- Rescued from Oblivion:Michael Klinger, Jewish Independent Producer
Although absent from accounts of British cinema—he merits one passing sentence in Alexander Walker’s National Heroes: British Cinema in the Seventies and Eighties (London: Harrap, 1985)—Michael Klinger was a highly significant figure in British cinema over a twenty-year period (1960–1980) during which he made thirty-two films. If he is known at all, it is as the producer of Get Carter (1971), which is always discussed as a “Mike Hodges film” following the conventional Film Studies paradigm that privileges the director’s role. Yet Klinger’s career is fascinating and merits close attention as it tells us so much about the vagaries and vicissitudes of the British film industry during this period.
Born in 1920, Michael Klinger was a second-generation Polish-Jewish immigrant whose family had settled in London’s Soho in 1912. Klinger was brought up in the rag trade, but his intelligence, energy, and entrepreneurial zeal found an initial outlet in the Soho sex industry, where he was the joint owner of the Gargoyle nightclub in Dean Street. Through his partnership with London’s East End Jewish entrepreneur Tony Tenser, Klinger morphed into filmmaker: The pair ran a small company, Compton Films, which made a number of “sexploitation films,” including Naked as Nature Intended (George Harrison Marks, 1961) and The Yellow Teddybears (Robert Hartford-Davis, 1963). It was a fortuitous association with Roman Polanski—Klinger was executive producer of his first British films, Repulsion (1965) and Cul-de-Sac (1966)—that gave Klinger aspirations to make “films that will live,” as he morphed again into a reputable filmmaker, becoming the most successful independent British producer in the 1970s. Unusually, but [End Page 87] adroitly, his output straddled what were normally separate spheres of production. He continued to make exploitation cinema, the saucy sex comedies that formed the Confessions series (1974–1976) starring “Randy” Robin Askwith, beginning with Confessions of a Window Cleaner (Val Guest, 1974), which was a huge hit. In a sense these were “nice earners” while Klinger concentrated on what for him were more important projects, including crime thrillers—in addition to Get Carter there were Hodges’s follow-up, Pulp (1972), a deliciously witty spoof, and Claude Chabrol’s Les liens de sang (Blood Relatives, 1978)—and what he called “unusual” films, notably the bleak melodrama Something to Hide (Alastair Reid, 1972), which deserves to be far better known. His greatest efforts were expended on rivaling the Hollywood majors through producing internationalist action-adventure films such as Gold (Peter R. Hunt, 1974) and Shout at the Devil (Peter R. Hunt, 1976), financed and filmed in South Africa.
Throughout his career Klinger was conscious of his Jewish heritage. He made Rachel’s Man (Moshé Mizrahi, 1976), an uneven but ambitious biblical love story shot in Israel in the aftermath of the Yom Kippur War. Klinger supported this film in the hope of strengthening the nascent Israeli film industry and as a result of his desire to work with Moshé Mizrahi, Israel’s leading young director, another “talent,” like Polanski and Hodges, whom Klinger admired. He also tried, for nearly twenty years, to make Green Beach, a war epic with a Jewish hero, which he had first commissioned in 1968, having read Jack Nissenthal’s account of his role in the Dieppe Raid in the London Jewish Chronicle. Nissenthal, a radar expert whose knowledge was so valuable that there were orders to shoot him rather than allow him to be captured, was the only noncombatant on the raid. Klinger saw this story as “The Dirty Dozen that really happened” but never quite succeeded in persuading either British or American studios to back his project.
I was fortunate in having the opportunity to study Klinger’s career in depth, having been loaned his papers for the University of the West of England by his son, Tony, who also went into the film business. The Michael Klinger Papers contain information about the production of various films, including contracts, correspondence, costs, distribution rights, grosses, profit and loss accounts, and legal issues. There is also an extensive collection of scripts, including those for a...