Charles Frend tends to be overlooked when it comes to listing influential directors, but his work is fundamental in establishing the Ealing community ethos and creating the blueprint for putting British stiff-upper-lippery on screen.
Frend was born in Sussex and educated at Kings School, Canterbury and Oxford. At Oxford he was film critic for the university magazine and entered the industry from college as an editor for BIP. He moved to Gaumont-British in 1933 where he caught Michael Balcon's eye. He moved with Balcon to MGM-British and then to Ealing.
In 1941 he got to direct The Big Blockade a rather messy blend of documentary and drama but it was his next two films which set the way the British would look at their war effort: The Foreman Went to France and San Demetrio, London. In the first, a diverse set of characters join together during the fall of France to try to stop an important machine falling into German hands; in the second a crew battle to bring a shipboard fire under control to rescue its vital cargo of fuel. Both have a Let's get on and do the job sensibility, a belief that we're all in this together, which was the hallmark of Balcon's Ealing war effort.
His next effort, the docudrama The Return of the Vikings, helped him win the Order of St Olaf from a grateful Norwegian government.
After the war, Frend had a series of misfires. The Loves of Joanna Godden was beautiful but lacked drama, Scott of the Antarctic was too expensive to have much chance of success, and A Run for Your Money and The Magnet though technically Ealing comedies are not spoken off in the same breath as the series' classics.
Frend's masterpiece was undoubtedly The Cruel Sea. It's a searing study of men trying to balance duty and decency in the midst of war.
As Ealing studios ran down towards the end of the 50s, so did Frend's career. Yet again he moved with Balcon, making Cone of Silence and Girl on Approval at Bryanston. He began working in TV and his last credit as director is The Sky Bike, the inevitable Children's Film Foundation entry at the end of so many British directors' careers. He did however continue as second unit director on other's work, right up to Ryan's Daughter in 1970.
|1942||The Big Blockade|
|1942||The Foreman Went to France|
|1943||San Demetrio, London|
|1945||The Return of the Vikings|
|1947||The Loves of Joanna Godden|
|1948||Scott of the Antarctic|
|1949||A Run for Your Money|
|1953||The Cruel Sea|
|1954||Lease of Life|
|1956||The Long Arm|
|1960||Cone of Silence|
|1961||Girl on Approval|
|1967||The Sky Bike|
Charles Frend at Amazon UK
Charles Frend at Amazon US