Ken Annakin, best remembered for directing the big-budget 1965 adventure comedy Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, died on April 22 at his home in Beverly Hills. Like fellow British filmmaker Jack Cardiff, who died on the same day, Annakin was 94.
Born Kenneth Cooper Annakin in Beverley, Yorkshire, in England, on Aug. 10, 1914, Annakin began his film career working as a cameraman on training films for the Royal Air Force in World War II.
His first feature as a director was the 1947 family vacation comedy Holiday Camp, starring numerous stalwarts of the British film industry, among them Flora Robson, Dennis Price, Esmond Knight, Hazel Court, and Jack Warner and Kathleen Harrison as the vacationing Huggetts.
The following year saw the release of one of Annakin’s biggest British hits, Miranda (1948), in which a mermaid (Glynis Johns) is caught by a doctor (Griffith Jones) on a fishing trip.
From then on, Annakin would direct more than 40 features of various genres.
Among his comedies were several sequels featuring the Huggetts (Here Come the Huggetts, Vote for Huggett, The Huggetts Abroad); Three Men on a Boat (1956), starring Laurence Harvey; Crooks Anonymous (1962), with Leslie Phillips; and the heist flick The Biggest Bundle of Them All (1968), with Raquel Welch, Vittorio De Sica, and Robert Wagner.
According to the New York Times obit, Annakin’s favorite film was one of his dramatic efforts, Across the Bridge (1957), in which Rod Steiger plays a Wall Street crook hiding in Mexico after having stolen the identity of a man he had murdered.
The director also dabbled in dramatic situations (often mixed with adventure and suspense) in films such as Broken Journey (1948), in which Phyllis Calvert, Margot Grahame, James Donald and others are stranded after their plane crashes in the Arctic; and The Planter’s Wife / Outpost in Malaya (1952), with a post-stardom Claudette Colbert and Jack Hawkins as a couple struggling to keep their Southeast Asia plantation going amidst all sorts of dangers and mishaps.
Two of Annakin’s out-and-out adventure tales were made for Disney, The Story of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (1952), starring Richard Todd (who’ll turn 90 next June 11) as Robin Hood; and the highly popular Swiss Family Robinson (1960), with John Mills and Dorothy McGuire as two of the stranded Robinsons. Additionally, Annakin directed a few episodes of the television series Disneyland.
Annakin also directed several war movies, most notably the all-star, Academy Award-nominated The Longest Day (sharing directorial duties with Andrew Marton and Bernhard Wicki), about the invasion of Normandy; and Battle of the Bulge (1965), starring Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, and Dana Andrews.
Quite possibly Annakin’s biggest box office hit, Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines chronicles the misadventures of a group of flyers taking part in a race from London to Paris in the early 20th century.
Starring an international cast headed by Stuart Whitman, Sarah Miles, James Fox, Alberto Sordi, Terry-Thomas (right, with cigar), Robert Morley, and Jean-Pierre Cassel, the adventure comedy earned Annakin and Jack Davies an Academy Award nomination for best adapted screenplay.
A sort of spin-off, Monte Carlo or Bust! (1969), despite an impressive international cast that included Tony Curtis, Mireille Darc, Bourvil, Walter Chiari, Gert Frobe, Terry-Thomas, and Jack Hawkins, failed to create much of a stir.
After that, Annakin’s films became both less frequent and less successful. Those included Call of the Wild (1972), starring a fast-fading Charlton Heston; the poorly received all-star epic The Fifth Musketeer (1979), with Beau Bridges in the lead, and featuring a whole array of veterans, from Olivia de Havilland to Rex Harrison (and with Jack Cardiff as cinematographer); the box office disaster The Pirate Movie (1982), with Kristy McNichol and Christopher Atkins; and the little-seen Genghis Khan (1992), with Richard Tyson in the title role.