My Favorite Director: Richard Lester

Posted on October 27, 2009

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Once in a great while, I get a terrible headache. It’s nauseating. The left side of my neck tightens up all the way down behind my shoulder blade. Usually I leave work when it starts, because I know it’ll get so bad that it’s not safe for me to drive. It’s not really a migraine, it’s just a terrifically bad headache. When I get home, I take some OTC painkillers, cover my eyes, and listen to some movies. There are five I choose, every time, and they’re all directed by the same man.

He only has 31 credits as a director, and he’s been working since 1954. That’s not particularly prolific. He’s been a composer, editor, cinematographer, actor, writer, and a producer. You can see a short biography of him here.

In 1964, he directed A Hard Day’s Night, a funny musical showcase for The Beatles. He’d already directed Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, two of The Beatles’ favorite comedians. In 1965, he followed it up with Help!, another Beatles film. In 1966, he directed a cast of brilliant people (Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers, Michael Crawford, Jack Gilford, and Buster Keaton, to name a few), in the longest running comedy since the Roman Empire, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. His deft touch and relaxed hand with zany comedy led Alexander and Ilya Salkind to choose him for the 1973 The Three Musketeers. Technically, there’s only one film. During post-production, the Salkinds decided it was too long and released it as two films, with the 1974 one called The Four Musketeers. Those are the 5 DVDs I reach for when the headache strikes.

If you watch the earlier films, you can see the same comic touch guiding the musketeers movies. I sure can. Some day I may pick up a copy of Robin and Marian, Richard Lester’s 1976 Robin Hood movie that starred Sean Connery, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Shaw, Richard Harris, Denholm Elliot, and Ian Holm. It’s a splendid film, I just haven’t picked it up yet.

What I like about Richard Lester’s comedy is that it’s not in my face. It’s zany, but at the same time it’s very calm, self-assured, and character-based. Granted, the characters in the Beatles’ movies are personas created to sell Beatles records, but knowing what happened to the band doesn’t detract from them any more than knowing that Oliver Reed and Richard Chamberlain have passed on detracts from the musketeers. Richard Lester invites you to involve yourself in his movies, rather than forcing them on you. When I’m ill, I appreciate the choice to lay back, or to lean in.

So do yourself a favor. Discover the work of Richard Lester. After all, everybody ought to have a maid.

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Posted in: Movies