MICHAEL POWELL (1905-1990)

michael powell
In 1939, the year Alfred Hitchcock left England for Hollywood, the British film industry was in a sorry state. With the exception of documentary filmmakers like John Grierson there was very little homegrown filmmaking talent being developed. The best Brit feature films were produced by the Korda brothers from Hungary. Most of the other top drawer productions shot during this bereft period were time-tested adaptations of classic plays or popular novels. They were typically made on tight budgets and lacked cinematic imagination.

UK distributors were content to give these drab films equal billing at their theaters with more compelling American product but the public didn’t seem to mind. It would take the unlikely combination of a cocky lad from Canterbury and another brilliant Hungarian to bring Mother England out of its cinematic doldrums with a series of deeply personal films, giving wings to Britain just as Nazi Germany threatened its very existence.

Michael Powell would begin his film career in a most inauspicious manner. The twenty year old bank clerk got his first break whilst visiting his father during a holiday in the French Riviera. Through a mutual friend the ready-to-please Powell became an assistant to the iconoclastic Irish-born director Rex Ingram.

Bitten by the movie-bug Powell remained with Ingram’s production company in Nice as an extra, gofer, etc., before returning to England where he found steady but mostly trivial work at London’s legendary Elstree studios.

After a long apprenticeship in a variety of jobs (including a couple minor assignments with Hitchcock), Powell finally became a screenwriter then graduated to a director of B-movies two years later in 1933. He patiently honed his craft in a variety of genres for Gainsborough, Gaumont, British Fox Studios and especially Warner-First National.

As impersonal as these quota quickies look today it is evident Powell had intelligence and talent. Not surprisingly, many of these efforts were populist and resembled much of what was being shot in Hollywood during the early years of the Depression.

Powell’s first film of note, the Capra-esque Something Always Happens follows the rise of Peter Middleton (Ian Hunter), a down on his luck hustler who charms a girl he meets in the street (Nancy O’Neil), all the time unaware she is the daughter of a filling station mogul. She encourages him to meet the indomitable Mr. Hatch (Peter Gawthorne) but the busy man throws Peter out of his office without an interview.

Peter scores a job with Hatch’s rival and even hires his new girlfriend to become his personal secretary. Peter’s innovative ideas help his company leave Hatch in the dust but the old capitalist has a plan to put the young upstart out of business.

Quite unlike the starchy stuff being churned out by his rivals, Powell’s sprite little film is packed with plenty of the quirky sort of humor which gave buoyancy to his masterpieces of the 1940s.

After having made nearly two dozen quickies, Powell summonsed up the courage to strike out on his own and make something uniquely personal. He took a small but loyal crew to the Hebrides where they would shoot The Edge of the World, a saga of the harsh life on a beautiful but forbidding Scottish Island.

Even at this early stage it is apparent Powell is quite unlike contemporaries in the British film industry. His restless camera, gallows humor and breathless romanticism help make Edge a poetic bookend to Robert Flaherty’s bleaker take on human survival in the British Isles, Man of Aran.


When mainland fishermen threaten the existence of the small population of their island two friends square-off in a deadly climb to the top of a cliff to decide the fate of the settlers. When the more progressive of the two men falls to his death he leaves a pregnant girlfriend behind and the community struggles on through a harsh season before come to an inevitable conclusion.

A lover of the Scottish countryside and culture, Powell shot a film of ravishing beauty which makes the reluctance of the islanders to leave such paradise all the more understandable. The director would return to the west Scot Islands several years later to make the more palatable adult fairy tale I Know Where I’m Going!.

As England readied itself for war Powell signed with producer Alexander Korda to direct a pair of multi-layered, espionage thrillers starring Conrad Veidt, the disconcertingly creepy star of such German Expressionist classics as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.

    Unlikely leading man.

The Spy in Black pits Veidt as German U-boat Captain Hardt assigned to rendezvous with an attractive spy (Valerie Hobson) who assumes an English identity in order to coerce a discontented officer to spill important war secrets. Unbeknownst to Hardt his contact and the officer are British agents seeking to trip-up the Captain and lure the Germans into a trap.

    Slippery adversary.

Paired with Hobson again Contraband (aka Blackout) finds Veidt in the role of another ship captain thrust into war-time intrigue. Taking a hiatus from his duties on his Norwegian ship, Captain Andersen enters into an unusual partnership with the fetching Mrs. Sorensen (Hobson) to crack a band of German spies threatening to infiltrate London.

Saddled with a convoluted story Powell instilled a heavy dose of Hitchcock-like humor and eroticism into the proceedings and nearly managed to elevate the sinister Veidt into matinee idol material.

    The smaller the ship, the bigger the adventure.

When Korda became displeased with Ludwig Berger’s direction on his lavish Technicolor remake of The Thief of Bagdad, he installed Powell and Tim Whelan to film several of the film’s more spectacular sequences several of which were shot in the Grand Canyon.

Korda’s epic fantasy opens flat and few sparks fly between the curiously unromantic leads (John Justin and June Duprez) but the film takes off once the evil Jaffar (Vedit) forces prince Ahmad (Justin) and his faithful sidekick Abu (Sabu) to evacuate clustered, pastel-y Baghdad to the caves and canyons of the surrounding countryside where the boy enters into a fortuitous pact with a gigantic black Genie (Rex Ingram).

Although the special effects look primitive to modern eyes, The Thief of Bagdad remains colorful, robust and humorous enough to keep its status as a matinee classic seventy years on.

   Allah be with you, but I doubt it.

With the edgy U-boat saga The Spy in Black Powell began his magnificent collaboration with screenwriter Emeric Pressburger. The Hungarian-born Pressburger worked with directors Max Ophuls and Robert Siodmak in Germany before Hitler’s rise to power forced him to seek more hospitable climes.

After a brief spell in France (where he wrote scenarios for three films), he immigrated to England and signed on with the Korda studio in 1938. Alexander Korda assigned Pressburger to work with Powell and it was immediately apparent the ambitious pair would make a unique and intriguing team. Throughout their twenty year partnership as The Archers, the screenwriter successfully seeded some Mittel-Europe sophistication into Powell’s approach to filmmaking and the results would pack a powerful punch.

This was never more apparent than in their films made during and about WWII. With England and the rest of Europe on the verge of annihilation the tone of Powell’s sensibility went from robust to reflective. Careful not to step over the bounds into pandering propaganda, Powell and Pressburger went on to make a series of marvelous meditations about what it was to be British. To this day these anxious, speculative works remain unique in the canon of cinema.

The first of these films, The 49th Parallel, is an unusual and exciting adventure story about a lost Nazi navy platoon navigating their way across Canada. A German submarine surfaces in Hudson Bay on a spying mission but after five men make it to shore the enemy boat is sighted and blown to bits by Canadian military.

The spies take hold of a desolate outpost, then hijack a small plane and have to bail out when they run out of fuel. Led by their by the book Lieutenant (Eric Portman), the survivors quarrel philosophically with transplanted Germans at a Manitoba settlement, get called out by the police at a Vancouver Indian festival then having lost confidence in their convictions they scurry like frightened animals while being tracked down in the Rocky Mountains.

Shot on location across the wide expanse of Canada, this truly impressive project features some deliciously overripe performances from Laurence Olivier as a French-Canadian fur trapper, Leslie Howard as an aesthetically-correct writer, and Raymond Massey as the ne’er do well soldier who tricks the last Nazi standing into arrest.

Nazis?  That explains your stupidity and bad manners.

The dark, early days of the war continued in One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing, a story of a squad of British airmen forced to abandon plane over Holland and their rescue by Dutch villagers. This time Eric Portman is one of the five RAF fliers who seek refuge from the Germans in a small village.

Initially suspicious, the Hollanders risk their lives securing permission from unwitting Nazis then transporting the men to the North Sea where they can pick up a boat to England.

Made in the goodwill tradition of Renoir’s La grande illusion Powell’s film about Dutch resistance and resilience is a deft mix of propaganda and stirring entertainment.

    No, he’s just a Yorkshireman. 

Loosely based on David Low’s popular comic serial, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp chronicles the life and lost loves of British military man Clive Wynne-Candy (Roger Livesay). Early on, this hot-headed and decorated veteran of the Boer War travels to Berlin to confront a double agent who has called the English butchers of innocents in the German press.

Upon arrival he meets fiery redhead Edith Hunter (Deborah Kerr), who changes his life forever, then fights a duel with Theo Kretschmar-Schuldorff (Anton Walbrook), the man who wins Edith’s heart. Yet in spite of this rivalry, Clive and Theo form an unlikely friendship which lasts through the two world wars.

As their relationship evolves the film turns into A Tale of Two Countries. Emotional Clive represents old, honorable England; full of tradition with a sentimental heart beating underneath the chilly exterior. Reserved Theo is progressive Germany; disciplined and loath to show emotion, while hiding the soul of a poet.

Though Blimp is clearly an effort of wartime propaganda, Powell and Pressburger subtly allude to the Fatherland’s drift towards fascism through a series of behavioral digressions by Theo and his fellow soldiers—-a welcome contrast to the more ham-handed methods of pigeon-holing Germans used by other Allied filmmakers. Like Pressburger, Theo ultimately washes his hands of a people who so blindly followed Hitler in the 1930s, but the stain of his past turns him into a nowhere man.

   Dear old Clive, this is not a gentleman’s war.

Like the Chaucer stories it is based on, A Canterbury Tale is a pilgrimage for three brash but inwardly-wounded young people (a British Tank sergeant, a London shopkeeper and an American GI) who spend an unusual weekend together in a small Kent town.

After unsuccessfully trying to track down “The Glue Man”, a local hooligan, the trio finds themselves under the spell of the Justice of the Peace Thomas Colpeper (Eric Portman), whose love for the English countryside and espousal of retro-thinking philosophy gives them pause to heal and continue on their lives’ journey.

Shot on location in his home region of Kent, A Canterbury Tale was a personal project for Powell and certainly one of the most elusive commercial films he, or anyone, dared to make during WWII.

    On trail of the pilgrim.

Powell next returned to his beloved Scotland to make I Know Where I’m Going!, an uncommonly tender tale about another strong-willed young person forced to spend time in a foreign locale where, against her will, she has to stop and smell the roses.

Determined to rise above her middle-class status, Manchester bred Joan Webster (Wendy Hiller) takes a long journey to the western Hebrides Islands in Scotland where she is scheduled to marry a pompous business tycoon, Sir Robert Bellinger. Her plans to catch the one boat to Bellinger’s island are thwarted by fog, then gale force winds giving her the unwanted opportunity to confront her feelings towards a dashing but poor local aristocrat, Torquil McNeil (Roger Livesey).

Frustrated by the locals’ unwillingness to brave the choppy waters, reluctant Joan lets the smitten Torquill show her the mystical town, drink in the customs at a local dance, and even help her on a deadly attempt to cross the channel before she finally succumbs to his charms.

Bolstered by Erwin Hillier’s moody and evocative cinematography, I Know Where I’m Going! is a luminous portrait of a Great Britain torn between ancient traditions and the creature comforts of 20th century materialism.  It is, arguably, the Archers’ finest achievement.

  We live off the country.  Rabbits, deer, a stray hiker…

A Matter of Life and Death is The Archers’ most philosophically brooding and (along with The Red Shoes) technically spectacular film. Royal Air Force pilot Peter Carter (David Niven) faces certain death when he is forced to jump out of his burning airplane without a parachute. But much to the chagrin of the celestial powers Carter miraculously survives his fall and falls in love with the American woman (Kim Hunter) who comforted him on the plane radio before he bailed out. The higher judges demand Carter must go on trial for his life…but does he?

Powell and Pressburger create a clever and highly original premise where the audience is led to believe the drama taking place behind the pearly gates is actually going on in Carter’s mind in a desperate denial of death.

At turns enthralling and perplexing, Powell’s fantasia doesn’t land its intended wallop due to the lightweight cast’s inability to deliver larger than life performances. Powell’s eclectic choices in casting lent the sort of spontaneity and flow rarely seen in British and American films being made in the 1940s but, it can be argued, many of his favored players weren’t up to the level of his artistic ambitions.

   One is starved for Technicolor up there. 

Still, it was clear Powell and Pressburger had raised the bar of British commercial filmmaking to unprecedented heights and some of their best work was yet to come.

The Archers’ next film, the neurotic and sexually-charged Black Narcissus, offers a refreshing diversion from the way nuns have typically been portrayed on screen. Young Sister Clodaugh (Deborah Kerr) is chosen to lead four other nuns in establishing a religious school for children in a makeshift convent in the Himalayas. Their new home, the former palace of a general and house of concubines, seems to be haunted by its perfumed air and sordid past.

Sister Clodaugh is greeted with suspicion by both the natives and a local, hard-drinking Englishman, Mr. Dean (David Farrar), but she soon finds the troubled Sister Ruth (Kathleen Byron) will be the biggest obstacle in getting her mission off the ground.

Sumptuously shot on a London set by Jack Cardiff with Alfred Junge’s painterly eye creating the extraordinary set pieces, Black Narcissus is an unapologetic, overripe pageant whose Technicolor splashes accentuate the strange passions of the cloistered women.

   Europeans eat sausages wherever they go.

Powell and Pressburger plunged deeper into exotica with The Red Shoes, a behind the scenes ballet story spun on the Svengali-Trilby legend.

Boris Lermontov (Anton Walbrook) runs his world famous dance company with a combination of authority and grace. For his new production of a ballet based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale Lermontov daringly hires assistant conductor Julian Craster (Marius Goring) to rewrite the score and a talented but inexperienced dancer Victoria Page (Moira Shearer) to be his prima ballerina.

Underdogs Julian and Victoria bond and after the ballet becomes a huge success they fall in love, ending Lermontov’s dream to turn her into one of the great dancers. Vicki retires to support her husband’s composing career but the manipulative Lermontov lures his protégé back to the stage for what will be the final performance of the ballet that made her famous.

Though the extended showcase ballet anticipates Minnelli’s expressionist flourishes (The Band Wagon and Some Came Running), the love triangle at the center of The Red Shoes remains curiously flat and unmoving. Walbrook, so worldly-wise in his work with Ophuls, withers on the vine with his grim passion for his wayward pupil.

  The music is all that matters. Nothing but the music.

Flying high with honors from both the British film industry and Hollywood the Archers took an uncharacteristic turn with the sobering saga of an alcoholic weapons specialist The Small Back Room.

Plagued by pain from an ill-fitting prosthetic leg and tormented with self-doubt Sammy Rice (David Farrar) is chosen to head up a team of munitions experts for the war effort. Frustrated at every turn in his work, Rice turns back to the bottle until he is presented with a dangerous mission which could prove his redemption.

Shot in harsh black and white and in a semi-documentary style, The Small Black Room seems, on the surface, light years away from the Technicolor opulence of the Archers’ previous three films. But Sammy Rice shares outsider status with Sister Clodaugh and Lermontov, Powell-Pressburger heroes who buck conventionality and popularity in search of better worlds.

  I must have a drink. Ask me to have a drink woman. 

Powell went back to his country roots with Gone to Earth, another sexually neurotic story about a young woman at odds with her surroundings.

Gypsy girl Hazel Woodus (Jennifer Jones) is forced to scale back her roaming ways when she marries a local man of the cloth. When the weight of her new responsibilities grows oppressive, Hazel takes to the outdoors where she encounters Jack Reddin (David Farrar), a lusty local squire who’s taken a fancy to her. Failing to understand what makes this sensitive girl tick frustrated Jack organizes a fox hunt where the target turns out to be Hazel’s beloved pet Foxy.

The production was fret with clashes (financial and artistic) between The Archers and executive producer David O. Selznick and Gone to Earth turned out to be a box office bust.  Dissatisfied with Powell’s rural poetry, Selznick had Rouben Mamoulian re-shoot key sequences for the film’s release in the United States.

The new print gutted the very real sexual chemistry between Farrar and his nervous leading and relegated a very personal film to the scrapheap.  Fortunately, Gone to Earth found fervent admirers in France and has since been restored to its former glory.

    The hunt is on.

Like many of the great American filmmakers of the pre-war years Powell & Pressburger began to look old-fashioned in the 1950s. Where the American cinema was experiencing a Renaissance in noir and melodrama, British film studios began to turn out a stream of wry and brilliant comedies by talented directors like the Scot Alexander MacKendrick and the team of Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat leaving the more grandiose vision of the Archers behind.

The Archers answered Alexander Korda’s call to do The Elusive Pimpernel, a Technicolor remake of the 1934 hit The Scarlet Pimpernel starring Leslie Howard. Powell turned out a visually sumptuous entertainment but, once again, the film would be held up for American release by a producer (Samuel Goldwyn) and he ended up regretting taking the assignment.

Although Niven isn’t ideally suited as a swashbuckling lead, Powell’s Pimpernel holds up surprisingly well, thanks in no little part to Cyril Cusack’s creepy take on the French prosecutor Chavelin and the ravishing beauty of the production.

Having conquered the task of bringing ballet to the screen, The Archers would have similar success in interpreting opera for a mass audience with Jacques Offenbach’s Tales Of Hoffmann. The four tales of romantic longing and artistic inspiration lent themselves well to the Archer treatment and here Powell brought back Noira Shearer and Ludmilla Tcherina, his ballerinas from The Red Shoes, to play two of the fetching temptresses destined to lead their men to glory or infamy.

Like their ballet film The Archers shot Hoffmann in eye-popping color, but rather than open-up the production Powell chose to stick to a soundstage. At Shepperton Studios, the Archer and set designer Hein Heckroth let their imaginations run wild in creating garish and bizarre backdrops for the performers to navigate. Their efforts made for a weird and often wonderful panache of fantasy and horror that was well ahead of its time.

    Pour out the wine for drinking is divine.

Owing to the unavoidably static quality of the singing scenes, Tales of Hoffmann isn’t as sweepingly romantic as The Red Shoes, but it is an innovative production all the same, ranking just below Joseph Losey’s Don Giovanni and Ingmar Bergman’s The Magic Flute in the pantheon of opera on film.

    Mellifluous Mozart.

Powell’s first widescreen film, Oh…Rosalinda!!, was yet another adaptation of a famous opera. This time Powell was blessed with a first rate cast (Michael Redgrave, Anton Walbrook, Anthony Quayle, Mel Ferrer and Ludmilla Tcherina) in an updating of Johann Strauss’ Die Fleudermaus to Vienna in the aftermath of WWII. Redgrave, Quayle and Ferrer play French, Russian and American attachés all in pursuit of the flirtatious Tcherina in a breezy sex farce.

Making use of the new Cinemascope technology and some vast soundstages Powell shot Oh…Rosalinda!! in grand Lubitsch style and his players resort to all sorts of Renoirian silliness in trying to fulfill their romantic destinies.

Perhaps owing to its conservative musical source, Rosalinda doesn’t seem as artistically ambitious as either The Red Shoes or The Tales of Hoffmann yet, in a purely cinematic sense, it may well have aged better than its esteemed predecessors.

Having had so much success bringing the war home to the British public in the 1940s, it was probably no great surprise the Archers would readdress the topic somewhere down the line. But both The Battle of the River Plate and Ill Met by Moonlight chronicled distant skirmishes—far from the home front—and proved disappointing.

Set in the early days of WWII, German Captain Langsdorff (Peter Finch) mans a small but deadly battleship which picks off Allied vessels which stray outside of neutral waters. Langsdorff expertly avoids capture until British Commodore Harwood (Anthony Quayle) figures out the German’s strategy and forces him to take safe harbor off the coast of South America.

The neutral Uruguayan government forces Langsdorff to move his wounded ship back out onto the open sea where he chooses to blow it up rather than submit his men to a suicidal battle with the British. The Battle of the River Platte was a well-made but mostly anonymous effort most notable for the sympathy the filmmakers continued to show for gentlemanly German officers who act courageous in war.

   Every commander is alone, Captain.

The Archers served up another mostly simpatico German in Ill Met By Moonlight in which old friend Marius Goring plays Major General Kreipe, the target of Cretan saboteurs who wish to embarrass the occupying Nazis.

Here, Major Patrick Fermor (Dirk Bogarde) devises the mad scheme enlisting a fellow British officer and a band of Greek guerrillas to capture Kreipe and lead him across the treacherous Crete countryside to a ship which will take them out of harm’s way to Cairo. Along the way Kreipe leaves a trail consisting of war medals and pieces of uniform for the Nazis pick up the scent.

Kreipe admits a grudging respect for his unprofessional captors but not before he tries to trick a young Greek boy into giving up their location to a German platoon on the beach where Fermor plans to make rendezvous with the ship to freedom.

Ten years removed from the war it was probably no surprise such a maverick filmmaker as Powell chose to play down the Allied triumphs to show a flip side of the conflict in countries suddenly vulnerable to the big players on the world stage. They were radical choices to make in a shrinking commercial film market but nothing could have prepared the critics or the general movie-going public for what Powell would do next.

    You’re not going to leave me with these…Cretans? 

By 1960 Powell and Pressburger had gone their separate ways leaving the director without a regular collaborator. He was approached by playwright and poet Leo Marks with a film idea entirely out of left field.

The project, Peeping Tom, would be a horror film, a critically disparaged genre currently enjoying a box office renaissance largely due to the flurry of inexpensive but stylish films made at London’s Hammer Studios. There were always macabre elements in Powell’s work but here he gave full reign to the dark side and the result led to one of his most personal and fascinating films.

Mark Lewis (Karl-Heinz Boehm) is a professional cinematographer who fuels his strange desires by doing cheesecake photography on the side. Meanwhile, he is secretly filming a brutal snuff “documentary” in which he is the unseen star. When screening the day’s activities Mark rises in excitement and trembles in climactic fury as a prostitute dies a gruesome death.

Inspired, Mark quickly strikes again, this time the victim is Vivian (Moira Shearer), a stand-in who he befriended on a film set. When Mark screens the footage he is devastated when the film cuts off before Vivian dies.

A curious neighbor, Helen (Anna Massey), befriends Mark and the strange young man decides to introduce her to his staged world. She sees a bizarre home film of Mark’s scientist father (Michael Powell) cruelly experimenting on his young son by waking him with a harsh light, tossing lizards onto his bed, and making the boy spy on lovers. Mark believes his father killed his mother to take up with a voluptuous young woman, his stepmother. Helen tries her best to understand but it is becoming apparent Mark wants to be caught, so he can finish his documentary with the climactic scene of his own death.

As the gentle and soft-spoken killer (with the strangely Germanic accent) Mark elicits sympathy throughout, especially when the adult world tries to unmask him or part him from his movie camera.

Peeping Tom is a disturbing psychological study of voyeurism and the creative process. But alas, the bizarre but compassionate film was too far ahead of its time and critics took delight in giving the haughty Powell his comeuppance.

   The silly bitch! She’s fainted in the wrong scene!

It’s likely the public’s rejection of Peeping Tom has been given too much credit for the decline of Powell’s fortunes as a filmmaker in the 1960s. He continued to work in television and develop bigger projects but, like many directors of his generation, his name didn’t mean as much to the younger producers who now held the purse strings at British and Hollywood studios.

Powell’s talent for adapting classical music for film remained evident with Herzog Blaubarts Burg (aka Bluebeard’s Castle) a highly Expressionist take on Bartok’s one-act opera shot on a West German soundstage. The haunting score and gloomy narrative about the murderous Bluebeard may have sat well with Powell’s current state of mind and his latest take on opera represents an artistic advancement over The Tales of Hoffmann and Oh…Rosalinda!!.

Like Mark Lewis Bluebeard (Norman Foster) is something of a fetishist who exists in a secret, hidden world His lover Judith (Ana Raquel Satre) visits the madman’s lair and presses to see what lay beyond the castle’s bloodied doors. She is surprised to find his former wives alive but for the insane Bluebeard the illusion is irreparably shattered.

Powell’s restless spirit took him to the other side of the world to Australia where he would make his two most quirky films. Based on a popular novel by John O’Grady, They’re a Weird Mob follows the adventures of Italian journalist Nino Culotta (Walter Chiari) forced to take menial jobs in Australia once money for his job dries up.

Despite Powell’s penchant for caricature Nino’s plight turns out to be a funny one, filled with affection for the bizarre collection of personalities he encounters.

Powell’s barbed take on the locals extended itself to Age of Consent, the story of Bradley Morahan (James Mason), a disillusioned artist who moves into a desolate shack on a barrier reef island for inspiration. There, he finds his dream model in Cora Ryan (Helen Mirren), a nubile teen who wants to save up enough money escape her nasty alcoholic aunt.

Bradley’s sessions with Cora are interrupted by the arrival of an annoying old acquaintance (Jack MacGowran) running from the law. When the aunt finds Cora’s stash she assumes Morahan has been paying the underage girl for sex and makes a row leading to tragedy and revelation.

Thanks in a large part to the charismatic leads and the stunning locale, Age of Consent turns out to be a pleasing, autumnal experience.

    May-December romance.

Powell and Pressburger reunited in England three years later to make The Boy Who Turned Yellow, an hour-long educational feature made for children.

Along with a few hundred other passengers in a London subway train, young John Saunders (Mark Dightham) turns into a golden boy and his parents or doctor don’t have any idea how to turn him back to normal. At night John is visited by an extra-terrestrial man who teaches him about electricity and helps him find his missing mouse in the Tower of London.

In later years Powell explored the possibilities of making another science-fiction film based on the works of Ursula Le Guin but the idea never came to fruition. After dwelling in critical obscurity for much of the 1970s Powell was rediscovered by admirers like Martin Scorsese and he became a key advisor to both the young New York filmmaker and Francis Ford Coppola before the final credits rolled.


Books on Powell:

A Life in Movies, Million Dollar Movie – Michael Powell **** Parts 1 & 2 of Powell’s autobiography are well-written, painstakingly meticulous, long-winded and altogether fascinating. Any attempt to understand this talented, complicated, and not terribly modest, artist begins here.

Michael Powell: Interviews – David Lazar (ed,) **** Nearly all of these interviews were carried out after the making of Peeping Tom and while it would have been fascinating to follow Powell’s train of thought during his prime years he remained a genial and illuminating subject until his death at the age of 85.

Michael Powell: International Perspectives on an English Film-maker – Ian Christie & Andrew Moor (eds.) ***1/2 A patchy yet mostly informative overview of Powell’s long and varied career as seen through an array of critical approaches. Still, it remains to the go-to book for scholars interested in the Archers.


Films by Powell:

1934  Red Ensign ***
1934  Something Always Happens ***
1935  The Phantom Light ***
1937  The Edge of the World ***1/2
1939  The Spy in Black ***1/2
1939  The Lion Has Wings *** (w/Adrian Brunel, Brian Desmond Hurst & Alexander Korda)
1940  Contraband ***1/2
1940  The Thief of Baghdad ***1/2 (w/Ludwig Berger & Tim Whelan)
1941  The 49th Parallel ***1/2
1942  One of Our Aircraft Is Missing ***1/2
1943  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ****
1943  The Volunteer ***
1944  A Canterbury Tale ***1/2
1945  I Know Where I’m Going ****
1946  A Matter of Life and Death ****
1947  Black Narcissus ****
1948  The Red Shoes ***1/2
1948  The Small Black Room ***1/2
1950  Gone to Earth ****
1950  The Elusive Pimpernel ***1/2
1951  The Tales of Hoffman ***1/2
1955  The Sorcerer’s Apprentice ***1/2 (short)
1955  Oh…Rosalinda!! ***1/2
1956  The Battle of the River Plate ***1/2
1957  Ill Met By Moonlight ***1/2
1960  Peeping Tom ****
1963  Herzog Blaubarts Burg ***1/2
1966  They’re a Weird Mob ***1/2
1969  Age of Consent ***1/2
1972  The Boy Who Turned Yellow ***

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

So let it be written, so let it be done.