OBITUARIES: David Farrar

With his dark, saturnine good looks, distinctively clipped tones and what Michael Powell described as "the kind of physical appeal which is rare among British actors", David Farrar was a popular leading man in the cinema of the Forties. He was particularly adept at conveying the weaknesses and human qualities in figures of authority and intelligence as in two of his finest films, Black Narcissus (1947) and The Small Back Room (1948), and he could be considered an early exponent of "anti-hero" roles.

Born in Forest Gate, London, in 1908, Farrar joined the Morning Advertiser on leaving school at 15 and worked as a journalist until deciding on a stage career in 1932. With his wife he ran a repertory company until he entered films in 1937 with a role in the Jessie Matthews musical Head Over Heels, the first of several minor roles as he learnt the differences between stage and screen acting.

In the enjoyable Boy's Own adventure tale Sexton Blake and the Hooded Terror (1938) he was Granite Grant, an agent on the track of the Black Quorum, "the greatest crime organisation of the century". Later he starred as Detective Blake himself in two films, Meet Sexton Blake (1944) and The Echo Murders (1945). In Alberto Cavalcanti's Went the Day Well? (1942) Farrar was one of the Germans masquerading as British soldiers in an English village, chillingly ordering the execution of five children as a reprisal for an attempted escape; but he was more typically cast as an heroic commander of an air-sea rescue unit in Charles Crichton's fine piece of wartime propaganda For Those In Peril (1944) and an intelligence officer fighting the Nazis in The Lisbon Story (1946).

Farrar's breakthrough from reliable leading man to star came the following year with his casting as the officer who brings home a German wife in Basil Dearden's Frieda, and as the agent overseeing the Himalayan palace converted to a nunnery in Powell and Pressburger's masterpiece Black Narcissus. Clothed only in khaki shorts for most of the film, he represents the world the nuns have forsaken: "Ever since you came here you've all gone crazy," he tells the nuns' leader Deborah Kerr. "Well, drive one another crazy and leave me out of it." Ultimately he provokes such sexual hysteria in one of the nuns (Kathleen Byron) that in the film's delirious climax she dons vivid make-up and attempts murder. His final parting with Kerr is touchingly tinged with unspoken regret, while the film's penultimate close- up of Farrar's rain-streaked face watching the nuns go is extraordinarily moving.

Powell and Pressburger had signed Farrar to a three-film contract and he was impressive as the government backroom scientist with a tin foot in their excellent adaptation of Nigel Balchin's The Small Back Room convincingly combining integrity and self-pity. Farrar was given a true star's entrance in the film, the camera tracking along a bar of customers until coming to rest upon the actor's back. His character's name is called and he turns to face the camera in full close-up. In the film's most controversial sequence his fight to resist easing his pain with alcohol is depicted by a surreal dream sequence in which Farrar is threatened by a 15ft-high whisky bottle.

In the team's wildly melodramatic Gone to Earth (1950) Farrar entered the spirit of things with his wicked squire who seduces an innocent country girl then tries to hunt down her pet fox.

Farrar later cited these three films along with Frieda and Basil Dearden's Cage of Gold (1950), a thriller co-starring Jean Simmons, as the artistic highlights of his career. In Cage of Gold he had argued successfully with the producer Michael Balcon that he be allowed to play the villain rather than the less colourful hero. Three years later, perhaps in light of the Hollywood successes of Simmons, Kerr, James Mason and Stewart Granger, Farrar went to the United States and, although he professed to love the "money, glamour and star treatment as only Hollywood can do it", his career declined into supporting and mainly villainous roles in undistinguished adventure and costume pictures.

He returned to Britain for two minor films, including Beat Girl (1959), but after his role as Xerxes in The 300 Spartans (1960) he retired, eventually settling in South Africa.

Never ashamed to admit to an actor's conceit, Farrar told one interviewer, Brian McFarlane: "I'd always been the upstanding young man and I was afraid of the parts that were being hinted at for uncles or for the girl's father instead of her lover! I just felt 'the hell with it all' and walked out into the sunset."

Tom Vallance

David Farrar, actor: born London 21 August 1908; married 1931 Irene Elliot (died 1976; one daughter); died 31 August 1995.

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

HR Business Partner (Maternity Cover 12 Months)

£30000 - £34000 Per Annum 25 days holiday, Private healthcare: Clearwater Peop...

Project Manager (Procurement & Human Resources)

Unpaid: Cancer Research UK: If you’re a professional in project management, lo...

Geography Teacher

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: We require a teacher of Geogr...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine