Stanley Baker (1928-76)
Stanley Baker, born at Ferndale in the Rhondda, always suggested - in his thriller genre roles in particular - a latent ferocity, a brooding discontent, which ensured his magnetism. In role after role he conveyed a restless intelligence.
Baker, a child performer in Undercover (1943), a nondescript British film about the Yugoslav resistance, began his adult career in small roles but gained some accolades as the vindictive officer antagonising his shipmates in The Cruel Sea (1953).
Through the 1950s he was busy in relatively unsung thrillers, often well made and of obvious merit and in 1964 came the hugely successful action epic Zulu (1964) but many critics only seemed fully aware of his distinctive contribution to British cinema when he worked from 1959 on four films with director Joseph Losey, culminating in Accident (1967). This work at least prompted belated detailed re-assessment of the actor's worth.
Baker had impressed early on as an ex-con sucked, fatally, into a gang led by Laurence Harvey's vainglorious psychotic in Lewis Gilbert's effective The Good Die Young (1954) and he was, in contrast, a conscientious CID man in Basil Dearden's Violent Playground (1958) tangling with David MacAllum's young hoodlum. Baker was an overworked policeman dogged by domestic problems in Hell Is A City (1960), and also appeared in two Losey crime-genre films.
In Blind Date (1959) he delivered one of his most persuasive performances - as Morgan, a class-fixated Welsh inspector investigating a murder, baiting Hardy Kruger's artist/suspect, and resentful of the police hierarchy. As Bannion, the title role of The Criminal (1960) Baker played an explosive lag and bully haunted by his Catholic upbringing, and no match for the new sophisticated crime syndicate hoods who now controlled operations.
Baker was impressive as another ex-con testing his mettle and courage in the fiercely competitive world of truckers in Cy Endfield's intense, visceral Hell Drivers (1957), and he was always watchable as a garrulous, fake Welsh novelist tamed by Jeanne Moreau's manipulative hooker in Losey's Eve (1962) Baker afterwards with others effectively disowned the film, severely cut by producers the Hakim brothers. A more complete print of the film was only made available in Britain after Baker's death.
Baker's hard work in mounting, as co-producer Zulu (1964) has gone down in Welsh folklore, and the film is now widely regarded as a highly efficient and decent action film which engages and manages to treat both the British Army and their foes with dignity, and it marked another successful collaboration with director Cy Endfield.
Baker produced and starred in Robbery (1966) with its echoes of the Great Train Robbery, but more challenging perhaps was Accident (1967) when he essayed the role of a philandering academic facing competition from Michael York and Dirk Bogarde in a handsome, atmospheric film dependent on the subtleties of Pinter's dialogue as verbal skirmishes and sunlit tête-à-têtes give way gradually to tragedy.
Baker formed Oakhurst Productions with Michael Deeley, in the late 1960s and their films included The Italian Job (1969) but, late in the Welshman's life, various business deals misfired and led to financial troubles.
Baker, awarded a knigthood by then, died of pneumonia following a cancer operation at the age of 48 but in his final months played, with dignity and courage, the father Gwilym Morgan in the 1976 BBC TV production of How Green Was My Valley. It revived memories of one of his finest performances, as an ageing, macho miner with diminishing powers in the affecting BBC drama The Squeeze (1960).