Charles Bennett (screenwriter)

Charles Bennett (2 August 1899 – 15 June 1995) was an English playwright, screenwriter and director probably best known for his work with Alfred Hitchcock.


Early life

Bennett was born in Shoreham-by-Sea, Sussex, England, the son of Lilian Bennett (1863-1930), an actress. Bennett's mother told him his father was Charles Bennett,a civil engineer killed in a boiler explosion, though he thought it was actor Kyrle Bellew (1855-1911). Bennett had an elder brother, Eric, and a younger brother, Vere.[1]


Bennett was a child actor, appearing in Max Reinhart's production of The Miracle at Olympia Theatre in 1911. He played child roles in stage productions of Alice in Wonderland (1913), Goody Two Shoes (1913), Drake (1914) and The Marriage Market (1915), and toured in productions all over England.

He had a role in the film John Halifax, Gentleman (1915). The performance was not particularly well received and Bennett became an extra and assistant to Adrian Brunel. He continued to appear in stage in productions of The Speckled Band (1916), King Lear(1916) with Sir Herbert Tree and Raffles (1917).

In 1917 he enlisted in the army and served with the Royal Fusiliers. Most of his war service was spent on the Somme, where he saw action. He was awarded the Military Medal and ended the war with the rank of lieutenant. He was invalided out due to a gas attack and left the army in 1919.

Bennett resumed his acting career, playing with the Brewster's Millions company (1920), then the Compton Comedy Company, the Lena Ashwell Players, the Gertrude Elliott Touring Company, and the Henry Baynton Company (for whom he appeared in Anthony and Cleopatra and A Midsummer Night's Dream).In 1923 he joined the Alexander Marsh Shakespearean company, touring throughout England.


In 1925 Bennett joined the Ben Greet Repertory, which performed in Paris from 1925 to 1926. During this time, while acting in the evenings he wrote his first three full-length plays: The Return, based on his war service, Blackmail and The Last Hour.

In December 1926 Bennett played Theseus in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream at London's Winter Garden Theatre. In April 1927 he was in a production of Othello alongside John Gielgud, Robert Loraine and Gertrude Eliot.

In May 1927 Bennett appeared in a production of his own play The Return, which he also directed. Peggy Ashcroft was in the cast.

In December 1927 he appeared in Loraine's production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

Bennett had the biggest success of his career to date when Al Woods decided to finance a production of Blackmail in 1928, produced by Raymond Massey and starring Tallulah Bankhead. The play was not well received at first, but had a hugely successful run on tour.[2][3]

The play was seen by Alfred Hitchcock who arranged for British International Pictures to buy the film rights and adapted Bennett's play into a script, with Benn Levy doing the dialogue. His film of Blackmail (1929) is generally credited as the first British sound film, and was a huge commercial success.

Bennett's play The Last Hour debuted on London stage in December 1928 and was a popular hit in London.[4] The Last Hour (1930) was turned into a movie directed by Walter Forde, the first "talkie" for Nettleford Studios.[5]

Bennett's fourth play was The Danger Line (1929), based on Hazel May Marshall's story Ten Minutes to Twelve. He also wrote a one act play After Midnight (1929).

Early Screenplays

The success of Blackmail led to British International offering him a contract in September 1931 to deliver three film stories a year for two years. He was reunited with Alfred Hitchcock and they collaborated on a story for Bulldog Drummond, to be called Bulldog Drummond's Baby. However Hitchcock then directed some films which flopped and BIP chose not to proceed with the project.

While at BIP he did unfilmed stories for Death on the Footplate, The Parrot Whistles, High Speed, Love My Dog and Fireman Save My Child.

Bennett provided the story for a number of low-budget movies for George King who he later called the "world's worst director":[6] Number, Please (1931); Deadlock (1931), which was a big hit; Midnight (1931), the latter based on his play; and Two Way Street (1932).[7]

Bennett wrote and directed the play Sensation (1931), a melodrama, but it was not a success, although it was adapted into a film.[8]

He followed it with another play Big Business (1932), which Bennett also directed and appeared in alongside his then-wife Maggie. But by now he had given up acting to focus on writing.[9]

Bennett wrote a short film, Partners Please (1932), and did an early film for John Paddy Carstairs, Paris Plane (1933).

Bennett wrote Mannequin (1933); The House of Trent (1933); Matinee Idol (1933) for King; Hawley's of High Street (1933), a rare comedy for Bennett; The Secret of the Loch (1934), the first film shot on location in Scotland; Warn London (1934); an adaptation of his play Big Business (1934); and Gay Love (1934). A number of these films were written in collaboration with publicist and story writer Billie Bristow; she and Bennett would work on eight films together in all.[10]

In 1934 he wrote the play Heart's Desire which he later regarded as the best play he wrote and the only one he loved but it was never produced.


Hitchcock moved over to Gaumont British where he got Michael Balcon interested in Bulldog Drummond's Baby. It was eventually filmed as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934), which was a significant success.

After doing Night Mail (1935) with Bristow, Bennett wrote The 39 Steps (1935) for Hitchcock, a film which soon established itself as a classic; Bennett said he was responsible for most of the film's construction, but paid tribute to the contribution of Ian Hay, who did dialogue.

Bennett was now in much demand. He wrote The Clairvoyant (1935) with Claude Rains and Fay Wray; King of the Damned (1935), written with Sidney Gilliat; All at Sea (1936); Blue Smoke (1935).

He did two films for Hitchcock, Secret Agent (1936) and Sabotage (1936).[11]

In January 1936 his play Page from a Diary, starring Greer Garson, had a short run in London.[12]

Bennett was one of several writers on King Solomon's Mines (1937) then he went back to Hitchcock for Young and Innocent (1937).[13][14]


Bennett's work with Hitchcock had made him perhaps the most highly regarded screenwriter in England (one paper called him "Britain's best known blood curdler"[15]) and attracted the attention of Hollywood. In 1937 he accepted a contract with Universal Studios at $1,500 a week.[16][17]

Universal loaned himself out to Sam Goldwyn, and did some uncredited writing on The Adventures of Marco Polo (1938) and The Real Glory (1939), then worked on Universal's Good Girls Go to Paris (1939) and Hidden Power (1939).

After six months Universal dropped Bennett's contract. His agent Myron Selznick got Bennett a job with Myron's brother David. Bennett got his first Hollywood credited on the comedy The Young in Heart (1938); he did the construction and Paul Osborne the dialogue.

Bennett then signed a contract to MGM where he worked on Cause for Alarm, an adaptation of an Eric Ambler novel which ended up not being made, and Balalaika (1939), a Nelson Eddy musical. He wrote a short novel, War in His Pocket, which was published in 1939.[18]

Hitchcock moved to the US and hired Bennett to do some work on Foreign Correspondent (1940). Bennett was nominated for an Oscar for Best Script.

Cecil B. De Mille

Bennett worked on They Dare Not Love (1941) at Columbia and did uncredited work on Lucky Legs (1942). He was hired by Cecil B. De Mille to work on the script construction of Reap the Wild Wind (1942), which was a huge hit.

Bennett went to RKO to write Joan of Paris (1942), which was one of his favourite films. At that studio he wrote the unproduced Challenge to the Night and was one of many writers on Forever and a Day (1943). He also made some uncredited contributions to the script of Saboteur (1942).

During war he claims to have done undercover work for Allied intelligence.[19]

De Mille used Bennett again on The Story of Dr. Wassell (1944), once more focusing on construction while Alan Le May did the dialogue.[20] Another script Bennett did for De Mulle, Rurales, about the Mexican Revolution, was never made.[21]

In 1944 Bennett returned to London to write propaganda films for the British Ministry of Information. He continued to write feature films as well, earning $15,000 from Edward Small for an early draft of Lorna Doone, and an adaptation of the Madeleine Smith story for Two Cities Films to star Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier, at a fee of £4,000. He was contracted to direct the latter. Two Cities contract Bennett to write Miracle of Peille.

After the war, Bennett returned to Hollywood and wrote Unconquered (1947) for De Mille. Olivier and Leigh pulled out of the Madeleine Smith project, so Bennett went to Universal to work on Ivy (1947), a thriller for Sam Wood and Joan Fontaine.[22]


Bennett was going to direct Laraine Day in The Trial of Madeleine Smith [23] but those plans were interrupted when David Lean decided to make Madeleine.

Instead he worked on the scripts for The Sign of the Ram (1948) for John Sturges and Black Magic (1948) for Edward Small. He attempted to remake Blackmail[24] but was unsuccessful.[25]

Bennett finally made his directorial debut in Madness of the Heart (1949) with Margaret Lockwood.

He continued to write: the unproduced Bangkok for Robert North, The Search for the Holy Grail for De Mille and a film for Rank, The Moneyman.[26]

He was credited on the script for Where Danger Lives (1950), where he worked with Irwin Allen for the first time. He also write Kind Lady (1951), and The Green Glove (1952), then got another chance to direct with No Escape (1953), a film noir.[27]

Bennett worked on the script for Dangerous Mission (1954) where he worked with Allen again.


Bennett began writing for TV, doing such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Climax! (where he did the first screen adaptation of a James Bond novel, Casino Royale), Schlitz Playhouse, Fireside Theatre, Cavalcade of America, The Count of Monte Cristo, Conflict, The Christophers, Lux Video Theatre and The New Adventures of Charlie Chan. Some of these he also directed and he produced Charlie Chan.

Irwin Allen

Bennett was reunited with Allen on The Story of Mankind (1957). He wrote Night of the Demon (1957) in England, which he had hoped to direct himself; it became a cult success.[28]

He then did a series of films for Allen: The Big Circus (1959), The Lost World (1960), Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), and Five Weeks in a Balloon (1962).[29]

Bennett also wrote for The Dick Powell Show and did War-Gods of the Deep (1965) for AIP.

In the late 1960s Bennett focused on TV series such as The Wild Wild West, and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and Land of the Giants for Allen.

Later career

Bennett had no produced credits from the 1970s onwards. "It was so frustrating, because in many ways I felt my writing had gotten even better," he said. "But at my age, no one wanted to hire me... know, I hate all the talk of this being a young man's industry. I hate it! Not because I'm an old man. But because I hate the notion that you must be young to be hot." [30]

Bennett continued to write films, plays, treatments and TV series, though none were produced. He wrote a novel, Fox on the Run which was published in 1987.

In 1990 Bennett was hired to write a remake of Blackmail.[31][32] The film was never made.

Personal life

Bennett's brother Eric was killed in World War One in 1915. His other brother hanged himself in 1928.[33]

Bennett died in Los Angeles in 1995.[34]

Selected filmography


  • The Return (1925)
  • Blackmail (1928)
  • The Last Hour (1928)
  • Sensation
  • Big Business
  • Midnight
  • The Danger Line
  • Page from a Diary


  1. Charles Bennett and the typical Hitchcock scenario Belton, John. Film History; Sydney Vol. 9, Iss. 3, (1997): 320-332.
  2. DRAMA: Tallulah is not so "Wahnderful"; The Acme of Psychological Horror: A Musical Comedy with a Plot Bott, Alan. The Sphere; London Vol. 112, Iss. 1468, (Mar 10, 1928): 377
  3. CASTS AND CRITICS Play pictorial; London Vol. 52, Iss. 313, (Feb 1928): 6-9.
  4. THE LONDON STAGE New York Times 6 Jan 1929: 113.
  5. NOTES OF LONDON SCREEN: A "Bloodless Revolution" in Britain's Film Industy--New English Pictures Americans Are Blamed. Film Attendance Slumps. Exhibitors With Trade Shows. By ERNEST MARSHALL.. New York Times 13 July 1930: 100.
  6. Bennett p 105
  7. "Foot lights and film flickers THE KINEMA". Western Mail. XLVI, (2, 361). Western Australia. 14 May 1931. p. 4. Retrieved 26 October 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  8. Criticisms in Cameo: "SENSATION," AT THE LYCEUM Grein, J T. The Sketch; London Vol. 156, Iss. 2023, (Nov 4, 1931): 212.
  9. Obituary: Charles Bennett Shipman, David. The Independent; London (UK) [London (UK)]22 June 1995: 16.
  10. The Intimate Picture Paper for Picturegoers: ANOTHER BOOKLET GIFT NEXT WEEK--THE TRIUMPH OF "BITTER SWEET"--ANOTHER COWARD PLAY FOR THE FILMS--WHY GRETA NEARLY WENT HOME Filmer, Fay. Picture Show; London Vol. 30, Iss. 758, (Nov 11, 1933): 3-4.
  11. The man who knew too much Obituary: Charles Bennett Bergan, Ronald. The Guardian 19 June 1995: 014.
  12. Charles Bennett;Obituary The Times; London (UK) [London (UK)]10 July 1995: 1.
  13. Charles Bennett, 95; Hitchcock Colleague New York Times 19 June 1995: D.10.
  14. MY OWN METHODS Hitchcock, Alfred. Sight and Sound; London Vol. 6, Iss. 22, (Summer 1937): 61.
  16. McGilligan p 33
  17. "CHARLES BENNETT FOR HOLLYWOOD". The West Australian. 53, (15, 833). Western Australia. 25 March 1937. p. 4. Retrieved 26 October 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  18. Hedda, Hopper's HOLLYWOOD Los Angeles Times 22 July 1939: A7.
  19. Leeside Shippey, Lee. Los Angeles Times 15 November 1945: A4.
  21. DRAMA: 'Down to Sea in Ships' Set for Montgomery Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 12 May 1942: 8.
  22. 'Dillinger' Tierney to Enact Jesse James Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 15 Sep 1945: A5.
  23. Tearle Will Play F.D.R.; O'Driscoll in Musical Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 12 July 1946: A2.
  24. DRAMA AND FILM: Metropolitan Opera Plans Cinema Career Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times19 November 1947: A11.
  25. Leeside Shippey, Lee. Los Angeles Times (1923-1995); Los Angeles, Calif. [Los Angeles, Calif]15 Nov 1945: A4.
  26. Bennett Will Write 'Moneyman' Script Los Angeles Times29 Oct 1950: D3.
  27. McGraw 'Code 3' Star; Robbins Signs at MGM; Brisson Slates Picture Schallert, Edwin. Los Angeles Times 23 Dec 1949: 11.
  28. "Screenwriter who could be a hack when necessary". The Canberra Times. 70, (21, 983). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 25 June 1995. p. 23. Retrieved 26 October 2018 via National Library of Australia.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link)
  29. LOCAL FILM VIEWS: Return to 'The Lost World' Planned -- New Indian Drama -- Other Items By A. H. WEILER. New York Times28 June 1959: X7.
  30. Now, Here's a Real Comeback At 91, Charles Bennett is co-writing the remake of a movie he made with Alfred Hitchcock in 1929: [Home Edition] BROESKE, PAT H. Los Angeles Times 30 Sep 1990: 6.
  31. The corpse who wasn't dead is turning out a new screenplay at 91 o A director explores the dark side of a writer's imagination. Lawrence Van Gelder. New York Times (1923–Current file) [New York, N.Y] 30 November 1990: C8.
  32. Now, Here's a Real Comeback: At 91, Charles Bennett is co-writing the remake of a movie he made with Alfred Hitchcock in 1929 BROESKE, PAT H. Los Angeles Times 30 September 1990: N6.
  33. YOUNG STAGE DIRECTOR FOUND HANGED: "No Worries." The Manchester Guardian (1901–1959) [Manchester (UK)] 13 August 1928: 6
  34. The man who knew too much Bergan, Ronald. The Guardian (1959–2003) [London (UK)] 19 June 1995: 14.
  • McGillian, Patrick "Charles Bennett", Backstory 1
This article is issued from Wikipedia. The text is licensed under Creative Commons - Attribution - Sharealike. Additional terms may apply for the media files.