Saturday Night Spotlight #18: Wendy Toye

At the same time that Muriel Box was directing feature films in England, London-born filmmaker Wendy Toye (1917-2010) was also working in the industry. Starting out as an award-winning ballerina, she moved into the film world when she began choreographing musicals in the 1930s. Her first film as a director, the short The Stranger Left No Card (1952), starred Alan Badel and it won an award at the Cannes Film Festival. Another short film, On the Twelfth Day… (1955), was an adaptation of the carol “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and was nominated for both the Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Two-Reel) and a “Special Award” at the BAFTAs. (Toye herself appeared in the film, along with other dancers and mimes.) Both short films were edited by Jean Barker, who cut many of Muriel Box’s films, and the two shorts were also produced by George K. Arthur, a Brit who had been a popular comedic actor in Hollywood in the 1920s and 30s. Now, though, I will turn my focus to Toye’s feature film work.

The Teckman Mystery (1954) – Toye’s first feature film is a whodunit starring well-known actors Margaret Leighton, John Justin, Roland Culver, Michael Medwin, George Coulouris, Duncan Lamont and Raymond Huntley. The film’s cinematographer, John Hildyard, would go on to win an Oscar a few years later for his colorful work on David Lean’s The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957).

“In the Picture” segment of Three Cases of Murder (1955) – This omnibus, which has two other sections directed by David Eady and George More O’Ferrall (the latter also working with an uncredited Orson Welles, who stars in his segment), combines the mystery, crime and horror genres. Toye’s part of the film stars Alan Badel (who has roles in all three segments) as a stranger who brings a museum worker (Hugh Pryse) on a time-traveling journey inside the world of a Victorian-era painting. Georges Périnal, well-regarded for his cinematography in both color (The Thief of Bagdad, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp) and black-and-white (The Blood of a Poet, The Fallen Idol), lends his talented touch to “In the Picture.” Also of note is the score by a female composer, Doreen Carwithen, who also composed and arranged the music for Toye’s On the Twelfth Day… and was the orchestrator for The Stranger Left No Card.

All for Mary (1955) – Toye had experience with comedy, having directed popular actor Kenneth More in Raising a Riot in 1955. That same year Toye made the romantic comedy All for Mary, set in a Swiss ski resort and starring Jill Day as the title character. The film also features Nigel Patrick, Kathleen Harrison, David Tomlinson, excellent character actor Leo McKern, Lionel Jeffries and Charles Lloyd Pack (father of Roger Lloyd Pack and grandfather of Emily Lloyd).

True as a Turtle (1957) – Another comedy, this farce about newlyweds trying to enjoy their honeymoon at sea was nominated for two BAFTAs for actor Keith Michell and actress Elvi Hale, both as “Most Promising Newcomer to Film.” The top-billed stars of the film are John Gregson, Cecil Parker (a character actor who worked with many fine directors, including Alfred Hitchcock, King Vidor, Carol Reed, Alexander Mackendrick and Stanley Donen) and June Thorburn (who sadly died in a plane crash ten years later). As with All for Mary, True as a Turtle was photographed by Reginald H. Wyer, who also worked often with director Muriel Box. For the next twenty-five years Toye directed only a handful of other film and TV projects, including the comedy We Joined the Navy (1962), starring Kenneth More, Lloyd Nolan and Mischa Auer, and a 1982 episode of the show “Tales of the Unexpected” titled “Stranger in Town,” a remake of Toye’s own The Stranger Left No Card, this time starring Derek Jacobi, Clive Swift and 11-year-old Jennifer Connelly in her first filmed appearance (in any medium). Toye continued to direct theater productions, though, overseeing projects in London, Chichester, Newbury and elsewhere in the UK until 1997. Her talents even extended to operas and operettas, directing such classics as Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, Strauss’s Die Fledermaus and Dvořák’s Rusalka.

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