At first glance, Ann Todd's career was a typical one: pretty young thing works her way up from ingénue roles to being a star actress before the gradual decline into character parts. But this ignores the two main forces on her career: The Seventh Veil and David Lean.
She was born to a middle-class Aberdeen family (though her early arrival meant she was actually born in Cheshire). The family moved to London and after school, she trained as a drama teacher at Central School. This lead to West End walk-ons and bits in films. Her best role in this period was as Ralph Richardson's mad wife in South Riding.
It was after she scored a big hit in Enid Bagnold's play Lottie Dundas that she got better film roles: first a showy bit in Perfect Strangers and then The Seventh Veil.
By any standards, The Seventh Veil is trashy. It's the story of a concert pianist and her masochistic relationship with her guardian James Mason. A psychosomatic illness prevents her playing (brought on by Mason smashing his stick on her hands as she plays). When psychiatrist Herbert Lom gets involved matters come to a head but she is reunited with Mason. Trash or not, it's hugely enjoyable and the fashionable combination of a sadistic James Mason and Freudian analysis made this a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic.
She was suddenly a big star, though at 36 she was getting to the age when the career of a film beauty begins to falter. A series of poor films slowed the momentum slightly, but it was her relationship with David Lean that finished her. They met when he directed her in The Passionate Friends and they quickly dumped their respective families and married. He also directed her next two films and it's clear he was obsessed with her. The films are just excuses for Todd to look beautiful but expressionless and are the best work of neither of them. Only in the third of these, The Sound Barrier, when Todd was just one of an all-star cast and the relationship was cooling is there much evidence that David Lean could direct.
After this, she lost interest in films. She did a season at the Old Vic which included playing Lady Macbeth and the Shrew. Eventually even theatre lost its appeal and she took to directing a series of short travelogues (Thunder in Heaven, Thunder of Silence etc.) in places as far apart as Iona and Nepal.
At the height of her career, she was a curiously unsympathetic figure - sombre, almost sullen, her face a mask. Only occasionally, when she was caught smiling, was there a suggestion that beneath the mask there was someone worth getting to know. It's a shame that she did no comedies in this period because I suspect she would have been fun. She never thought much of her acting ability and that's probably why she stuck to po-faced dramas. Pity.
|1931||Keepers of Youth|
|1931||These Charming People|
|1931||The Ghost Train|
|1931||The Water Gypsies|
|1934||The Return of Bulldog Drummond|
|1936||Things to Come|
|1937||Action for Slander|
|1941||Ships with Wings|
|1945||The Seventh Veil|
|1947||So Evil my Love|
|1948||The Paradine Case (U.S.)|
|1948||The Passionate Friends|
|1952||The Sound Barrier|
|1954||The Green Scarf|
|1957||Time Without Pity|
|1961||Taste of Fear|
|1962||Son of Captain Blood|
|1965||Ninety Degrees in the Shade|
|1979||The Human Factor|
Ann Todd at Amazon UK
Ann Todd at Amazon US