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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

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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From "Picturegoer" magazine
30th December 1950

Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, producers of such films as "Colonel
Blimp" and "The Red Shoes!" have been severely pasted by the critics over
their last two pictures - "Gone to Earth" and "The Elusive Pimpernel". Picturegoer
asked Michael Powell if he would care to reply to his critics.
Here -

Mr Powell Replies

   The London critics have had a frolic recently over the bodies of Powell and Pressburger, writers, producers and directors of Gone to Earth and of The Elusive Pimpernel. These two films represented two years' work for our team - disagreements with our American partners delayed production.

   Now, the editor of Picturegoer has asked me to answer the critics. It was, incidentally, the first number of Picturegoer, in January, 1921 (with Ivy Close sitting on a toboggan on the cover), which decided me on the job I wanted to do; and which I finally succeeded in doing.

   Frankly, I don't think I want to answer the critics of our latest films, but I would like to tell the readers of Picturegoer something about the making of the two pictures.

   It all started when a little boy on a fiery black pony rode sixteen miles over the Kentish hills one autumn day to see the house, in a hollow, surrounded by stubble fields, where Baroness Orczy lived. He had read the book, in its faded red cover, with the black drawing by H. M. Brock, the year before, and, like all who read that wonderful romance, he was thrilled by it for ever.

   He sat on the stubble, leaning against his pony's front legs, munching an apple, one of those sweet little yellow apples that grow on old brick walls in Kent.

A Foreword

   The few square miles of land, bounded by sea, around him were drenched with history and as English as a Kentish cob. Behind him, to the East, ran the Dover Road to the chalk cliffs of the South Foreland (recently confused by one of the critics, stirred by vague, but inaccurate memories of our island story, with the North Foreland).

   When Pressburger and I re-read "The Scarlet Pimpernel" and planned it as a film, we decided on a foreword to our picture. This is how it went :

"Will any gentleman who, when he was a little boy, never wanted to play Red Indians: and will any lady who, when she was a little girl, never wanted to be a little boy: please leave the theatre before we can say ... JACK ROBINSON."

   After a short pause the voices of Chris Challis, the photographer, of Hein Heckroth, the designer, of Reggie Mills, the editor, of Syd Streeter, the assistant, of Emeric and of myself were heard to exclaim in unison, "Jack Robinson !" and the film began. We were dissuaded from using this foreword.

   What a pity !

   If only it had been in front of the film most of the critics could have left in a body and said so with a clear conscience. That is, of course, those of the critics who were in their seats as the film started. [and awake !]

Still The Boy

   It is one of my advantages that I am still that little boy who rode in the soft autumn rain to see Baroness Orczy's house.

   I thought of him often when riding my horse beside the Prince of Wales's gorgeous coach through the autumn glories of Savernake Forest; as I heard the sound of the posthorns blowing over the Marlborough Downs and through the sleeping streets of Bath; as I watched Bert Barley and old Yorky turn their horses on a sixpence and pass a four-in-hand, with a heavy coach thundering behind, through a gap in the hedge smaller than a critic's heart.

   He was there within me as we swept out of Tours, 300 of us, morning after June morning, before the sun was up, along the banks of the wide, gleaming Loire, to where the great châteaux rose above the mists, their courtyards echoing once again to the clash of swords and the yells of the mob.

   He was there as I watched David Niven, gallant and handsome and debonair, the very pattern of an honourable, simple, English gentleman, accuse his screen wife of her treachery and struggle within himself at the dual part he had to play.

   All that little boy loved and loves is there on the screen in The Elusive Pimpernel. The old, simple romance is still one of the best stories ever told, and with it are the colour, the manners, the style of the period, the clash of the Rococo and the Incroyable, the wrestle between Roman ideals and political expediency in France, and the kindness and insularity of England. But what do they know of England who only the West End know?

   With Mary Webb's Gone to Earth I am on home ground.

   Father's family was out of the hills of Hereford, mother's out of soil of Worcester. Shropshire has been my neighbour since I heard talk.

   I know the country and I know the people.

   Mary Webb knew them, too. She drew them full size, but she didn't overdraw, and I don't think I ever had a better group of actors than Jennifer Jones, David Farrar, Cyril Cusack, Esmond Knight, Hugh Griffith and Edward Chapman, to name only a few on Gone to Earth.

Native Players

   And what shall I say about the Shropshire folk who welcomed us and understood us, who were in every crowd scene, indoors and out (for the film was nearly all made on Shropshire ground - we built many of our sets in an old aircraft hanger near Shrewsbury). What shall I say about those people who, while appreciating the rightness of her accent, her intonation and her wild, cottage-beauty, cocked their ears at Jennifer's lines: "... That's what she said, Mr. Marston," and murmured to one another: "Ah! 'Er should ha' siad ` 'Er said.'"

   Who was that critic who, apparently knowing nothing of any dialect, wrote contemptuously of our characters talking "Mummerzet" [derogatory description of any badly done country accent, especially when done by people from London] I wish I could hear what was said of him (or her) in Mrs. Yates's bar parlour in the George and Dragon at Much Wenlock.

They Are There!

   Jennifer climbed Caer Caradoc with us, one of many hills she climbed. What a beautiful woman, great-hearted girl, inspired actress, restless soul.

   Beauty, truth and the heart of England, I believe in those three things. They are in these two books, they are part of them. And they are in the two films which we made.

   A great deal of love was poured into them. Apart from this handful of London critics, I don't think our love will be wasted on the rest of our audiences. Do you?

   [Editorial note]
Well, do you? In the case of "Gone to Earth," "Picturegoer's" sensitive barometer of picturegoing, "Focus on Films," [their letters page] certainly recorded a marked reaction to the critics' verdict.

   As for "The Elusive Pimpernel," you'll soon have a chance to judge whether or not the critics were right, for the film is released next week. So you can see for yourself.

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