tue 14/07/2020

Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off | reviews, news & interviews

Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off

Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off

Frank and funny memoirs from film producer Michael Deeley

Michael Deeley, the veteran British producer, has a theory about how the Academy Awards are decided (and he is eminently well-placed to know, having won the Best Picture Oscar for The Deer Hunter in 1979). "There are four bases upon which the average member decides his vote," according to Deeley, and Hollywood myth. 

"His first cast will always be for any picture with which he is connected, however remotely. If there is no such picture, then he will vote in a way to spoil the chances of any enemy he may have. Category three is that he will vote for a friend, irrespective of the quality of the work. The fourth category - not that it usually gets this far - is that he will vote exactly as his judgement tells him about the standard of the year’s pictures".

The above is an extract from the prologue of Deeley’s astringent, recently published autobiography, Blade Runners, Deer Hunters and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off (Faber and Faber, £18.99). Splashed across its cover is a quote from Michael Caine. "You’ll enjoy this book," Sir Michael assures us. Its foreword, by Ridley Scott, further promises "an accurate and entertaining read" (high praise by this dour director’s standards). Caine (pictured left, with Deeley, on The Italian Job) and Scott both worked with Deeley on two of the producer’s other best-known movies, The Italian Job and Blade Runner. Just another case of logrolling?

I think not. Deeley has quite a tale to tell. He has presided over everything from cheap nudist movies at the start of his career to The Knack, for which he won the Golden Palm in Cannes in 1965. He was closely involved with Don’t Look Now, The Wicker Man and The Man Who Fell To Earth. In a recent public poll by the British Film Institute, Blade Runner was voted the film they most wanted seen by future audiences.

Deeley has not been an active producer since 1991; and it’s probably because he no longer needs to flatter associates that he is unafraid to mince words in his memoir. Among the many who get the sharp edge of his tongue are Lindsay Anderson, Steven Spielberg, Julia Ormond, Harrison Ford, Bernard Delfont and Michael Cimino, the director of The Deer Hunter, whose "depths of malice and dishonesty" are announced on page 3 and elaborated in detail thereafter. Needless to add, no praise from Cimino adorns the cover of the book.

We hear how Warren Beatty arrives on the doorstep of Deeley’s Belgravia home at 11pm to beg him to remove the famous lovemaking scene in Don’t Look Now between Donald Sutherland and Beatty’s then-lover Julie Christie. A coked-up Sam Peckinpah bursts into the editing suite of Convoy, proclaims, "To be or not to be," and promptly passes out on the floor. Such stories are alone worth the price of admission, although grazing through the gossip is made more difficult by the absence of an index. There is also, annoyingly, no filmography.

Deeley has a neat turn of phrase, and his assessment of his own work - the failures and the hits - is a shrewd one. He also admits to the great movies that got away: Life of Brian, The Godfather and Day of the Jackal. Long swathes of narrative are devoted to the three title movies - somewhat redundantly, since Deeley’s co-author, Matthew Field, has already published a book on The Italian Job, and much has been written about the others. Still, it’s good to hear this insider’s side of the story.

Gradually, Deeley’s role turned into that of a corporate executive. He joined Harold Wilson’s think tank on British cinema in 1974 and today is the Deputy Chairman of the British Screen Advisory Council. He weathered the collapse of EMI’s film division, of which he was President, in 1978, and became known as "Wheeley Deeley" for his cunning in scratching together finance. What makes his book more than just another stream of amusing anecdotes is his peerless experience of the snakes and ladders of the film industry over the past half century.

Towards the end, one senses Deeley was finding the business increasingly thankless and exhausting. After Blade Runner, he went into retirement. Coaxed back in the Eighties to work for American television, he declares himself excited, but the final chapter - on a mini-series about Catherine The Great - ends on a dying fall.

Some passages may be hard going for the general reader; the sawdust and tinsel of a movie set undoubtedly makes for more colourful material. But the book includes many illuminating insights. By the way, for those who wonder what a producer actually does, Deeley’s answer is characteristically simple and very much to the point: "Everything necessary."

Share this article

Add comment

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters