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Submitted by Neal Lofthouse
Picturegoer week ending October 1st, 1949.
Miles of Characters
"Room for one more inside" - the line he repeated in "Dead of Night" - was how Americans greeted versatile Miles Malleson. They were right - he always finds time for a new character part.
By Catherine De La Roche
Here's something a bit different - an appreciation of a really choice character actor whose expert bits and pieces must have intrigued you in many British films.
The name? Miles Malleson, of course. The films? Well, the two latest, I think are 'Kind Hearts and Coronets', in which he played a screwball character - a public hangman with a taste for bad poetry - and the pleasant 'Train of Events', in which he brings the house down as a ripe old railway timekeeper whose passion in life is looking after his chickens.
What a warm, lovable character he makes of it. How disarmingly he talks about the birds and their welfare, until you'd swear that this chinless old chap had spent half his life in a hen coop.
And how many times have you chuckled at some doddering and benign old clergyman popping about in the background of some film - and then noticed that it was another of Mr. Malleson's jovial old gentlemen?
What a trouper he is !
Yet, if you ask him, he will admit that of all his achievements as author and actor, an exploit while an undergraduate at Cambridge is surely the most extraordinary.
An aged M.P., due to speak at a debating society dinner, failed to turn up. Just in time, the society's president (now a judge, according to rumour !) remembered Malleson's talent as an actor, and Malleson disguised with the aid of a great white beard, improvised a typical speech against women's suffrage - the reverse of his own views, incidently.
Footnote : the speech got a page in the newspapers, and, though the M.P.'s agent rashly threatened action, the M.P. himself congratulated Miles on "a good job by a member of the college."
"I would die with horror now," says Malleson, "something of the spirit of adventure goes out of one !"
Be that as it may, on the stage and screen he has since portrayed every imaginable character with increasing virtuosity.
A Sportsman Too
Calm and friendly in manner, he's quite versatile in his interests. He's a scholar, a wit, a born storyteller and an idealist with the courage of his convictions, for which he has made many a sacrifice. He's a sportsman, too, and it still means a lot to him that he was once college captain of cricket.
Though he took his degree intending to become a schoolmaster, Malleson went straight into the Liverpool Rep., and, encouraged by good notices, on to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. But it was his West End apprenticeship under Dennis Eadie at the Royalty just before the First World War that taught him most.
"Working with him," says Malleson, "I learnt that the actor's craft is founded on real interest in people. There are two things to remember in creating a character : how a man looks and how he feels."
"But, to start with, the actor only has his own feelings to go on. The next step is to incorporate them into the character. So he must constantly observe both the physical idiosyncrasies of various people and their reactions in different situations."
The list of roles in which Malleson has put this idea into practice fills two columns of "Who's Who in the Theatre."
In movies, his first experience was a non-appearance in a silent film. He was playing a man who had to be thrown out of the back of a car, and played with such zeal that he fell right out of shot. In those days production methods were such that nobody noticed !
Work and Fun
Among the numerous parts in which he did appear on the screen was that of King Charles's secretary in Malleson's own screenplay of 'Nell Gwyn' - his work in front of the camera began alternating with work behind it quite early in his career.
He had become a playwright soon after going on the stage. All his plays deal with vital issues.
"I believe," he says, "that drama is really concerned with contemporary life and social criticism. The poet John Donne expressed what I mean perfectly when he wrote about feeling himself 'involved with the rest of mankind.'"
As a screen writer, Malleson began with a series of historical scripts, bringing authenticity and realism to a category of pictures which, in those days, was notorious for inaccuracy.
He wrote 'Peg of Old Drury', and collaborated on the script of 'Victoria the Great'.
Then he scripted a number of subjects for Alexander Korda, including "The Thief of Bagdad', for which I as a member of the scenario department, did some of the research. What a job, and what fun !
After this Miles turned to the contemporary scene, writing 'They Flew Alone', collaborating on the screenplay of 'The First of the Few', and Paul Rotha's full-length documentaries, 'World of Plenty' and 'Land of Promise'. In the last picture, you may remember, he also gave a delightfully humourous performance as the tiresome gent who was agin everything new.
Malleson's activities are by no means confined to stage and screen acting and writing, He directs plays - all his own and many others. He writes and acts for the radio and television, participating in some of the most outstanding broadcasts, such as the Third Programme series on Chaucer.
"Sometimes it seems," he says "that drama is such a passing business. A performance is given, a picture screened, then, probably, forgotten. Only occasionally do you hear that something is remembered, and then you feel you may have added a little to the knowledge about the stuff of life."
Something To Remember
There was something remembered during his tour of America a couple of years ago. After playing Polonius to Gielgud's Hamlet in Kentucky, he was greeted by people with the quotation : "Room for one more inside !" - the line he repeated again and again in 'Dead of Night'. It was the same everywhere during the tour.
However busy Malleson may be in the theatre or scripting, he always finds time somehow for acting in movies.
You'll see him shortly in a key part as the French gendarme in 'The golden Salamander' and as an old drunk in Hitchcock's 'Stage Fright'.
And I'm glad to say that, as always, there's plenty more in the offing.