The Mondo-Esoterica Guide to

Don Sharp


Born in Tasmania (Australia) 1922, and active in Australian theatre, he moved to England after the second world war. Alongside some screen and stageplay writing, he had a few minor acting roles, including a part in the gritty war-time movie, The Cruel Sea (1953) and a starring role on the BBC radio serial, Journey into Space (1953). He got his first chance to direct with the self-penned children's adventure film The Stolen Airliner (1955) and went on to shoot another family film, The Adventures of Hal V (1958) and the trend setting rock and roll musical The Golden Disc (1958). Moving into television work at the turn of the decade, he shot episodes of Herbert Lom's psychiatary drama The Human Jungle and the popular crime series Ghost Squad.

His biggest break came in 1963 when he was approached by producer Tony Hinds who worked for the British Hammer Films company. After their big gothic horror sucesses in the late 1950s and early '60s, the studio had fallen on hard times after the poor performances of their big budgeted and elaborate Curse of the Werewolf (1961) and Phantom of the Opera (1962). After taking several months off filming, Hammer had regained their footing with a few low budget thrillers, and now wanted to reassert themselves as masters of the gothic horror with Kiss of the Vampire (1963), but with their most experienced horror director, Terence Fisher, taking a break from the studio (he had taken a lot of the blame for the commerical failure of the earlier films), they looked to Don Sharp to helm the production. Having never shot, or even watched a horror movie, he was quickly educated in the Hammer style with several days of screenings from the studio's archives and as a result made several changes to the final shooting script, looking to make a more subtle horror picture, he also ensured a cast of theatrically trained actors in the lead roles. The film was a sucess and Sharp was soon signed up by the American producer Robert Lippert to shoot the low budget horror Witchcraft (1964) starring Lon Chaney Jr.

After returning to Hammer to shoot the adventure film Devil-Ship Pirates (1964) starring Christopher Lee, he again worked for Lippert on The Curse of the Fly (1965), a low budget third entry to the classic sci-fi series, this time without Vincent Price who was working for AIP at the time - Brian Donlevy takes the lead role as the son of the infamous scientist. The sucess of these films brought Sharp to the attention of the British film producer Harry Alan Towers and he hired the director to lead shooting on The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), a big budgeted English/German co-production starring Christopher Lee, Nigel Green and Karin Dor. The film did not perform as well as had been hoped, but well enough to lead to four sequels and Sharp was brought back to direct the first of these, Brides of Fu Manchu (1966), along with the comic spy thriller Our Man in Marrakesh (1966) and the Victorian space-fantasy Rocket to the Moon (1967) for the producer. During this time he also returned to Hammer to direct Christopher Lee in Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966) which would be his final film project for the company.

Into the late 1960s he directed several episodes of the classic Avengers television series and wrote/directed the crime thriller A Taste of Excitement (1969). In 1971 he co-wrote the screenplay with novellist Alistair Maclean for Puppet on a Chain (1971), a low budget independent film - Sharp himself directed the film's dramatic boat chase through the canals of Amsterdam. A selection of projects followed, from the Hammer-esque horror/thriller Dark Places (1973) starring Christopher Lee and Herbert Lom, to a duo of gritty thrillers - the spy film Callan (1974) and the Irish Republican set Hennessy (1975) with Rod Steiger; and from a horror/biker movie Psychomania (1973) to a television film adaptation of the classic romantic war novel The Four Feathers (1977). In 1978 came an adaptation of John Buchan's famous novel The Thirty Nine Steps, famously filmed in 1935 by Alfred Hitchcock and the next year Sharp directed and co-wrote the screenplay for Bear Island (1979), another Alistair Maclean story, boasting an all star cast of Donald Sutherland, Christopher Lee, Richard Widmark and Vanessa Redgrave.

A final return to Hammer came in 1980 when he was invited to shoot an episode of their anthology series Hammer House of Horror, the Satanic themed Guardian of the Abyss. A final film production was the American-set horror movie What Waits Below (1984) and he continued to work in television until the end of the decade, directing four British television mini-series, including the very well received A Woman of Substance (1984). Based on a novel by British writer Barbara Taylor Bradford, it tells of a woman who rises from kitchen maid to busines mogul.

Like many film directors working outside of the big studio systems, Don Sharp will probably never receive the accolades he has earnt - but his films remain as proof of his hard work, showing that even working for the very demanding and cost concious Harry Alan Towers and Hammer Films and often with rather poor scripts, he continually managed to make his productions watchable and enjoyable.

DVD Reviews: Films directed by Don Sharp

Bear Island (1979)

Sony Pictures UK Region 2 DVD
Don Sharp co-wrote and directed this loose but enjoyable Alistair MacLean adaptation.
Brides of Fu Manchu (1966)

Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
The enjoyable second film in the series fixes many of the problems of the first with a decent storyline and strong direction.
Partly recommended.
Devil-Ship Pirates (1964)

Sony US Region 1 DVD
A classic swashbuckler but the family friendly tone and the simple script keep it from being perfect. Direction is solid.
Partially recommended.
Face of Fu Manchu (1965)

Kinowelt Germany Region 2 DVD
The first film in the series has a rather flawed storyline, but boasts some good action and impressive production.
Partly recommended.
Kiss of the Vampire (1963)

US Universal Region 1 DVD
Decent direction and a clever makes this one of Hammer's better vampire efforts and a strong Hammer debut.
Recommended to Hammer fans.
Puppet on a Chain (1973)

Atlantic Film Sweden R2 DVD
A neat little spy thriller closely adapted by Sharp from the novel, he also directed an exciting boat chase sequence.
Rasputin: The Mad Monk (1966)

US Anchor Bay Region 0 DVD
A stand-out Christopher Lee performance and strong direction make this a very interesting film.
A recommended film for all Hammer and Lee fans.



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All text in this page written by Timothy Young - March 2006 - June 2007.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

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