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John Mills Movies: Ryan’s Daughter Oscar Winner

John Mills Gandhi
John Mills.

John Mills movies: Oscar-winning British actor

Ramon Novarro biography Beyond Paradise

Unfortunately, nine of the ten John Mills films to be shown on Turner Classic Movies as part of their month-long “Summer Under the Stars” series on Sunday, Aug. 22, are reruns. The one exception is I Was Monty’s Double, a 1958 John Guillermin-directed World War II drama. (See TCM’s John Mills movie schedule below.)

I Was Monty’s Double sounds like a particularly curious effort because it’s based on a sensational but true story as told in a book by M.E. Clifton-James, a stock actor/Royal Army Pays Corps junior officer hired to impersonate Gen. Montgomery (that’s “Monty”) so as to mislead the Germans about the site of the planned Allied invasion. Even more curious is that in I Was Monty’s Double, Clifton-James plays both himself and Montgomery.

For those who don’t know… John Guillermin is the same guy who went on to direct The Towering Inferno (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978).

I Was Monty’s Double‘s “taut” (as per Variety) screenplay was penned by Bryan Forbes, who’d later direct nearly 20 films, including Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964), The Whisperers (1967), and The Stepford Wives (1975).

Now, I’ve only seen five of the ten John Mills scheduled to be presented on TCM. Of those, my top pick is David Lean’s Hobson’s Choice (1954), which has my favorite Mills performance. Just as good is love interest Brenda DeBanzie, while Charles Laughton is almost up there as DeBanzie’s domineering father.

Hobson’s Choice is David Lean at his best, before he became enmeshed with bloated budgets and just as bloated narratives.

Lean’s Ryan’s Daughter (1970), is, to put it mildly, bigger than it should have been. Longer, too – though its second half, when things actually begin to happen, is quite good. In fact, I prefer Ryan’s Daughter to the much more admired The Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, and Doctor Zhivago.

I’d say the chief reason for my preference is that the underused Sarah Miles has the title role in Ryan’s Daughter. Miles is outstanding as the young Irishwoman who defies social conventions and real-world politics to have an affair with an English officer (Christopher Jones). Robert Mitchum, for his part, is just as good as a placid schoolteacher and the other man in Rosie’s life. (In my view, Mitchum was at his best when not playing forceful characters, e.g., The Sundowners.)

John Mills plays the village idiot in the film. Some find his acting forced; I think Mills fully deserved his Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

I haven’t watched The Rocking Horse Winner (1949), but this Anthony Pelissier drama (from a story by D. H. Lawrence) co-starring Valerie Hobson (Mills’ leading lady in Great Expectations) and John Howard Davies has a good reputation.

As an aside: At the time Ryan’s Daughter was made, Sarah Miles was married to the film’s screenwriter, Robert Bolt. They were divorced a few years later, but remarried in the late ’80s. They were to remain a married couple until Bolt’s death in 1995.

Check out this Tribute to John Mills.

Schedule (PT) and synopses from the TCM website:

3:00 AM Goodbye Mr. Chips (1939)
A cold-hearted teacher becomes the school favorite when he’s thawed by a beautiful young woman. Cast: Robert Donat, Greer Garson, Paul Henreid. Director: Sam Wood. Black and white. 114 min.

5:00 AM Hobson’s Choice (1954)
A widower father fights to control the lives of his three strong-willed daughters. Cast: Charles Laughton, John Mills, Brenda De Banzie. Director: David Lean. Black and white. 108 min.

7:00 AM Dunkirk (1958)
True story of the Allied evacuation of occupied France at the start of World War II. Cast: John Mills, Richard Attenborough, Bernard Lee. Director: Leslie Norman. Black and white. 135 min.

9:30 AM Way to the Stars, The (1945)
A young flyer deals with the strains of wartime service and survivors’ guilt during World War II. Cast: Michael Redgrave, John Mills, Rosamund John. Director: Anthony Asquith. Black and white. 109 min.

11:30 AM Operation Crossbow (1965)
Allied agents go behind enemy lines to destroy a German missile base. Cast: George Peppard, Sophia Loren, Trevor Howard. Director: Michael Anderson. Color. 116 min.

1:30 PM Gandhi (1982)
The legendary Indian leader uses peaceful means to free his homeland from British rule. Cast: Ben Kingsley, Candice Bergen, John Gielgud. Director: Richard Attenborough. Color. 191 min.

5:00 PM Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Stranded on a deserted island, a close-knit family creates a tropical paradise. Cast: John Mills, Dorothy McGuire, James MacArthur. Director: Ken Annakin. Color. 126 min.

7:15 PM Rocking Horse Winner, The (1949)
A young boy’s talent for picking winning race horses threatens his life. Cast: Valerie Hobson, John Howard Davies, John Mills. Director: Anthony Pelissier. Black and white. 92 min.

9:15 PM I Was Monty’s Double (1958)
British intelligence hires a man to impersonate General Montgomery during World War II. Cast: John Mills, M.E. Clifton-James, Cecil Parker. Director: John Guillerman. Black and white. 101 min.

11:15 PM Ryan’s Daughter (1970)
An Irish lass is branded a traitor when she falls for a British soldier. Cast: Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Trevor Howard. Director: David Lean. Color. 206 min, TV-MA

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