Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.
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Submitted by Mark Fuller
YOUTH and British Films
as told in Terms of a Capsule Biography
of Mickey Powell
by FRANK SCULLY
The Film Weekly November 7, 1931
The author of this lively story of British film-making is a celebrated Anglo-American journalist, whom "Film Weekly" is glad to introduce for the first time to British filmgoers. Mr. Scully is equally famous fo his inimitable literary style and for his frankness. He knows, and is known by, everyone in film circles.
Lyn King, the North American actress, and I were in Essex the other day looking for the birthplace of Cecil Rhodes. It was terribly hard to find. There isn't even a pub named after him. At the roadside we stopped and admired a beautiful oak, and I asked a farmer if it were many years old.
"No," he said, "I knew it when it was just an acorn."
In much the same way I knew Michael Powell when he was just a mop boy - and I am less surprised that he seems the most promising of young directors in England today than the old farmer was at the growth of an acorn into an oak.
Powell is only twenty-five and after the headaches of directing "Two Crowded Hours", "My Friend the King" and "The Rasp" in the last few months he must feel at least middle-aged by now.
When I first knew him in Nice several years ago he was "Micky" Powell. He had come out of Dulwich College to the Riviera where his father had an hotel at Cap Ferrat, not far from where Somerset Maughan, George Broadhurst, and the Duke of Connaught live. Rex Ingram, then an ace director was making "Mare Nostrum", and he needed a young man with a college education to mop Alice Terry's imprints off the floor after she had walked across it.
[So now we know where he got that much used expression from]
P.S. Micky Powell got the job.
He might have stayed there were it not that he knew how to draw attention to himself. It was not long before he was knocking over expensive sets, double-exposing negatives, and otherwise getting himself talked about around the studio.
They had a bull fight in Nice, and he, with two other college lads, thought it would be great fun to go in and tease the bull a bit. The bull started after them cleared the fence. Powell, the third, stumbled and got gored a bit.
The Mayor gave him a cup for his folly.
His sense of humour seemed so much a part of his his everyday life that Harry Lachman and Rex Ingram decided he should be made a comedian. They wrote a part into "The Garden of Allah" for him, but as Ingram's humour was, and still is, early Metro-Goldwyn, Powell could not be expected to rise to great heights on such gags alone.
By the time he was twenty-two, however, he had been raised to stardom in a series of wise-crack called "Travelaughs". I had a fat sized interest in these myself. They were Lachman-made pastorals painted in Mack Sennett oils. We played our slapstick against the most beautiful backgrounds in the world. It was like studying geography under Charlie Chaplin. Such, at least, was our intention, and we were getting along well enough with them. One of the first, "Wine and Water", made quite a hit in England.
The others - they were all silent pictures - travelling toward the Revolver Republic by slow boat met "The Jazz Singer" in mid-ocean and were sank without trace.
I became a film journalist and Powell and Lachman rubbed the Riviera out of their eyes and started north for the fog-belt. In time they reached Elstree.
Up to then, Powell had swept floors, written sub-titles, worked on scripts, acted as still photographer, cut and edited pictures, fallen in and out of love, and equally in and out of debt, and figuring himself pretty much a failure, had joined British International Pictures as a still photographer.
By this time he had reached the disillusioned age of twenty-three. He soon walked out on B.I.P. and joined Lee Planskoy at the Blattner Studio at Elstree.
There everybody seemed "to be playing the role of Micawber, waiting for something to turn up, and finally something did."
Jerry Jackson, working in conjunction with Clayton and Walker, and banking a bit heavily on the Hatry interests, began building studios at Ealing. He called in Planskoy and Powell, and put Powell to writing scripts for such things as "Princess Charming" in a far from charming Bryanston Street service flat, which has since been pulled down.
[Bryanston Street is just north of Marble Arch, to the east of the Edgeware Road]
I add this word about the mansion's construction because it means that the landmark of the Jackson-Powell pact no longer exists for posterity to gape at.
Everybody knows how Hatry collapsed and what ruin he brought in his wake. Being thrown from a high mountain to the bottom of a canyon could not have shaken Jerry Jackson more than Hatry's one-way pass to an all-metal bungalow.
[See footnote about Hatry Collapse]
Jackson lost his studios but he held on to Powell, the latter getting the script for "77 Park Lane" to do, while his producer promoted himself into making quota pictures for Fox.
Now a lot of people have made quota pictures, pictures which, if stretched from end to end would reach from here to the middle of the Atlantic, and, in honest world, would all be dropped in there.
Producers of these quota turks worked on a principle. The principle was to make the picture as terrible as possible and as long as possible and collect as much money for it as possible.
Now Jackson and Powell could have gone on in the same way as the others did and no questions asked, but what they did instead was to make a picture of little pretensions and to make it really well.
The result, as seen from the notices on their first four-reeler, "Two Crowded Hours" was more praise for nothing than most people get who pay for it. And yet it was quite clear that they could not pay for it, for they were both as broke as the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
But they will come to a better end, for they're starting modestly, keeping inside their budgets, filming good stories. In short, they're starting right and they're bound to win out.
They're not trying to get something for nothing, not chumping the public or getting a load of sucker money out of the peasants with a standard chiseler's spiel as some others have done.
Since that time however, they have climbed. Powell now owns a second-hand car, and by the time Jackson is middle-aged, which should be any day now (for if seventy is old, then half way to seventy, or thirty-five, is middle aged) he will be producing feature pictures and Powell will be directing them. If I know anything about acorns, these two and others like them, are due to develop into mighty oaks, destined to make British pictures a form of entertainment to be proud of.
Whether the Empire will keep up with them or not I cannot say, and I wish you would not ask, as I am a stranger here myself.
Note: The "Hatry Collapse":
Nicky Smith tells us...
Apparently the Hatry Group of Companies (including Corporation and General Securities Ltd and Photomaton Parent Corporation) collapsed in Sept 1929, presumably leaving a lot of bankruptcies though I'm not sure who in the film business was affected personally. There was a Mr Clarence Hatry was got 14 years for issuing bogus share certificates.
The correspondence started by this article led to a tongue-in-cheek article by Michael Powell in Film Weekly; July, 1932.
Other P&P reviews