Charles Crichton, 89, the British director of classic comedy films who followed a long hiatus from motion pictures with a remarkable comeback and an Academy Award nomination in 1989 for "A Fish Called Wanda," died Sept. 14 at his home in London. The cause of death was not reported.
Mr. Crichton helped make London's Ealing Studios the hallmark of British comedy in the late 1940s and early 1950s. He built a solid reputation with three much-loved Ealing comedies written by T.E.B. Clarke -- the studio's first, "Hue and Cry" in 1947, "The Lavender Hill Mob" in 1951, starring Alec Guinness, and "The Titfield Thunderbolt" in 1953. The dark comedy earned Mr. Crichton the Directors Guild of America award.
He became known for his reliance on well-written scripts and his exquisite sense of pace and timing, a result of his early years as a film editor for such 1930s classics as "Elephant Boy" and "Sanders of the River."
He also directed quality noncomedies, including the Resistance drama "Against the Wind" in 1948 and "The Divided Heart" in 1954.
But despite his long string of successes, including the 1959 Peter Sellers comedy "Battle of the Sexes," Mr. Crichton's film career seemed to wane along with Ealing Studios.
In 1962, he quit "Birdman of Alcatraz" in mid-production, turning over the directing to John Frankenheimer, after an argument with the film's star and producer, Burt Lancaster.
After that setback, Mr. Crichton directed only a couple of other films, "He Who Rides a Tiger" in 1966 and "Tomorrow's Island" in 1968, before turning to British television.
For two decades, he earned his living directing British television shows, including "The Avengers," and corporate videos for Monty Python veteran John Cleese's Video Arts.
Mr. Crichton and Cleese had tried to make a movie together in 1969, but it fell through. Still, they never gave up the idea, and the result -- in which they shared writing credits and the resulting Oscar nomination for best screenplay -- was "A Fish Called Wanda."
Cleese also shared directing credits but later admitted that he knew nothing about directing and that it was Mr. Crichton's show. The actor said he only listed himself as co-director to reassure studio executives who were worried about Mr. Crichton's age -- he was 78 at the time.
The cast members of "Wanda," including Cleese, kidded Mr. Crichton about his "mumbling" on the set, but all accepted his sure, clean direction. The film, somewhat reminiscent of the "Lavender Hill Mob," re-established the director's reputation with a new generation of filmmakers.
Among other films directed by Mr. Crichton were "For Those in Peril," "The Painted Canal," "Dance Hall," "The Love Lottery," "The Man in the Sky," "Law and Disorder," "Floods of Fear," "The Boy Who Stole a Million" and "The Third Secret."
For the final decade of his life, Mr. Crichton delighted in telling how one of "Wanda's" producers got a call from a Hollywood studio executive after the successful film was released, saying: "We've got a comedy we need a director for. Do you think your new young guy, Crichton or whatever his name is, would be interested?"