David Lean, the great British director of The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia, made movies on an epic scale and spent money on an epic scale while making them. And then there was the epic scale of his sex life, which included six wives and a crowd of extras — behavior that film historian Kevin Brownlow traces back to Lean’s suburban London upbringing at the hands of dour middle-class Quakers. When Lean was 15, his father left his mother for another woman, a Quaker earthquake that reverberated throughout his life. Since he was considered hopelessly dim at school, his father eventually found him a job as an errand boy for a film company. Soon he was an indispensable editor, and by the ’40s he was directing classics of British cinema like Great Expectations and Brief Encounter. Brownlow interviewed Lean extensively before his death at 83 in 1991, along with actors, writers, and ex-wives. So David Lean, which occasionally stuns you with encyclopedic detail, also revives you with good quotes, like this from Ryan’s Daughter star Robert Mitchum: ”Working for David Lean is like being made to build the Taj Mahal out of toothpicks.” B+
Posted September 6 1996 — 12:00 AM EDT
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