David MacDonald (director)

David MacDonald (9 May 1904 in Helensburgh, Dunbartonshire 22 June 1983 in London) was a Scottish film director, writer and producer. His first major film as director was The Brothers.


MacDonald was the son of a wealthy landowner. He was meant to be a doctor but changed his mind and aged 17 went to Malaya to work on a rubber plantation for seven and a half years. When he had leave to return to Scotland, he went via Hollywood and became interested in filmmaking.[1] He returned to Malaya and worked at a plantation in Kedah. According to one story, while in Malaya he met Douglas Fairbanks who encouraged MacDonald to try his luck in Hollywood.[2]


MacDonald broke into Hollywood by getting a job as technical adviser on a film Prestige. After that he was out of work for nine months.[1]

He eventually got a job working for Cecil B. de Mille on Four Frightened People directed by Cecil B. de Mille. MacDonald worked as De Mille's assistant on The Sign of the Cross, Cleopatra and The Crusades. He worked on Lives of a Bengal Lancer with Henry Hathaway. He also worked for King Vidor and Raoul Walsh. He returned to England with Walsh when the latter came to direct OHMS and elected to stay.[2]

Quota Quickies

OHMS was made for Michael Balcon at Shepherd's Bush studio in London. Balcon recommended MacDonald to make his directorial debut with a "B" quota quickies: Double Alibi (1937).[1]

MacDonald followed it with other quota quickies: an adaptation of It's Never Too Late to Mend (1937) with Tod Slaughter; The Last Curtain (1937); Death Croons the Blues (1937); Riding High (1937); Make It Three (1938); A Spot of Bother (1938); and Meet Mr. Penny (1938).

Some of these were produced by Anthony Havelock-Allan who also produced MacDonald's This Man Is News (1938), which became a surprise hit. It starred Barry K. Barnes.[2]

MacDonald went on to make Dead Men Tell No Tales (1938); This Man in Paris (1939), a sequel to This Man Is News, with Barnes; Spies of the Air (1939); The Midas Touch (1940); Law and Disorder (1940); and This England (1940).

World War Two

MacDonald tried to enlist but was told he was too old. He was however sent to France to do some filming for Military Intelligence. Returning home he made Men of the Lightship (1940). The War Office then called him and asked him to form the Army Film Unit, where he rose to the rank of major. MacDonald was transferred to the Middle East, where he helped make the acclaimed documentary Desert Victory (1943).[1] Several people who worked on the film for MacDonald were killed in action.[3] In 1943 he accompanied the film on a ten-week tour of the USA and it was announced MacDonald would make films for Alexander Korda.[4] However MacDonald stayed in the army.

He served with the Army Film Unit during the invasions of Sicily and Italy, and fell ill with malaria. This meant he was unable to take part in the invasion of France. He worked at Pinewood Studios for six months with the Army Film Unit, then was transferred to the Far East where he made Burma Victory (1946). He also took this film on a lecture tour through the USA.[1]

Sydney Box

When MacDonald got out of the army he went to work for producer Sydney Box. He made the Scottish melodrama The Brothers (1947) with Patricia Roc, partly shot on location on the Isle of Skye. MacDonald then made Snowbound (1948), an Alpine-set thriller based on a novel by Hammond Innes; and Good-Time Girl (1948) with Jean Kent.

MacDonald directed two huge flops for Box, both biopics: The Bad Lord Byron (1949) with Dennis Price, and Christopher Columbus (1949), with Frederic March]. Also unsuccessful at the box office was Diamond City (1949), an attempt to make a British western in South Africa.[5][6]

Later career

MacDonald made two films for Audrey Baring. He had a hit with Cairo Road (1950) with Eric Portman and Laurence Harvey, partly shot in Egypt. The Adventurers (1951) with Jack Hawkins was less successful, though also shot in Africa.

For Tempean Films MacDonald made The Lost Hours (1952) with Jean Kent and Mark Stevens. He followed it with Tread Softly (1952).

MacDonald returned to documentaries with Operation Malaya (1953), about the Malayan Emergency.[7]

He did the science fiction film Devil Girl from Mars (1954) which became a cult favourite. MacDonald directed episodes of Saber of London and worked on many other TV shows. He did the thriller Alias John Preston (1955). He made a comedy Small Hotel (1957) then did a swashbuckler set during the English civil war, The Moonraker (1958). He followed it with comedies: A Lady Mislaid (1958), Petticoat Pirates (1961), and The Golden Rabbit (1962).

Select filmography


  1. Macdonald, D. (1948). David macdonald. The Tatler and Bystander, 188(2439), 14. Retrieved from https://search.proquest.com/docview/1795179294
  2. "THE SCOT WHO DIRECTED 'THIS MAN IS NEWS'". The Canberra Times. 13 (3662). Australian Capital Territory, Australia. 20 June 1939. p. 2. Retrieved 7 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  3. "English film of desert war". The Australian Women's Weekly. 11 (7). Australia, Australia. 17 July 1943. p. 10. Retrieved 7 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  4. "BIG FILM PLANS FOR BRITAIN". The Advertiser. LXXXVI (26585). South Australia. 18 December 1943. p. 5. Retrieved 7 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  5. "400 Horsemen". The Argus (31, 937). Victoria, Australia. 11 January 1949. p. 3 (The Argus Woman's Magazine). Retrieved 7 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  6. "SCREEN AND ITS STARS". Warwick Daily News (9177). Queensland, Australia. 3 January 1949. p. 3. Retrieved 7 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
  7. "Film of Malaya Fighting". The Sunday Herald (179). New South Wales, Australia. 29 June 1952. p. 10. Retrieved 7 September 2017 via National Library of Australia.
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