Classic Movie Legend Tribute: David Lean


Happy Birthday to Classic Movie Legend David Lean, born March 25th, 1908!

As human beings, and by reading this I assume you are one, we love seeing things grow. We plant tiny little seeds to watch them grow into bright colorful flowers. Parents save photographs of their babies to document their development from tiny little people to adult big people. We buy tiny foam capsules to watch them grow into less tiny foam dinosaurs. Ok. Maybe that’s just me but the point is that we love to watch things grow and develop. And this is why I love David Lean. Not following? It’s ok. Let me explain.

David Lean, being a B.A.

You see, in my opinion, David Lean’s directorial career is a perfect example of organic artistic growth and development.  Like many directors, Lean started his career in the editor’s room, cutting away at others’ work for 10 years before finally getting a chance to sit in the director’s chair. His first three films, In Which We Serve, This Happy Breed, and Blithe Spirit, were all based on Noel Coward plays and demonstrated not only his ease with actors, but also his ability to transpose the staged play into motion picture. Although his first three films gave a glimpse of his talents, his next film, Brief Encounters, also based on a Coward play, showed the evolution of that talent. In the wrong hands, the film could have easily been a tripe British romance, full of stuffy people and stuffy melodrama. But with Lean, we got something more. We got two perfectly played and perfectly subtle performances. We got an unique atmosphere that’s equal parts mystery, romance, and secrecy.  With Lean, we got to see him grow.

Cecil Johnson and Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter (1945, David Lean)

And of course his growth didn’t stop there. He went on to further develop his craft through novel adaptations such as Great Expectations and Oliver Twist, and by working with actors on location in places like Venice. Constantly growing and evolving, it seems the logical next step that Lean would go on to direct Bridge on the River Kwai — and forever change his place in film history. You see, before Bridge on the River Kwai, Lean had not directed anything close to an epic. Sure, his films were “epic” in that they were very well crafted while also being very entertaining. But the Lean we know today, the Lean that directed Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and A Passage to India; The Lean that directs Epics, didn’t exist until 1957. That’s the beauty of Lean — rather than finding a niche and staying with it, he grew. He sought new challenges, new locations, and new ways to grow. Because of that, the boy who directed funny plays became the man who directed classic epics.

David Lean on the set of Lawrence of Arabia


Minoo Allen for Classic Movie Hub

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