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The Films Of Powell & Pressburger: A Retrospective

The Films Of Powell & Pressburger: A Retrospective

For much of their lifetimes, Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger never got the due they deserved. Powell was as English as you could get, had worked his way up through the film industry before coming to the attention of British film magnate Alexander Korda. Pressburger, meanwhile, was Hungarian Jewish by birth, who’d come to Germany in the 1920s to work as a screenwriter, moving to Paris, and then England when the Nazis came to power, and again was working for Korda. When the two met in 1939, there was an instant kinship. They shared a similarly uncompromising and original take on filmmaking, and were soon working hand in hand, sharing credit as writers, directors and producers under the banner of their The Archers production company. 

They were fairly successful across the 1940s, enjoying an impressive level of creative freedom at the Rank Organization that led to a run of some of the finest films in the history of the medium. Even at their peak, though, they hardly dominated the scene, never picking up awards from film festivals or the Academy (barring a single trophy for Pressburger’s story for “49th Parallel“). And things dropped off in the 1950s as the filmmakers fell out of favor, receiving increasingly negative notices at home, and clashing with studios and backers. The pair disbanded in late 1950s, and though they worked together sporadically, mostly moved into obscurity, even their best-known films mostly forgotten.

But over time, their reputation grew. A young filmmaker called Martin Scorsese was instrumental in their revival. He befriended Powell on a trip to London (while his editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, would go on to marry the older director), and helped inspire reissues, re-releases and restorations of the films of Powell & Pressburger, which finally led to them getting the reputation they always deserved. And their legacy lives on. Powell gives his name to the Best New British Feature award at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and has influenced everyone from Baz Luhrmann to Joe Wright, while Pressburger’s grandchildren, Kevin and Andrew Macdonald, became filmmakers too; the former is the director of “Touching The Void” and “The Last King Of Scotland,” the latter produced “Trainspotting,” “28 Days Later” and “Never Let Me Go,” among others.

Even in their relatively brief run, the filmmakers were behind some of our favorite films, and with Criterion issuing a shiny new Blu-Ray of “The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” today, the time seemed ripe to take a look back at the complete careers of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Read on, and let us know your own favorite films from the pair below.

“The Spy In Black” (1939)
Having worked his way up from the days of silent films — he was actually a stills photographer on Hitchcock’s “Blackmail,” and claims to have suggested the ending — Michael Powell spent much of the 1930s shooting so-called quota quickies; hour-long movies, often remakes of American fare, that were only produced because the government had mandated that a certain number of films shown in cinemas had to be British. But Powell managed to break out of this world by self-financing “The Edge of the World,” his first near-great film, a melacholy tale about the steady desertion of a remote Scottish island by the younger generation. This brought him to the attention of producer Alexander Korda, who put him to work on “The Spy In Black,” a semi-propaganda programmer intended as a vehicle for stars Conrad Veidt and Valerie Hobson. The film, set in the First World War, and about a German U-boat captain and an undercover German plotting to sink a fleet of German ships, is notable mainly for being the first collaboration between the filmmaking pair. Powell later recalled in his autobiography the script meeting where he came across Pressburger, saying: “I listened spellbound. Since talkies took over the movies, I had worked with some good writers, but I had never met anything like this… He had stood [the] plot on its head and completely restructured the film.” That said, the film’s pleasures go beyond that; it’s rough around the edges, but the plot is enjoyably twisty, and for a film made on the brink of war, impressively nuanced in its depiction of Veidt’s villain, the first indication of a humanism that’s often undervalued in their work. [B]

“Contraband” (1940)
Having gotten on like a house on fire, Powell & Pressburger moved on to their next effort, again produced by Korda and starring Veidt and Hobson, in the shape of thriller “Contraband” (known as “Blackout” in the U.S., a title that Powell later said he preferred). Unconnected, as you might imagine, to the recent Mark Wahlberg vehicle, it sees Veidt in a more heroic role, as Danish sea captain Hans Andersen — a name surely not accidental in its evocation of the fairy-tale writer behind “The Red Shoes.” Held in port overnight, he discovers that two of his passengers, the beguiling Mrs. Sorenson (Hobson) and the mysterious Mr. Pigeon (Esmond Knight) have gone ashore, unauthorized. He heads off into London (blacked out to avoid air raids) after them, falling for Mrs. Sorenson along the way, only to discover that the pair are British spies, pursued by German agents. Perhaps due to not being a true Archers production, the film is generally overlooked, but it’s a terrific little thriller; the pace rattles along, and there’s a delightful lightness of touch to the film (there’s a lovely interlude involving the staff of a Danish restaurant called The Three Vikings) that’s reminiscent of a Hitchcockian “wrong man” thriller. Veidt and Hobson have positively scintillating chemistry together, and thanks to the atmospheric, almost noirish setting, Powell’s direction is top-notch, the filmmaker truly starting to hit his stride. Of all their films, at least until their later period, this is probably the one that the fewest people have seen, but it’s a real hidden gem. [A-]

“49th Parallel” (1941)
The last film on which Powell & Pressburger split their credits, “49th Parallel” (known as “The Invaders” in the U.S.) was meant to sway the American public to support the country joining in the British war effort. Starring Leslie Howard, Laurence Olivier and Raymond Massey (all three waiving half of their acting fees), the film follows the Nazi crew of a stranded WWII U-boat as they make their way down through Canada to the still-neutral U.S.A. Along the way, they encounter a range of characters from a French-Canadian trapper called Johnny (Olivier), who they kill after he tries to radio Canadian authorities, to an English academic (Howard) who is horrified as the Nazis ransack his books and valuables. True to British form, Howard’s character declares, “Nazis? That explains your arrogance, stupidity, and bad manners.” While watching, you may think the movie borders on being propaganda, but it’s pretty unapologetic about it. Originally, the British Ministry of Information had approached Powell to make a propaganda piece on minesweeping, but Powell & Pressburger wanted to “scare the pants off the Americans”. Making their own contribution to the war effort, Pressburger famously remarked, “Goebbels considered himself an expert on propaganda, but I thought I’d show him a thing or two.” Lauded by critics and public alike, “49th Parallel” continues to rally the troops, even over 70 years later. [B]

“One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing” (1942)
While “Contraband” and “49th Parallel” were made by through a process that became the standard for the pair (Pressburger wrote the story and first draft, then he and Powell would collaborate on further drafts, then Powell would nominally direct, Pressburger would produce, and the two would edit together, though the lines were really more blurred than that), “One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing” is seen by many as the first true Powell & Pressburger movie. It’s the first film with The Archers in the credits (the company was incorporated the next year, with the logo debuting at the same time), and the first on which they took the shared credit “Written, Produced and Directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger.” But, despite its place in their history, it’s not their best work, though it still has its charms in places. Flipping the plot of “49th Parallel” on its head (it was even advertised with the tagline “This Time, We Are The Invaders!”), it sees the crew of an RAF bomber, including Hugh Purden, Eric Portman and Hugh Williams, shot down over Holland and forced to sneak through the countryside to the coast, aided by the Dutch (who include Googie Withers and Peter Ustinov among their numbers). Like “49th Parallel,” it’s propaganda first and foremost, lacking the nuance of some of the work that came before and after (which isn’t to say it isn’t very effective propaganda — try not to be stirred as Pamela Brown‘s schoolteacher Else tells the airmen, “Do you think we Hollanders who threw the sea out of our country will let the Germans have it? Better the sea.”) And there’s an intriguing documentary-style realism to the film that’s very different from the more stylized techniques that they’d develop down the line. But it’s a little more languidly paced and aimlessly plotted than some of their other wartime pictures. The film was edited by David Lean, his last in the cutting room before he made his directorial debut the same year with “In Which We Serve,” so perhaps it’s not surprising that it’s a touch overlong, given the length of Lean’s later epics… [B-]

“The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp” (1943)
“Right is might after all.” When the protagonist, Clive Candy (Roger Livesey, terrific and oh so British), utters these words after he gets the news that World War I is ending and Britain will be victorious, it’s a reinforcement of his belief that even in humanity’s worst moments, there is a right and wrong way of going about it. Things are more black-and-white in this worldview, life seems simpler, and ‘Blimp’ is the rare film that succeeds in having its cake and eating it too. It’s nostalgic, like its lead character, for this more gentlemanly and sporting time when even enemies could become dear friends. But it also delivers a harsh reality and critique of this outdated philosophy. Often cited as a loose adaptation of a comic strip character that goes by the name of Colonel Blimp, the idea for the film actually came from a scene that was cut out from The Archers’ previous film. In a deleted scene, an elderly member of the crew tells a younger one, “You don’t know what it’s like to be old.” Apparently, that film’s editor, David Lean, upon cutting the scene, mentioned it was worthy of an entire film on its own, and it seems the filmmakers agreed. Powell and Pressburger are working at the height of their game here, letting ‘Blimp’ breathe like a novel, giving it proper time to set itself up and introduce what will become the actual story: one extended flashback that goes back forty years, following Candy and his friendship with a German soldier (Anton Walbrook) through the Boer War up to the still-ongoing WWII. Apparently Winston Churchill, perhaps thinking it was a satire of himself, hated the film and tried to have the production cancelled, but the objections were withdrawn, although it did come under fire from the press for its sympathetic portrayal of a German officer as World War II was still happening. Contemporary events aside, the editing and transitional scenes, along with the montages (in particular the hunting sequences and the turning of blank pages in a book), are, like much of Powell & Pressburger’s work, pure cinema, and this marks the duo’s first bona-fide classic. [A]

“A Canterbury Tale” (1944)
While nominally of a piece in its aims and setting with their other wartime propaganda pictures, “A Canterbury Tale” is a wildly different kind of picture. In fact, it’s wildly different from almost anything ever made; a gloriously original, unclassifiable piece of work that marks the duo’s second masterpiece in a row. Nodding to Chaucer in title and theme, it follows two soldiers — one British (Peter played by Dennis Price) and one American (Bob, played by John Sweet) — and Alison (Sheila Sim), a Land Girl mourning the death of her beau, who are all on a train together. Through happenstance, they all get out at the fictitious town of Chillingbourne, where Alison is attacked by a mysterious man in uniform who puts glue in her hair. This is only the latest in a series of attacks in the village, and Peter and Bob vow to help her find the culprit. It seems like a silly, low-stakes idea, but only someone who hasn’t seen the film could think that, as the filmmakers manage to wrap up a gripping mystery, moving wartime drama, light comedy, notes on religion and faith, and a deeply ingrained sense of local history into the plot. It’s one of the most capital-B British films from arguably the most capital-B British filmmakers, eccentric and novelistic and curiously mystical in places, and somehow working like gangbusters despite the odd mix of tones. It’s never quite sat atop The Archers’ canon, probably because of how strange it is, but it certainly deserves to. [A]

“‘I Know Where I’m Going!'” (1945)
Made as something of a time-filler when they faced delays on other projects, “‘I Know Where I’m Going!’” (and yes, you need the quote marks and the exclamation point for the title…) marks something of a shift for the pair. With the tide having turned in the war, it’s their first film without explicit propaganda aims, and it’s also their only straight-forward romantic comedy. Nodding a little structurally to “It Happened One Night” and the films of Preston Sturges, it follows Joan (Wendy Hiller), a Londoner who’s on her way to the remote Scottish island of Kiloran to marry a wealthy older man, and is accompanied by Torquil (Roger Livesey), a naval officer who turns out to be the local Laird. It might seem on the surface to be slighter and lower key than some of their other pictures, but it’s more than just a smart, sweet and sparky road-trip rom-com (though it is that too, with sharp dialogue, an impossibly tight screenplay, and sizzling chemistry between the leads). It’s much more soulful than most movie romances, both in the complexity of its characters and its spurning of material wealth for earthly pleasures. And in its setting, it nods to Powell’s breakthrough “The Edge Of The World,” with the Scottish locales as much the star of the picture as Livesey and Hiller. Like “A Canterbury Tale,” there’s a mystical sense of history and nature running through the film — Raymond Chandler, of all people, wrote in a letter “I’ve never seen a picture which smelled of the wind and rain in quite this way, nor one which so beautifully exploited the kind of scenery people actually live with, rather than the kind which is commercialized as a show place.” Pressburger, late in life, wrote “I think that a film should have a good story, a clear story, and it should have, if possible, something which is probably the most difficult thing — it should have a little bit of magic.” And that’s rarely better exemplified than by “‘I Know Where I’m Going!'”, a simple romance elevated by a lot of magic. [A]

“A Matter Of Life & Death” (1946)
Speaking of magic: “A Matter Of Life and Death.” Initially dreamed up, like “A Canterbury Tale,” after the Ministry of Information asked Powell & Pressburger to think of a film to improve Anglo-American relations, but only shot after the end of the war, “A Matter Of Life And Death” (titled “Stairway To Heaven” in the U.S.) marks the culmination of the filmmakers’ career up to this point, blending the genre-hopping of “A Canterbury Tale,” the romance of “‘I Know Where I’m Going!’“, and the sense of cinematic magic that they’d been developing across the previous seven years. It’s also arguably their greatest achievement (and, by the by, one of this writer’s all-time favorites). After a cosmic prologue, we pick up in glorious Technicolor (the filmmakers’ first work as such; they held up filming by nine months to wait for the equipment), as British Squadron Leader Peter Carter (David Niven) is shot down over the Channel. He manages to talk with, and fall for, an American radio operator (Kim Hunter), before jumping out without a parachute. But Conductor 71, the guide meant to escort Peter to the afterlife — the Other World — got lost in the heavy fog, the first mistake in a thousand years, and Peter survives, tracking down June, and the pair falling in love. He’s not meant to be alive though, and Conductor 71 asks him to accept his death, but Peter is granted an appeal, where he has to argue his case for survival, against an American prosecutor killed in the Revolutionary War. The film might be a touch heavy-handed in its Anglo-American parallels, but that’s just about the only flaw we can find in Powell & Pressburger’s magnificent, moving, swooningly romantic, fiercely original fantasy. It’s a profound film, full to the brim with ideas about death and love and God and nationalities (it anticipates the end of Empire in a way that perhaps it wouldn’t had it been made a few months earlier) and what we’re put on earth for. But it’s also never anything less than wildly entertaining, and thrillingly cinematic, thanks to Pressburger’s witty, imaginative script, glorious lensing from Jack Cardiff, and stunning production design. If you’ve never seen a Powell & Pressburger film, this is the one to start with; we can’t see how you’d fail to fall in love. [A+]

“Black Narcissus” (1947)
The pair’s first adaptation (it’s based on a 1939 novel by Rumer Godden), “Black Narcissus” marks a serious shift for the pair. The war doesn’t figure in anywhere, for the first time, and it’s set thousands of miles away, in the mountains of the Himalayas. But perhaps more importantly, it’s very different tonally speaking; dark, murderous and highly sensual, with a cloying, thwarted eroticism pervading the film like a heavy perfume. A group of nuns are sent to an isolated spot in the Himalayas to “civilize” the local population, but instead an atmosphere of suppressed hysteria, arousal and jealousy brews until one of them goes full-on bonkers through sexual deprivation and envy, thanks to the presence of British agent Mr. Dean (David Farrar). The photography, put in service of this lurid agenda, is unforgettable — fat raindrops falling on indecently lush vegetation, Sister Ruth lasciviously applying crimson lipstick, virginal white habits billowing from room to room, painted backdrops of mountains, peach skies and cliffs that fall away to clouds beneath — every frame is a masterpiece of deliberate, controlled artistry. Here you’ll find tones and textures that, outside of Daphne du Maurier’s fever dreams, you won’t get anywhere else; watch a Sirkian melodrama on a cocktail of LSD, PCP and Hormone Replacement Therapy, and you might get close. This is the first true example of Powell’s idea of a “composed film,” one that comes closer to a piece of music than a more traditional narrative, and it marks their most experimental work up to this point in their careers. The subplot involving the romance between an Indian aristocrat (Sabu) who falls for a lower caste girl (Jean Simmons) is less compelling, not least because of the now eyebrow-raising decision to put Simmons and Esmond Knight in brownface to play Indian roles. But that aside, it’s a gripping and spectacular piece of work, and from Martin Scorsese to Wes Anderson‘s “The Darjeeling Limited” to the recent release of “Beyond The Hills,” it’s one of the duo’s most directly influential works. [A]

“The Red Shoes” (1948)
When asked, “Why do you want to dance?” the heroine of “The Red Shoes” responds, “Why do you want to live?,” a motto that rings true to any artist, and that, one suspects, reflects Powell & Pressburger’s attitude toward filmmaking. Bringing together Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name and real events (the meeting of ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and ballerina Diana Gould), the film sees Vicky Page (Moira Shearer in her film debut) become a prima ballerina through an auspicious encounter with Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook), while falling in love with company’s young composer (Marius Goring). Vicky is forced choose between love and art with bloody and heartbreaking results. With “The Red Shoes,” the filmmakers delivered a Technicolor knockout (aided thanks to legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff), with a magnificently dreamy ballet sequence (“The Ballet of the Red Shoes”) and visuals that are staggeringly impressive to this day. Unfortunately, the austere post-war British public was not ready for the masterpiece and the film found little initial success at home. In a lucky turn of events, the film’s limited release in New York was an astonishing one (110 weeks at the Bijou Theater) and Universal Studios gave the film wide distribution in 1951. “The Red Shoes” has gone on to be one of the highest grossing British films of all time, ranks ninth in the current BFI Top 100, and is considered one of the most beloved Powell & Pressburger films. And rightly so. [A]

“The Small Back Room” (1949)
Having fallen out with production company Rank on “The Red Shoes,” Powell & Pressburger went back into the embrace of Alexander Korda, where they’d started their collaboration, for “The Small Back Room,” a dark drama a world away from the bright, romantic optimism of their work at the end of the war. Based on a novel by Nigel Balchin, it’s a sort of WWII precursor to “The Hurt Locker,” focusing on Sammy Rice (David Farrar), a bomb disposal expert with a grudge against the world, a tin foot and a burgeoning drinking problem, who’s brought in by Captain Stuart (Michael Gough) to help work on disarming a new, deadly type of German bomb. The film was later somewhat disowned by Powell, who lamented in his autobiography that Farrar’s performance, and the film in general, were too dour and grim, but he was too harsh on himself; while it’s among the darkest of their films, it’s powerful both in its unromanticized depiction of a war that had only ended a few years ago, and in its portrait of alcoholism, indebted to, but quite distinct from Billy Wilder‘s “The Lost Weekend.” Perhaps another actor would have lent more texture to the part than Farrar, but he’s still a strong lead, and matched by excellent support by Gough and Kathleen Byron as Sammy’s girl Susan. It might be something of a curio in the Powell & Pressburger canon, but it’s well worth seeking out if you’ve missed it until now. [A-]

“The Elusive Pimpernel” (1950)
Over ten years after their breakthrough, Powell & Pressburger finally made their U.S. studio debut, of a sort, with “The Elusive Pimpernel,” an expensive adventure romp co-financed by Samuel Goldwyn that proved to be something of a tumultous production, which shows a little on screen, even if the film remains mostly enjoyable. Powell was never especially interested in the project — likely due to his idea of making it a musical being nixed by Goldwyn — which was a contractual obligation for both him and star David Niven (who replaced Rex Harrison), . It’s an airy adventure, with Niven as the Scarlet Pimpernel, who rescues French nobleman from the guillotine, and whose secret identity the new French ambassador (Cyril Cusack) is determined to find out.  Arguably Powell & Pressburger’s only blockbuster, it falls in tone somewhere between the classic swashbucklers of the 1930s and the later 1970s Richard Lester Musketeer movies, but it’s certainly a bit half-formed on screen, if only because Goldwyn forced re-edits on the picture, and ended up in legal battles with Korda as a result. Still, Niven is as much fun as you’d imagine him to be in a part like this, the film looks gorgeous thanks to impressive costumes and photography by Christopher Challis, and there’s the requisite playful touches from the filmmaker. It’s hardly a classic, and very much a trifle, but who doesn’t like a trifle? [C]

“Gone to Earth” (1950)
Shot in rural Shropshire, “Gone to Earth” is a Technicolor melodrama (similar visually to Powell & Pressburger’s “Black Narcissus” and “The Red Shoes”), with a troubled post-production rivaling “The Magnificent Ambersons.” Set in 1897 and based off of the Mary Webb novel, a somewhat miscast Jennifer Jones (not coincidentally, the wife of producer David O. Selznick) stars as the wild heroine Hazel, who associates better with her pet fox “Foxy” than the country folk around her (who included Shropshire natives recruited by Powell & Pressburger). Following the classic themes of “women’s films”, Hazel is constrained by a patriarchal society and doomed in her hopes for an individual existence. As Webb wrote, “They did not live her life. She had to live theirs […] She wanted neither. Her passion, no less intense, was for freedom.” Hazel relents and marries the town’s Baptist minister (Cyril Cusack) only to be pursued by the local foxhunting squire (David Farrar). But that dalliance to has tragic consequences, suiting a melodrama of this caliber. After production, an unsatisfied Selznick sued The Archers unsuccessfully and went on to hack away at the film for its American release (deleting a few key plot points, adding a voiceover prologue by Joseph Cotten, and shooting some extra scenes in Hollywood, including more close-ups of Jones). Renamed “The Wild Heart”, this altered version lost about a third of the original and a decent chunk of the Powell & Pressburger artistry. Luckily, the BFI National Archive restored the film in 1985. After a screening of the restored version, the film’s cinematographer and Powell & Pressburger regular Christopher Challis deemed it to be “one of the most beautiful films ever to be shot of the English countryside.” [B]
“The Tales Of Hoffman” (1951) & “Oh… Rosalinda!” (1955)
Given the often operatic nature of their work, it makes sense that Powell & Pressburger might end up actually filming one as they did with two films, four years apart, in the early 1950s. The best known is 1951’s “The Tales of Hoffman,” a lush take on Offenbach’s collection of fantastical stories of romance. Opera aficionados probably have their issues with it (the soundtrack was recorded in advance, as with movie musicals, with some of the parts dubbed by professional opera singers, most notably “The Red Shoes” star Moira Shearer and P&P regular Pamela Brown), but it’s a thrilling piece of cinema, probably the duo’s last great film, and one that makes use of every trick, effect and technique they’d developed over the years. It’s like a full-length version of the dance sequence from “The Red Shoes,” and about as spectacular as that sounds. But it’s not just empty spectacle; there’s real feeling in the performances and power in the music. Much less successful is the CinemaScore-filmed “Oh… Rosalinda!,” an adaptation of Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” set in post-war Vienna. The cast is impressive — Mel Ferrer, Michael Redgrave, Anton Walbrook — but the film is notably cheaper than ‘Hoffman,’ and much less effective. Still, the Powell & Pressburger touch hasn’t disappeared entirely, with plenty of playful and inventive touches, though there’s definitely a sense that, after a four year gap from filmmaking, the duo are a little creaky in the saddle. [A/C]

“The Battle Of The River Plate” (1956) & “Ill Met By Moonlight” (1957)
It’s somewhat fitting, given that they started their collaboration with a brace of wartime propaganda pictures, that Powell & Pressburger ended it with a duo of similar films, albeit made many years after the fact. The first, 1956’s “The Battle Of The River Plate,” is near-forgotten now, but was actually their most successful film. Starring John Gregson, Anthony Quayle and Peter Finch, it’s the story of a naval battle in South America, with a trio of British cruisers going up against the far superior German ship the Graf Spree, against the backdrop of Montevideo. It’s a detailed and gripping film, with the stylization toned down, and an almost journalistic approach to the narrative, but it doesn’t quite belong with very top-tier Archers fare. Almost as commercially successful, though not all that more creatively satisfying, was “Ill Met By Moonlight,” which sees Dick Bogarde and David Oxley invading Crete to kidnap a Nazi general (Marcus Goring), only to find that the most difficult part of the mission is getting him out. It’s undeniably exciting stuff, but let down by a miscast Oxley, and it feels clear at this point that Powell & Pressburger needed a break from each other; it’s a touch rote and by-the-numbers, feeling nowhere near as inspired by their greatest work. Still, it’s never less than solid, and a perfectly fitting way for The Archers to go out. [B-/B-]

After The Archers: Despite their last two films being their most commercially successful, Powell & Pressburger dissolved their partnership after the making of “Ill Met By Moonlight.” No one knows exactly why, but there seems to have been a brief falling out, though the two were soon reconciled, and remained friends for the rest of their lives. Pressburger (who’d made a solo directorial effort in 1953 with “Twice Upon A Time,” an adaptation of the same source material as “The Parent Trap,” to little success) wrote novels and a few screenplays in the 1960s, while Powell made some solo directorial efforts, most notably the controversial dark thriller “Peeping Tom.” Following a serial killer who kills women with a booby-trapped camera, it was eviscerated by British critics on release, virtually ending Powell’s career in the U.K, but was rightly reevaluated by later generations and has now taken its place in the pantheon.

The two did team up again, however. In 1966, Powell went to Australia to direct an adaptation of the John O’Grady novel “They’re A Weird Mob,” about an Italian immigrant in Sydney, with a script by Pressburger, under the pseudonym Richard Imrie. A hit at home, it’s been little seen elsewhere in the world. They also made one final film together, a low-budget, hour-long movie for the Children’s Film Foundation in the UK called “The Boy Who Turned Yellow.” It’s certainly a step down from the Archers productions, but has its own charms. — Oliver Lyttelton, Diana Drumm, Erik MacLanahan, Jessica Kiang

Extra Credit: Powell & Pressburger enthusiast and expert Martin Scorsese talks about the Criterion collection’s restoration of “The Life Of Death Of Colonel Blimp,” shot in sumptuous technicolor, for their recent Blu-Ray release.

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Comments

Paula Perez

OK, in general, I really enjoyed this blog, and the interest in the amazing P&P. But seriously – how did you go 4 pages, including long reviews of THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP & BLACK NARCISSUS, and not ONCE mention Deborah Kerr!!?? She played three DIFFERENT roles in COLONEL BLIMP, and the lead in BN! I'm glad you didn't leave out Moira Shearer, but come on!

prinslington

All right all right all right, I'll do it.

A Matter of Life and Death (194something)
Though Richard Attenborough's a bit too ingratiatingly queeney as the guardian angel, and the reversal of Wizard of Oz's color gimmick works less well here, it's hard not to just accept that this is a masterpiece, probably tied with Blimp as the Archers' best. Between Livesy and Niven we have the two best voices in cinema, and each lives up to those gifts with their performances here. The opening scene is one of the greatest of all time, and the ending makes you feel at once both intellectually satisfied and emotionally smitten. How in 194something they got that stairway to move like that still confounds us (bits like that rank this with Murnau's Faust as champions of old school special FX). The Archers at their most imaginative, and most profound.

SR

What about "The Thief of Baghdad"?

Davey

I'll add my voice to the throng in asking how in the world you could have forgotten A Matter of Life and Death, one of their best, most renowned pieces of work?

Steve Crook

In "One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing" it was Hugh Burden, not Purden

So where is your commentary on A Matter of Life and Death?

But apart from that lapse, very nice, thank you

Steve

ASDFK

Really, no "Stairway to Heaven" aka "A Matter of Life and Death"?

Back to film school for you…

A. Campbell

uh, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH is awol…

Rob

Great piece, but por que no A Matter of Life and Death?

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