Movie Countdown: 52 – 46

Sherriff was involved in the preparation of scripts for 52 movies. Sometimes he wrote the whole script, and it remained largely unchanged (The Invisible Man, The Dam Busters, Over the River). On other occasions he wrote the whole script, but it was changed to a greater or lesser degree (Goodbye, Mr Chips, Stand By For Action, Dunkirk). Then there were the occasions when he was called in for script doctoring (Escape, They Met in Bombay, Freedom Radio), where his impact is more difficult to discern. The ranking of the movies takes the extent of Sherriff’s involvement into account, as well as the overall quality of the movie.

52: A Trip to Mars (1933-34): After turning in the script for The Invisible Man to Universal in June 1933, Sherriff started preparing the script for A Trip to Mars, about which he seemed to be quite enthusiastic. He kept working on the script during 1933, both on his own and, over the Christmas period, with James Whale, who had arrived from Hollywood for a holiday, and was slated as the Director, with Boris Karloff to star. Although Sherriff completed his script, no version of it currently exists (not even the one in his papers, which was written by Richard Schayer and Tom Reed in May 1932, and which Sherriff may have been given as a prompt, or with a view to redrafting). The movie was never made.

51: Autumn Crocus (1944): Towards the end of his time in the United States during WW2 Sherriff was commissioned by Warner Brothers to prepare a script of Dodie Smith’s 1931 stage play. The play had already been made into a rather humdrum British film, but this one was initially destined for greater things, with Bette Davis intended as the lead (playing an English school mistress who falls for the charms of a married Tyrolean inn-keeper). The film was never produced.

50: HMS Ulysses (1957): This one was going to be big. Alistair MacLean’s debut novel was the story of a light cruiser escorting an arctic convoy to Murmansk. It was published to enormous acclaim in the autumn of 1955, and the rights were snapped up by Robert Clark, of Associated British Films (for £30,000). The film was billed as a big budget successor to The Dam Busters, and it proved troublesome for Sherriff because of the amount of naval detail included. Nevertheless (and despite the pressures of a great deal of other work), he handed the script over in April 1957, but nothing came of it despite another brief flurry of publicity a couple of years later. About a decade later the rights were sold on by Associated British. No copy of the script currently exists.

49: Requiem for a Wren (1957): Based on Nevil Shute’s novel about an Australian returning home after WW2 to find his parents’ housekeeper (his deceased brother’s girlfriend) has committed suicide. The novel had been optioned by Betty Box and Ralph Thomas, for Rank at pinewood Studios. Sherriff had already adapted two other books by Shute – Ruined City (1939) and No Highway (1951) – and was very happy to be asked. He delivered the script in mid-August 1957, but unfortunately no copy still exists, and the film was never made (a casualty, probably, of an over-ambitious production schedule at Rank).

48: Bonnie Prince Charlie (1948): This was another project for Alex Korda at London Films. Sherriff was working on a weekly salary for the company, and was set to work doctoring an initial screenplay prepared by James Curtis. A studio puff-piece in March 1947 declared the script ‘tip-top’, but it underwent significant further reworking, so that, when the film was released in 1948, neither Sherriff nor Curtis were credited (that dubious honour went, instead, to Clemence Dane (Winifred Ashton)).

47: Manon Lescaut (1939): Commissioned by Alex Korda in May 1939, with a view to his wife, Merle Oberon, starring as the eponymous heroine. The script is based on Abbé Prevost’s classic tale of a nobleman who falls for a young woman of whom his father disapproves. Sherriff worked on the script, along with Korda’s story editor and fellow Hungarian Lajos Biro, from may until its completion in August 1939, by which time the press announced that the title had been changed to Sinner. The advent of the war brought production plans to an end, however.

46: Badger’s Green (1934): Based on Sherriff’s 1930 play, the film was produced, as a quota-quickie, by Anthony Havelock-Allan for British & Dominion Film Corporation. The film was directed by Adrian Brunel, and Sherriff was reported as having found the film ‘perfectly done’. The public seems to have agreed, since the film proved very successful at the Box Office, renewing interest in the play at the BBC and elsewhere. This was Havelock-Allan’s first producer credit, and he would go on to a stellar career as producer, writer and occasional director with a host of famous movies to his name, which is why the film is on the BFI’s ‘Most Wanted’ list.