Sydney Tafler

Sydney Tafler

BFI Screenonline

There was certain inevitability that Sydney Tafler would be found playing the title role in Wide Boy (d. Ken Hughes, 1952). In British films of the late 1940s, 50s and 60s, Tafler was most likely to be found on a bombsite selling goods that had mysteriously fallen from the back of a lorry. But there was always more to him than a rakish trilby and a smooth line of patter, for he was a versatile character actor who virtually never gave a bad performance, even in Fire Maidens From Outer Space (d. Cy Roth, 1956).

Tafler graduated from RADA in 1936 and made his acclaimed film debut in It Always Rains On Sunday (d. Robert Hamer, 1947) as a spivvish record shop owner who delights in his part time role as a dance band leader. It set the template for Tafler’s subsequent screen career, from the brash junk dealer in The Lavender Hill Mob (d. Charles Crichton, 1951), and the solicitor in Too Many Crooks (d. Mario Zampi, 1957), roles which demanded immaculate comic timing, to the smooth and sinister Mr. Stone in The Long Arm (d. Charles Frend, 1956). His strip club manager confronted by Charles Hawtrey in Carry On Regardless (d. Gerald Thomas 1961) provides virtually the film’s only funny scene.

Tafler was also found lurking – he was very good at lurking – in a pool hall in Emergency Call (d. Lewis Gilbert, 1952), but Gilbert was the director who offered Tafler the chance to escape from stereotyping. His physiotherapist teaching Douglas Bader how to walk on tin legs in Reach for The Sky (d. Gilbert, 1956) is an outstanding performance in one of the film’s best sequences, but Tafler would have to wait a further 12 years for another chance to show his range. His Goldberg in The Birthday Party (d. William Friedkin, 1968) is one of the best screen Pinter performances , vulpine of smile and dead-eyed with menace. Tafler’s CV raises questions as to how Jewish characters were depicted in post-war British cinema, but what cannot be denied is his sheer talent. 

Andrew Roberts

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