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OBIT: Bryan Forbes

Thompson on Hollywood By Joe Leydon | Thompson on Hollywood May 9, 2013 at 1:45PM

Bryan Forbes -- who passed away Wednesday at age 86 after a lengthy illness -- boasted a resume that included such widely admired films as "The Wrong Box," "King Rat," "Whistle Down the Wind," "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" and "The Whisperers," and one truly bizarre concoction, the kinky crime drama "Deadfall" (starring Michael Caine as a cat burglar who falls for his older partner's very alluring wife), which isn't often discussed in polite company.
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'The Wrong Box'
'The Wrong Box'

There was a time when I could repeat verbatim dozens of lines from "The Wrong Box," Bryan Forbes’ delightfully daft dark comedy about the madcap scramble for an immense inheritance by Victorians both proper and otherwise. It helped, of course, that the movie – filled with such deft farceurs as Michael Caine, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Ralph Richardson, John Mills and Peter Sellers – also was an all-time favorite of my mentor, the late Ralph Thomas Bell, former chairman of the journalism department at Loyola University in New Orleans.

During my college years, and for several years afterwards, we often would greet each other with snippets of the 1966 comedy’s droll dialogue, more or less in the fashion of latter-day Monty Python fanatics exchanging quips about dead parrots and killer rabbits. Indeed, whenever we got together as our friendship endured long after my graduation, there was a scarcely a time when one of us didn't make the other laugh out loud simply by saying, in meticulously deadpan style: "We haven't heard the last of this." (The line makes absolutely no sense out of context -- which doubtless increased its value to us as a wonderful sort of private joke.)

Occasionally, we would get on an extended riff while recalling this scene between Peter Cook as a young man in desperate need of a death certificate -- for reasons entirely too complicated too recapitulate here -- and Peter Sellers as a disreputable doctor who's a tad too found of feline companionship. (Note the exchange at approximately the 2:40 mark, when Cook actually asks for the aforementioned certificate.)

Oddly enough, it wasn't until several years after I first saw "The Wrong Box" that I realized there was yet another reason why I was right to be impressed by the film: Just one year before the comedy reached theaters, director Forbes impressed audiences with the harshly gritty World War II drama "King Rat," which featured George Segal in one of his career-best performances as a cynical U.S. Army corporal determined to survive by any means necessary in a Japanese prisoner of war camp. Talk about demonstrating your versatility as a filmmaker.

Little wonder that, back in the day, I couldn't conceive of there being any connection between two such disparate movies. Forbes -- who passed away Wednesday at age 86 after a lengthy illness -- boasted a resume that also included such widely admired films as "Whistle Down the Wind," "Seance on a Wet Afternoon" and "The Whisperers," and one truly bizarre concoction, the kinky crime drama "Deadfall" (starring Michael Caine as a cat burglar who falls for his older partner's very alluring wife), which isn't often discussed in polite company.

Read the rest of the obit here.

This article is related to: Obit, Michael Caine


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.