28th Jun 2022

Blog by co-directors of the Farrow documentary, Frans Vandenburg (ASE) and Claude Gonzalez. 

As film makers and friends, we had long loved the classic Hollywood period dating from the late 1930s through to the late 1950s, especially the genre of Film Noir.  And one great film of that  period was John Farrow’s The Big Clock.

Way back in 2005, when we tried to find out a little more about the film’s director, we found that there was almost no information about him.  Looking at any film guide or list of film directors, Farrow’s name was rarely mentioned.  Well known critics like Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael never even considered him in their lists or pantheons, and his films were rarely featured in the articles or histories about Hollywood’s Studio System.  There were no interviews with him, no biographies and no archival footage.  Unlike other directors from the Hollywood System, he had somehow fallen through the cracks of time and never had the reassessment or had his work rediscovered by the film generation of the late 60s and 70s.  In so many ways Farrow appeared as a shadow only.

What we eventually found out was that he was born in Australia, and this intrigued us even more as his name did not appear in any Australian film history or tales of expatriates making their way to Hollywood, like others such as Orry-Kelly, Judith Anderson, or Errol Flynn.

So, for more than a decade, we painstakingly unearthed anything related to Farrow that could tell us about this mysterious figure – at first it was finding copies of his films, then we began gathering any information found in old newspapers and magazines of the time, and finally it was a letter-writing campaign – and later email – to actors or family that worked with him or knew of him.  And little by little we began to join all of these pieces together to create a picture of this very talented man.  In essence the film grew organically until it became an obsession for us that we had to see through to the end. We tried at first to interest government agencies to help us make the film, but it was difficult to gain assistance, so in the end we decided to fund the film ourselves, and later we created a crowdfunding campaign to help us complete the film.

Our ambition was always to make others aware of this unfairly overlooked director and his masterful work.  To bring attention to his stylistic use of the camera and his compelling storytelling skill – Farrow could make the ordinary look great – and the great look extraordinary.

Our research revealed that Farrow was an acclaimed author, scholar, athlete but infamous carouser. Adventurer, poet, decorated naval officer and sailor, devout Catholic convert as well as prodigious philanderer and parent. He was described variously as being charming and wonderful but possessing a bad temper and being a martinet. His politics were conservative, but he was equally acknowledged for standing up for the rights of man.  In the end Farrow was – an enigma.