Legendary British Director Lewis Gilbert has died aged 97 – among his many films were classics such as ‘Alfie’, ‘Sink the Bismarck’ and of course three big budget James Bond thrillers.
Born in Hackney, London in 1920, young Lewis spent his childhood travelling with his parents who were music hall performers. At the age of seven, he lost his father, aged only 34, after he had contracted tuberculosis. While he was earning a living as a child actor in the 1920s and 1930s, the outbreak of the Second World War made him join the Royal Air Force film unit and later the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Air Force.
After having mainly done documentary films, Gilberts directorial debut came in 1948 with the drama ‘The Little Ballerina’, followed by the feature ‘Marry Me’ in 1949. Acting also as screenwriter and producer, he delivered a row of successful films in the 1950s and 1960s, based on real events from the war.
One of his most critically acclaimed films came in 1966 when Gilbert directed ‘Alfie’, starring Michael Caine and Shelley Winters. His work on the film classic earned him a Golden Globe nominations as well as five nominations for the Academy Award, including Best Picture.
Impressed with his work on ‘Alfie’, producers Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman offered Gilbert to direct the fifth James Bond thriller ‘You only live Twice’ which he initially refused, but was later successfully persuaded by Broccoli. Despite its many flaws and a plot that bordered the ridiculous, the film continued the Bond tradition of impressive set design, extravagant locations and larger than live villains.
Gilbert returned to direct another two Bond epics, 1977s ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and again ‘Moonraker’ in 1979. Working with Roger Moore on both films, the two agreed to not make the films too profound but rather light entertainment. Bond was supposed to be fun, often to the disadvantage of plot and logic. What they always represented, however, was the bigger than life scale of the Bond films that gave cinema audiences the escapism they often craved.
Lewis Gilbert died on 27 February 2018 and his work and contribution to the James Bond film series will be well remembered.