Sir Ralph Richardson

  1. Leslie Banks, Sanders of the River, 1935.       After six indifferent UK films, London producer Alexander Korda signed Richardson for a dozen films over two decades until the producer’s death.
  2. Rex Harrison, Anna and The King of Siam, 1946.       As unlikely a Siamese as sexy Rexy. More stage work stopped any Hollywood debut after his war service in the Fleet Air Arm.
  3. James Mason, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1953.        And early (brief) idea of Walt Disney, himself,for Captain Nemo.
  4. Orson Welles,Three Cases of Murder, 1954.   Chief among the anthology’s three creepy scripts is the tale of the “brilliant, but insufferable” politico, Lord Mountdrago- played  by and one gathers almost wholly directed by by Orson Welles, with Mrs Trevor Howard, Helen Cherry, as Lady M. In place of Richardson and Margaret Leighton.

  5. Alec Guinness, The Bridge on the River Kwai, 1956.    
    Sir Ralph, like Eric Portman, was stuck on stage.  Director David Lean wrote to producer Sam Spiegel (still pushing for Guinness): “I always thought Richardson was the next best to Charlie [Laughton].  Also Guinness,  I am still against in that I don’t think he will give us  the ‘size’ that we need.” Carl Foreman’s scenario next went to: Ronald Colman, Noel Coward, James Mason, Ray Milland, Eric Portman – and Spencer Tracy, who bluntly told Spiegel that the Colonel had to be an Englishman. “I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch a stiff-upper-lip British colonel for two and a half hours,” said Guinness. So, Spiegel took him to dinner. “He was very persuasive.” (Of course, he was. In the 50s/60s,  to “Spiegel” was  LA parlance meaning:  to cajole, manipulate or con. That’s how producer Spiegel won his deals, casts, women – and Guinness. “I started out maintaining that I wouldn’t play the role and by the end of the evening, we were discussing what kind of wig I would wear.” 

  6. Laurence Naismith, The World of Suzie Wong, 1960.       Change of O’Neill –  among the movie’s many changes, including the dumping of the titular Frannce Nuyen and her  director, Jean Negulesco.  
  7. David Niven, Lady L, 1965.        When the first team (Gina Lollobrigida, Tony Curtis), Richardson) absconded, Niven was rushed in to appease the next couple: Sophia Loren and Paul Newman.La Lollo was completely lost as Ralphie’s nurse in Woman of Straw, 1963.
  8. Melvyn Douglas, I Never Sang For My Father, 1970.       Richardson always believed that “the art of acting lies in keeping people from coughing.” 
  9. Richard Attenborough, Brannigan, 1974.         Trying to keep up with the younger Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry, John Wayne made a risible error of playing two copy-cops, McQ and James Brannigan. Neither one helped his bolster a career which would be over after his next two movies. Sir Ralph was first due as Scotland Yard chief Sir Charles Swann (!). Richardson famously said that Duke should try Shakespeare. (King Lear?) “He is hypnotic… conveys a sense of mystery, and that’s invaluable in Shakespeare.” What the theatrical knight never knew was that Duke could recite Hamlet. All of it.
  10. Trevor Howard, Meteor, 1979.     In the loop for Sir Michael Hughes in the last of the disaster movies (a $22m bummer) were: Howard, Harry Andrews, Ian Bannen Peter Cushing, Michael Hordern, Gordon Jackson, John Mills, Kenneth More, Anthony Quayle… and four UK knights: Sirs John Gielgud, Alec Guinness, John Mills and Ralph Richardson. (Hordern was knighted in 1983, Quayle in 1985).
  11. James Cosmo, SS-GB, TV, 2017.   “Soon to be a major motion picture” screamed the cover of Len Deighton’s what-if-Hitler-won novel in 1978. Because producer Harry Alan Towers (more usually into horror and soft-core sex) planned a UK-Canada co-production. Financing collapsed. ”Soon” became 39 year later… and a mini-series  by 007 scenarists  Neill Purvis andd Robert Wade… with Cosmo inheriting Sir Ralph’s ’78 role. Paradoxically, of ten reviews found on IMDb, six are German.


When rehearsing Long Day’s Journey into Night in  1961,  director Sidney Lumet felt that Sir Ralph wasn’t really getting the proper measure of his character, James Tyrone. Lumet took him aside and launched into a 45 minute lecture about his character’s motivations. Richardson finally stopped him.  “I see what you mean, dear boy, a little more cello, a little less flute”. Lumet confessed to being enormously impressed with this way of expressing it.


 Birth year: 1902Death year: 1983Other name: Casting Calls:  11