was very tempting to concentrate on film noir as the
Historical Dictionary of Film Noir is my most recent book, I’m in the throes of editing the Companion to Film Noir, and it was through this work that I first became acquainted with Audun. But my major preoccupation at present is as the leader or principal investigator of a two-year project cataloguing and investigating the papers of the British film producer, Michael Klinger, which develops research that culminated in the study of Sydney Box (2006).

I have a full-time Research Associate,
Dr Anthony McKenna, who wrote his doctorate on Joe Levine, a louder, American version of Klinger. You have a summary of the project on the sheet and because I’m talking specifically about archival issues to your Historigraphy class tomorrow, I won’t go into the details of the content of the Papers or their provenance.

However, just to summarise: the
Michael Klinger Papers were deposited at the University of the West of England in 2007 by his son, Tony. They consist of roughly 200 suspension files and numerous screenplays concerning 21 projects on which Klinger worked as producer or executive producer from the late 1960s to the mid-1980s. They are a very rich source of material, not available elsewhere, including itemized breakdowns of production costs; film grosses; copies of financial agreements with investors; distribution sales and territorial rights; negotiations with authors and actors over rights and payments; company profit and loss accounts and promotion and publicity material. The coverage is uneven: comprehensive material on some projects, none on others. There’s nothing on Klinger’s earlier career and odd gaps, including, alas, the absence of any material on his most famous film, Get Carter - the noir connection. But, as with all projects, you work with what you have rather than mourn what’s not there. It’s a wonderful opportunity for me and what I hope to convince you of in the next hour or so is that it’s worth others’ attention as well.

Klinger’s career/cultural importance
First: he’s an interesting figure in a number of respects:

Varied oeuvre encompassing:

  • Art house films
  • An assortment of thrillers incl.
Get Carter
  • Sexploitation cinema & sex comedies
  • International action-adventure films

Overall, Klinger’s career can be characterized as the continuous struggle between commerce (what would sell), cultural aspiration (making innovative, challenging films that would showcase new and exciting creative talent) and entrepreneurial ambition (to make big-budget films that would rival American productions in the international marketplace).

Second, his career illuminates significant aspects of British economic & cultural history:

The British film industry (1960-80) that at present lacks definitive accounts.
The Soho Sex Industry (not enough research; Paul Raymond study by Paul Willetts, 2010; as I told my Dean, someone has to do this!)
Jewish entrepreneurialism in the British entertainment industry (nothing on this, except individual studies of, e.g. Lew Grade)
The Creative Industries and how they function historically, industrially, economically and culturally in Britain and internationally

Key Issues
In discussing Klinger, I also hope to raise some significant methodological and conceptual issues within film studies that would allow us to understand why, given his success and obvious importance, Klinger has not merited even a single essay up to this point:

What is the role & function of the film producer and why has this been so neglected in favour of the auteur-director?
What challenges does a focus on the producer pose to our conceptions of creativity?
To make the case for foregrounding contextualisation over interpretation; understanding film as a complex artistic and commercial process rather than a succession of texts
What inferences this conception might have for how we understand film/cinema and how we write film history
What pedagogical implications this approach might have

I’m going to attempt to do this by:

• Surveying Klinger’s career through extracts from a few key films
• Drilling down into the archive through a case study of a war film he never made:
Green Beach - I’ll explain why, with 32 films to choose from, I’m focusing an unmade film
• Returning to the conceptual/methodological issues and the formulation of the ‘Producer-Artist’ asking if this peculiar to British cinema - a good question to pose, I hope, in the present company!

I hope you’ll have many questions and points to raise, but if that’s Ok, I’ll give the whole paper and then open things up for discussion.

Klinger’s Career
Rotund, cigar-chomping and ebullient -
Sheridan Morley described him as resembling “nothing so much as a flamboyant character actor doing impressions of Louis B. Meyer” – Michael Klinger might seem to fit exactly the conventional caricature of the producer, but this image belied a quicksilver intelligence, photographic memory and a cultivated mind.

Born in 1920, the son of Polish-Jewish immigrants who had settled in London’s West End, Klinger’s entry into the film industry came via his ownership of two Soho strip clubs, the
Nell Gwynn and the Gargoyle - that were used for promotional events such as the Miss Cinema competition and by film impresarios such as James Carreras - and through an alliance with a fellow Jewish entrepreneur Tony Tenser, who worked for a film distribution company, Miracle Films. In October 1960, they set up Compton Films which owned the Compton Cinema Club - that showed, to anyone over twenty-one, nudist and other uncertificated, often foreign, films - and Compton Film Distributors which started out with a modest slate of salacious imported films (e.g. Tower of Lust) and a series of imaginative publicity stunts. However, finding it difficult to obtain sufficient films, Klinger and Tenser started making their own low-budget films, beginning with Naked as Nature Intended (November 1961) directed by George Harrison Marks and starring his girlfriend Pamela Green.

On the strength of a modest success, Tenser and Klinger formed a new company, Compton-Tekli, to make an assortment of different genres and styles: realism (Saturday Night Out, 1964), period horror (The Black Torment, 1964) and sci-fi (The Projected Man, 1966) - and two ‘shockumentaries’ London in the Raw (1964) and Primitive London (1965), faux documentaries that tried to replicate the success of the Italian film Mondo Carne (1962), a series of newsreel style reports from around the world featuring ‘unusual’ human behaviour and which created a vogue. Writer Stanley Long and producer-director Arnold Miller had already made West End Jungle (1961). The most distinctive group: That Kind of Girl (1963), The Yellow Teddybears (1963) and The Pleasure Girls (1965), combined salaciousness with an attempt at examining serious sexual issues. They engage with a rapidly changing British society and with London in its incipiently ‘swinging’ phase as both fascinating and dangerous.

The level of K’s involvement in these films is difficult to judge and we hope to interview the director,
Gerry O’Hara, in the next few weeks. It was Tenser who was undoubtedly responsible for the full-on marketing campaign that emphasised how ‘shocking’ or ‘revealing’ they were while Klinger, not averse to making a profit, nurtured more ‘artistic’ ambitions. Indeed, I would say, on good evidence from interviewees, that although both Klinger and Tenser were highly ambitious, they were culturally divergent. Characteristically, when Roman Polanski arrived in London and approached the pair to obtain finance having failed elsewhere, it was Klinger who had seen Knife in the Water (1962) and therefore gave him the opportunity to make Repulsion (1965) and the more ambitious Cul-de-sac (1966). Klinger appreciated Polanski as an outré talent capable of making challenging films and also as a means through which to increase his own and the company’s cultural capital. He therefore promoted Polanski’s films assiduously and both won awards at the Berlin Film Festival that conferred welcome prestige on Compton-Tekli. Their success represents a symbiosis of directorial creativity and astute showmanship. As Klinger’s son Tony has told me, his father always aspired to ‘café society’ and enjoyed Polanski’s left-field, bohemian cosmopolitanism, even if he had to shout at him about budgets! However, Tenser, always happier to stay with proven box-office material, sex films and period horror, saw Polanski as at best a distraction and at worse a liability.

I suspect everyone is familiar with Repulsion but it’s the story of a Belgian manicurist Carol (
Catherine Deneuve) working in London and living in her sister’s flat. When her sister leaves for a holiday she becomes prey to terrifying hallucinatory delusions.

These cultural differences led to the break-up of the partnership with Tenser in October 1966.

Klinger set up a new company,
Avton Films, and continued to promote young, talented but unproven directors who were capable of making fresh and challenging features. It’s first two films were Peter Collinson’s absurdist/surrealist thriller The Penthouse (1967) and Alastair Reid’s Baby Love (1968), another film that focused on a sexually precocious young female, but with an ambitious narrative style that included flashbacks and nightmare sequences. Baby Love is the story of a 15 year-old girl Luci (Linda Hayden) - recently traumatised by her working-class mother’s suicide in their grotty Manchester terraced house - who goes to live in the elegant London home of her mother’s ex-boyfriend Robert (Keith Barron) now a successful doctor.

A fourth young talent Klinger championed was
Mike Hodges, to whom he gave his first film directing opportunity with Get Carter (1971). Although Get Carter is now routinely discussed as Hodges’ directorial triumph, it was Klinger who had bought the rights to Ted Lewis’s novel Jack’s Return Home because he sensed its potential to imbue the British crime thriller with the realism and violence of its American counterparts. Klinger had raised the finance through MGM-British before Hodges became involved. It has, of course, become a cult film with several iconic scenes including the opening that has inspired many subsequent British neo-noir thrillers, as I noted in my contribution to European Film Noir (pp. 113-14).

Part of Klinger’s distinctiveness was his ability to tap into various markets. In the 1970s he continued to make low-budget sexploitation films with the
‘Confessions’ series (Window Cleaner/Pop Performer/Driving Instructor/Holiday Camp, 1974-78) whose modest costs could be recouped (in fact they made substantial profits) even from a rapidly shrinking domestic market and partly compensate for a British film industry that now lacked a stable production base, was almost completely casualised, and where there was a chronic lack of continuous production. Klinger acted as executive producer, but in a typically combative memo (7 Jan. 1977), he remonstrated with Greg Smith, the producer, that the series had lost it s way:
    Our original conception of ‘Window Cleaner’ was that we had to have a believable family background that everybody could understand. There is no doubt that this conception was right and
    worked admirably.

    Pop Performerwe allowed ourselves to be diverted from the original successful formula and there is no question that it was not so successful irrespective of the relative merits of the film.
    Therefore unless his advice is heeded for the then current production
    , ‘Holiday Camp’:

    We will be making just another sexy comedy which might be quite funny, but I feel we would be throwing away almost everything which we have striven so hard to miantain, and which makes
    Confessionsfilms different to all the other rubbish that gets churned out by the mile.
See if you can see his point in these two extracts from the inaugural film, ‘Window Cleaner’, directed by industry veteran Val Guest.

Klinger continued to produce recherché and challenging crime thrillers, including Reid’s neglected
Something to Hide (1972), Collinson’s Tomorrow Never Comes (1978) and Claude Chabrol’s Les liens de sang (Blood Relatives, 1978). However, Klinger’s main energies went into the production of big-budget action-adventure films - Gold (1974) and Shout at the Devil (1976) - based on highly successful novels by Wilbur Smith and aimed at the international market.

Given the parlous state of the British film industry, such a strategy may seem odd or even reckless. However, the selection of the action-adventure film was based on Klinger’s estimation of public taste - particularly the popularity of the Bond films - and his conviction, in the context of a dwindling domestic market, that international productions that could hope for worldwide sales were the route to survival for the British film industry. Indeed, he repeatedly attacked the insularity, parochialism and timorousness of the British film industry in the trade press. Klinger also saw an opportunity, with the withdrawal of large companies (notably
Rank) from production, for ambitious (and, one might add, courageous) independent producers to fill a production vacuum. His problem was that he could no longer rely, as he had done for Get Carter and Pulp (1972), on American finance. As Alexander Walker has shown, it was largely American money that had sustained the British film industry in the 1960s and the withdrawal of Hollywood studios from the industry in the 1970s was swift, unceremonious and catastrophic and Klinger had to rely on South African sources of money for production finance for both films.

Case Study: Green Beach
I hope that survey of MK’s career was interesting, and gave you some idea of why I think he is a fascinating figure, involved in so many, very different, kinds of film. A much more varied output, probably, than would be typical of a director, straddling modes of production - exploitation, middle-brow and art-house - normally regarded as mutually exclusive. However, I want now to dig deeper and so pinpoint more clearly some of the key issues. As the project has developed, I’ve become increasingly focused on what Tony K told me at the outset was the key to understanding his father’s career, his Jewishness. Although histories exist of modern British Jewry and their characteristic role as entrepreneurs there has been no major study of the role of Jews in British cinema - a British equivalent of
Neal Gabler’s study of the Hollywood moguls, An Empire of Their Own. I toyed with the idea of discussing Rachel’s Man (1974) - a Biblical love story shot in Israel shortly after the Yom Kippur War in 1973 by an Israeli director, Moshe Mizrahi, but nevertheless an international picture starring Mickey Rooney! However, I’ve chosen Green Beach - a war film that Klinger tried, unsuccessfully, to make for over 20 years from 1967 through to 1987 – based on a secret memoir of the Dieppe Raid (August 1942) by a working-class Jewish radar expert, Jack Nissenthal.

In my view it demonstrates (rather than rhetorically asserts) the importance of analysing the producer’s role in understanding the complexities of film-making, the continual struggle to balance the competing demands of creativity and commerce. In addition, its subject matter – an undercover raid and a Jewish hero - disturbed the dominant Anglo-American myths concerning the Second World War, creating what turned out to be intractable ideological as well as financial problems. In addition, and this is why I chose it over
Rachel’s Man, it deliberately problematises the object of film study, what we might mean by a ‘film text’.

Green Beach exists as a book (by James Leasor, 1975) but Klinger’s film is a ‘lost’ object, one that has no existence outside the archive, away from the documentation that exists in the MKP from which its history can be reconstructed, including its problematic relationship with its various sources notably Leasor’s book. However, it is not my purpose here to try to recreate, from the extant scripts, a lost masterpiece, or, more neutrally, to speculate how Green Beach might have worked as a film, but to argue that unproduced films are significant items in a producer’s oeuvre, alerting us to the films s/he wanted to make, but was not able to and why. What were the various constraints within which, in this case Klinger, was working and what do they reveal about the parameters as to what was possible, acceptable or viable at this particular moment of British film and cultural history?

Dan North has argued, focusing on an unrealized project is productive because ‘the lack of a finished film throws … non-filmic elements into even sharper relief, shifting attention to the intricacies of the creative process and to the context in which that creativity began’. As we shall see, the creative process in this case was closely interwoven with issues of ethnicity (Klinger’s Jewishness) and, because it was a war film, with the sensibilities of the combatants who were still living, with the struggle over the meaning of the Second World War and thus with key issues of national identities, memories, and myths.

The origins of the
Green Beach project go back to 20 October 1967 when Klinger read an article in the Jewish Chronicle about the sensational revelations of Jack Nissenthal concerning his role in the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942 when nearly 6,000 troops, mostly Canadian but with some British commandos, landed as part of Operation Jubilee. The Dieppe Raid was highly controversial at the time and has remained a subject of intense debate for historians who have questioned its purpose, value and whether its orchestrator, Lord Louis Mountbatten, Chief of Combined Operations, exceeded his authority.

Nissenthal was involved in the part of the operation known as ‘
Green Beach’, the code name for Pourville, a small seaside town near Dieppe, where two infantry battalions from the South Saskatchewan Regiment landed. Nissenthal, a working-class London Jew who had become an expert on radar, was the only non-combatant on the raid, deployed on an undercover mission for British Air Intelligence whose key objective was to ascertain the capability of the German radar system. Nissenthal’s knowledge was judged so important that he had a bodyguard of ten Canadians and a British officer to see that he did not fall into enemy hands, or, if that seemed likely, to shoot him. He was also issued with a cyanide pill. Despite the heavy casualties, Nissenthal succeeded in obtaining important information concerning the German radar.

Following the raid, several officers were decorated, but Nissenthal’s undercover mission could not be officially acknowledged and thus his courageous exploits went unrecognized and remained unknown. In 1967, after twenty-five years, Nissenthal was no longer bound by the official secrets act and was thus at liberty to reveal his story with a view to publication.

After reading the
Jewish Chronicle article, Klinger wrote immediately to Nissenthal (23 October 1967), who had moved to South Africa and ran an electronics firm, fired up by this narrative of an unheard of Jewish hero from almost exactly the same background as Klinger himself. Klinger sensed the thrilling possibility of making a dramatic, shocking war film depicting a secret mission that revealed the darker side of British war effort in which orders could be given for a civilian to be killed rather than risk being captured. The possibility of making this film comes at a crucial point in Klinger’s career where, as we have seen, he was attempting to metamorphose from his showmanship/sexploitation origins into a higher-status producer whose films had a strong chance of commercial success but which were also capable of dealing with important subjects. Here was a genuinely sensational story rather than a factitious one, authentically shocking. More so than crime thrillers or Wilbur Smith adaptations, Green Beach was an opportunity for reputation building as well as financial gain, in addition to being a statement about Jewish patriotism, the courage and daring of the working-class and casting a sideways glance at the British war effort from someone who always regarded himself as outside the British Establishment.

It was an opportunity, but one fraught with difficulties because of the acute sensitivity of the subject matter illustrated by a letter Klinger received from Mountbatten in which he denied any knowledge of Nissenthal’s role. Klinger was anxious to help Nissenthal get his memoirs published, but needed to ensure he had exclusive film rights. Although he reassured Nissenthal that ‘the subject matter will be dealt with in a worthy and honest manner’, Klinger always had very definite ideas about the nature of the story and the messages it should be espousing. Thus Klinger replaced the middle-class
Barry Wynne - the author nominated by Nissenthal’s putative publishers Curtis Brown - with his friend Benny Green, a broadcaster and prolific writer, who came from the same London working-class Jewish milieu. Klinger argued that Nissenthal needed a writer who would ‘understand your background and mentality’, commenting that although Green had ‘possibly taken some artistic liberties, particularly in the area of the squad of Canadians who accompanied you ... I think it will make a great action picture and you come out of it as one hell of a character’.

The project became complicated by Green’s withdrawal (too busy), Klinger being overstretched producing both
Gold and Rachel’s Man, and Heinemann bringing out a book adaptation by James Leasor. Although successful - reissued as a Corgi paperback in 1976 it became a bestseller - Leasor’s sober, measured account was not the book Klinger had wanted and was, in his view, far from an ideal basis for his intended film.

The war film 1: genre and myth
At this point Klinger turned to
Stanley Price, who had adapted Gold, to write a screenplay. However, Price understood straight away how complex the task was - how to satisfy the conflicting demands of a screenplay that had to convey a lot of technical information about radar - the aspect that consistently exercised Nissenthal in his copious comments on various drafts - and create an exciting narrative that was true to the main ‘facts’ but also foregrounds Nissenthal’s Jewishness. Even more, he discerned the acute difficulties in writing a war film in the mid-1970s, observing that Leasor’s book is ‘all rather gung-ho, jolly heroics when one reads it. I don’t feel we can get away today with another stiff-upper-lip wartime romp … So I’ve tried to make it a little more real.’ But the danger, Price felt, was in producing an anti-war film, that he was ‘getting too close to “The Dirty Dozen”’, which he felt would not work with British audiences and produce adverse reviews. The Dirty Dozen (Robert Aldrich, 1968) depicts how a group of criminals led by the maverick Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) succeed in a daring mission that is important to the war effort despite the cynical attitude of the top brass. A huge commercial and critical success, The Dirty Dozen has been identified as initiating a brief cycle of revisionist war films that implicitly, through the brutality and violence and the ignoble attitudes of the characters, subverted the conventional values of the Second World War combat film thereby appealing to a generation who were becoming disillusioned by America’s involvement in Vietnam (Basinger 2003, 182-93) and which had an impact on British war films notably Play Dirty (André de Toth, 1968) starring Michael Caine (Murphy 2000, 246-47).

While not interested in producing an unpatriotic war film and without wishing to import elements of
The Dirty Dozen wholesale (especially the criminality), Klinger, as I have argued, was deeply attracted to a story that celebrated working-class (specifically Jewish) courage rather than conventional British middle-class sang-froid and, on several occasions, referred to Green Beach as ‘“The Dirty Dozen” that really happened’. He argued, contra Price, that this was the style of film he wanted, with ‘the emphasis on some very strong characterizations built in very early[,] then action all the way. We must be allowed to do things that are cinematically justifiable even if we have to bend facts just a titchy bit’. For Klinger, the most pressing commercial issue was audience appeal: how to interest and engage a different generation of cinemagoers with changed sensibilities and a different take on the war, a younger audience than the book-buying public that had responded so positively to Leasor’s account. Price’s scruples were rejected and he was dismissed. Leasor was turned to but failed to deliver what Klinger wanted; neither did writer-director Gerry O’Hara who’d directed The Pleasure Girls.

The problem, for any writer, was to make a film based on a story that actually happened, elements of which were very well-known at that time and with many of those involved still active. Nissenthal’s role may have been obscured and uncelebrated, but not the Dieppe landings themselves. Indeed, their thirty-fifth anniversary in 1977 was marked by parades in London and elsewhere. Also, the counter-cultural expressions of discontent - including, of course, protests against the war in Vietnam - that had marked the release of
The Dirty Dozen had attenuated, and that, certainly in Britain, there was a generic shift back to safer terrain.

The war film 2: economics and national fictions
Klinger also had difficulties in raising production finance. From the outset, Klinger conceived of
Green Beach as a ‘mass appeal action picture’, a high-budget production intended to be sold world-wide. However, during a period when cinema admissions plummeted, only low-budget films (such as the ‘Confessions’ series) could hope to recoup their costs in the domestic market. More ambitious films had to have an international appeal in order to penetrate the all-important American market (Smith 2007). But, in an era of industry retrenchment, the problem was to raise adequate production monies and secure the backing of a major Hollywood studio.

However, the problems
Green Beach encountered were as much ideological as economic: the Americans attitude towards the Dieppe landings was rather different to their British counterparts. Danton Rissner, United Artists’ Vice President in charge of East Coast and European Productions - who had worked with Klinger on Pulp and with whom, as a fellow Jew, he enjoyed a cordial and informal relationship - could not see Green Beach’s fundamental appeal for American audiences. Rissner wrote to Klinger on 7 January 1975: ‘even though I personally always like to see “the Jews” knocking the shit out of “non-Jews” and especially the Germans … it seems that the Canadian/British raid on Dieppe was neither a notable success nor an utter disaster, but rather a frustratingly botched operation which at best turned into an ambiguous outcome’. Removed from the pressure of any national investment in the events, or a deep appreciation of the sensitivities involved, Rissner assumed that Klinger was ‘just using the book as a frame of reference for a movie’, precisely what the British writers felt they could not do and the wholesale compromise that Klinger himself could not countenance: it was ‘The Dirty Dozen that really happened’, not a fictional war film.

The Dieppe Raid was indeed, a Canadian-British affair. And, reluctantly - they were not major players - Klinger negotiated with Canadain film companies. Alfred Pariser of Cinepix in Montreal advised Klinger that a group of Canadian veterans, now ‘successful businessmen’ was ‘anxious to have a film produced that would glorify the involvement’ of Canadians in the Raid and had ‘substantial funds’ to invest. However, Klinger always saw the story as an epic of Jewish heroism and a revelation about the ‘dirty war’ rather than one of Canadian valour and sacrifice.

Klinger could not turn to his South African backers - who had financed
Gold, Shout at the Devil and Rachel’s Man - as this was not a subject of interest for them. Most revealingly, he couldn’t expect necessarily expect investment from major British companies (Rank, EMI) as they withdrew from indigenous production during this decade. The government organization, the National Film Finance Company, was generally weak and ineffectual. However - a mark of his status - Klinger received encouraging letters from both organisations offering to finance Green Beach as one element of an ambitious package of four films. Rank withdrew - it appears because of internal institutional squabbling rather than economic judgement – and, without Rank’s presence, the NFFC suddenly required that Klinger demonstrate he had an American or ‘other international distribution deal’ before it would loan money. Klinger understood only too well that the NFFC’s requirement almost completely undermined his bargaining strategy with potential foreign financiers. In desperation, he tried to scale down the film. A new writing team of David Pursall and Jack Seddon was hired and they made a fairly inept attempt at cost-cutting - by eliminating any depiction of the initial landings at Dieppe altogether!

After the collapse of the deal with Rank, Klinger’s attitude to the possibility of a Canadian co-production noticeably mollified, including a putative mini-series with CBC-Radio-Canada in 1987. However, CBC judged that Canadian pride would be offended by the glorification of an Englishman. Thus
Green Beach was stillborn, a Jewish war epic that never was, a casualty of deep-seated economic problems within the British film industry, of competing national sensibilities and of the internal politics of large corporations. It was also a self-deluding fantasy, an impossible dream to unite the authenticity of the actual Dieppe Raid with a subversive celebration of Jewish working-class heroism: ‘The Dirty Dozen that really happened’. But Klinger’s dream and his failure to produce Green Beach tells us much about a central aspect of recent British cultural history: the profound and protracted contest about the meaning of the Second World War.

I want to return, in conclusion, to the broader issues raised earlier in the light of this case study.

1) On an obvious level, we need to get away from the conventional caricature of the producer as foul-mouthed, louche, conservative, philistine and anti-creative financier. Klinger was obviously much more than that. This conception, as Alexander Walker argued, ‘has to be resisted if films are to make sense as an industry that can sometimes create art’ (Walker, 1986, p. 17). The producer negotiates the twin impulses of art and commerce, possessing, in the words of another Jewish producer, Michael Balcon, best known for his Ealing comedies, ‘a dual capacity as the creative man and the trustee of the moneybags’ (Balcon, 1945, p. 5).

But how, exactly, is the producer creative? In contradistinction to other creative personnel in the film industry - actors, set designers, screenwriters, directors, cinematographers - the producer does not possess a set of specific craft skills. Anyone can become a producer. However, his role is more diffuse but also wide-ranging, working through the talents of others.
Leo Rosten defined the producer’s key skills as ‘the ability to recognize ability, the knack of assigning the right creative persons to the right creative spots. He should have knowledge of audience tastes, a story sense, a businessman’s approach to costs and the mechanics of picture making. He should be able to manage, placate, and drive a variety of gifted, impulsive, and egocentric people’ (Rosten, 1941, pp. 238-39).

In a rare salute to the producer’s importance,
John Caughie identified the ‘producer-artist’, whose role, he argues, has a particular pertinence to the study of British film history: ‘Outside of a studio system or a national corporation, art is too precarious a business to be left to artists: it needs organizers. The importance of the producer-artist seems to be a specific feature of British cinema, an effect of the need continually to start again in the organization of independence.’ (Caughie 1986, 200). This aptly captures the multi-dimensional nature of Klinger’s activities, their complex union of art and commerce and their importance to a film industry characterized throughout its history as under-funded, precarious and haphazardly organized. This emphasis on creativity, the producer-artist, offers a more adequate account, in my view, of the producers’ role than that of John Sedgwick and Michael Pokorny in their economic history of film-making who argue that their function is to ‘attenuate’ the inevitable uncertainty of how a film might perform in the marketplace (Sedgwick and Pokorny 2005, 19). Is the ‘producer artist’ peculiarly British? I think not, but would like to take that up in discussion.

However, the point I wish to make here is that the ‘producer-artist’ is not, of course, the same entity as the auteur director whose artistry may be recognized through a signature visual style or consistent thematic preoccupations that can be elucidated through the detailed textual interpretation of his or her films. As with most producers, Klinger’s oeuvre was diverse and heterogeneous and would elude such an analysis. On the contrary, understanding a producer’s art, as
Vincent Porter argues, lies in appreciating his or her ability to manipulate creatively the complex and interlocking relationship between four key factors: an understanding of public taste - of what subjects and genres could attract a broad audience; the ability to obtain adequate production finance; the understanding of who to use in the key creative roles and on what terms; and the effectiveness of her or his overall control of the production process.

This understanding of taste, does not have to be conservative. As
Sydney Box argued: ‘A film producer has two responsibilities: to the public and to his backers. If he is an imaginative and courageous producer, the two may coincide. The ideal producer, it seems to me, must always look ahead and try not merely to acquiesce in box-office trends but to lead public opinion and gauge future audience requirements’ (Box, 1948). Ok, Klinger may not be in the position with the ‘Confessions’ series or even with the action-adventure films, but he certainly was with the art house films and many of the thrillers.

2) I’ve tried to show that film scholars need to work with a broad conception of the ‘film text’ as one aspect of the whole production process. The key to understanding this process is the producer, usually the only person who is involved in the whole process from conception through to exhibition, marketing and promotion - though, of course, this never happened with Green Beach. Balcon argued that the producer was: ‘[t]he one person who can apprehend a film as an entity and be able to judge its progress and development from the point of view of the audience who will eventually view it’.

Focusing on the of the production process, not only undermines the idea of the auteur director as the central explanatory trope in film studies, but stresses the multiple, mutable and inevitably collaborative nature of film-making. As has been shown, in the attempts to make
Green Beach, the key relationships were those between the producer and his source, Jack Nissenthal, the various writers commissioned to compose a filmable script, and Klinger and his possible financiers. In the voluminous correspondence concerning the project only at one point does Klinger mention, in passing, that the Jewish director, Lewis Gilbert, is his preferred choice. Even then it is clear that this decision was less important than getting the script right and deciding who to cast in the lead role; Klinger always hoped Michael Caine would play Nissenthal.

3) So, how do we conceive of film studies as a discipline and how do we write film history? Modest questions! I can only outline a few possible implications based on this work on Klinger. In a recent discussion, ‘
The History of Film History’, Eric Smoodin that while the initial approaches to the study of film ‘stressed issues of industry and consumption’, from the mid-1950s it had become dominated by ‘the film itself, often organized around genre, narration, or authorship’ (2). He cites exceptions - Ed Buscombe’s essay ‘Notes on Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1926-1941’, published in Screen in autumn 1975 and Allen and Gomery’s Film History: Theory and Practice (1985) and I’d also cite Chapman, Glancy and Harper’s The New Film History (2007) to which I contributed. But the overwhelming focus of film scholars remains textual interpretation.

I think this has to be resisted! And my focus on the producer’s role places film within a broad set of contexts that are industrial, social, historical, ethnic (Klinger’s Jewishness) and cultural. Thus, in contradistinction to economic film scholars - such as Sedgwick and Pokorny - this approach would facilitate, not a business history of film, but a cultural history of creativity in an industrial/commercial context. I’m not an economist, I hate graphs and charts (!) and I don’t think that there should be the present division between the number crunchers and the ‘humanists’. I love films, I want to talk about them as aesthetic objects not ‘commodities’, but I want to do so in a way that respects their complexities, as entities rather than merely ‘texts’, if that makes sense.

4) My approach, if pursued vigorously, has major pedagogic implications. As Smoodin notes, most film classes are 3 hours duration and wrapped around a film screening that invites the film-as-text-for-interpretation approach. It trains film students to think in that way. No wonder they love directors! The trouble with locating and discussing a producer’s ‘art’, is that, unlike the director’s that could be discussed using textual sources, it is elusive because it is, for the most part, invisible. The critical challenge, as this case study has demonstrated, is to render that art visible by a detailed examination of the production process that can be reconstructed using archival sources. And this extends to unproduced as well as realised films. However, as Buscombe noted, many of the basic materials needed to facilitate this kind of scholarship are not available.

The Klinger archive, whatever its limitations, is a miracle of preservation and, to repeat, I’m very lucky to be able to work with its material. And its accessibility is part of the project: a comprehensive catalogue; materials uploaded online, visits encouraged. But even without these resources, it’s important to get students into archives and to look at sources that take them beyond the film text: to newspapers, the trade press, fan magazines, studio publications, press books, industry records, government papers etc. Of course they should still watch films - as many as possible! - but they should be doing a whole lot more.

Thank you.

Bibliography: Klinger/Green Beach - Andrew Spicer

Alderman, Geoffrey. 1998.
Modern British Jewry. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Allen, Robert C. and Douglas Gomery. 1985.
Film history: theory and practice. New York; McGraw-Hill.
Aris, Stephen. T
he Jews in business. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973 [1970].
Balcon, Michael. 1945.
The producer. London: British Film Institute.
Basinger, Jeanine. 2003.
The World War II combat film: Anatomy of a genre. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press.
Box, Sydney. 1948.
Sadism - it will only bring us disrepute. Kinematograph Weekly, 27 May.
Caughie, John. 1986.
Broadcasting and cinema 1: converging histories. In All our yesterdays: 90 years of British cinema, ed. Charles Barr, 189-205. London: BFI Publishing.
Buscombe, Edward. 1975.
Notes on Columbia Pictures Corporation, 1926-1941’, Screen 16, no. 3: 65-82.
Chapman, James, Mark Glancy and Sue Harper (eds). 2007.
The new film history: sources, methods, approaches. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
Gabler, Neal. 1988.
An empire of their own: how the Jews invented Hollywood. New York: Random House.
Gough-Yates, Kevin. 1992.
Jews and exiles in British cinema. Leo Baeck Institute YearBook 37: 517-41.
Hamilton, John. 2005.
Beasts in the cellar: the exploitation career of Tony Tenser. Surrey: FAB Press.
Higson, Andrew. 1994.
A diversity of film practices: Renewing British cinema in the 1970s. In The Arts in the 1970s: Cultural closure?, ed. Bart Moore-Gilbert, 216-239. London: Routledge.
Leasor, James. 1976.
Green Beach. London: Corgi. First pub. London: Heinemann, 1975.
Murphy, Robert. 2000.
British cinema and the Second World War. London: Continuum.
Neillands, Robin. 2005.
The Dieppe Raid: the story of the disastrous 1942 mission. London: Aurum Press.
North, Dan. 2008.
Introduction: finishing the unfinished. In Sights unseen: unfinished British films, ed. Dan North, 1-17. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Porter, Vincent, 1983.
The context of creativity: Ealing Studios and Hammer Films in British cinema history, ed. James Curran and Porter, 179-207. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson.
Rosten, Leo. 1941. Hollywood:
The movie colony, the movie makers. New York: Harcourt.
Sedgwick, John and Michael Pokorny. 2005.
An economic history of film. London: Routledge.
Smith, Justin. Glam,
Spam and Uncle Sam: funding diversity in 1970s British film production. In Seventies British cinema, ed. Robert Shail, 67-80. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
Smoodin, Eric. 2007.
The history of film history. In Looking past the screen: case studies in American film history and method, ed. Jon Lewis and Smoodin, 1-33. Durham: Duke University Press.
Spicer, Andrew. 2004.
The production line: reflections on the role of the film producer in British cinema. Journal of British Cinema and Television 1, no.1: 33-50.
Spicer, Andrew. 2006.
Sydney Box. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Spicer, Andrew. 2007.
British neo-noir. In European film noir, ed. Spicer. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Villa, Brian Loring. Unauthorized action:
Mountbatten and the Dieppe Raid. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Walker, Alexander. 1986 [1975].
Hollywood, England: the British film industry in the Sixties. London: Harrap.
Walker, Alexander. 1985.
National heroes: British cinema in the Seventies and Eighties. London: Harrap.
Willetts, Paul. 2010.
Members only: The life and times of Paul Raymond. London: Serpent’s Tail.

Top of page