The Masters  
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.

A lot of the documents have been sent to me or have come from other web sites. The name of the web site is given where known. If I have unintentionally included an image or document that is copyrighted or that I shouldn't have done then please email me and I'll remove it.

I make no money from this site, it's purely for the love of the films.

[Any comments are by me (Steve Crook) and other members of the email list]

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Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger - Restored Classics


Michael Powell (1905-1990) started film making at the age of 20 on director Rex Ingram's team in a studio in Nice, France. He worked with silent films with Harry Lachman and Alfred Hitchcock at the Elstree Studios.

In 1938, following The Edge of the World (1937), he worked together with script writer Emeric Pressburger (born in Hungary in 1902, died in England in 1988) to develop the project The Spy in Black, with Conrad Veidt.

Pressburger began his career writing scripts in Germany and in France, mainly for Robert Siodmark. Later, in 1936, he went to London to work with Alexander Korda.

Powell made two more films with Pressburger (The Thief of Bagdad and Contraband, both in 1940, also with Veidt) before he started his own producing company, the Archers.

The most important Archers films include: A Canterbury Tale (1944), Black Narcissus (1946), The Red Shoes(1948), The Elusive Pimpernel (1950), and The Tales of Hoffmann (1951), all of these chosen for the 19th International Film Festival. These films will be shown with copies that have been restored by the British Film Institute, within the Champagne Piper Heidsieck Classic Film Collection.

After Powell and Pressburger closed down Archers in 1956, Powell's most important film was Peeping Tom (1960). Pressburger directed only one film on his own, Twice Upon a Time, in 1953, and he wrote the script for Operation Crossbow (1965), by Michael Anderson. In 1972, they worked together once more on a film for children, The Boy Who Turned Yellow.


The captain of a Danish cargo boat is in trouble with the Contraband Control Authorities in England. Furthermore he must escort a beautiful girl through the bistros and nightclubs of London with frequent blackouts owing to the war. The final confrontation is in a warehouse packed with busts of Neville Chamberlain.

Cast: Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson

B&W, 92 min., 1940

A Canterbury Tale


A tribute to beauty and country tradition in the County of Kent where Michael Powell was born. It is also a poetic portrait of England in times of war. In the manner of Chaucer, three modern pilgrims make their way to Canterbury. They are drawn to a man who throws glue on the hair of women who go out with American soldiers.

Cast: Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, Sargento John Sweet, Esmond Knight

B&W, 95 min., 1944

Black Narcissus


Based on Rumer Godden's book and filmed entirely in a studio, the story tells of the difficulties encountered by a group of Anglican nuns who wish to build an outpost in the Himalayas. Repressed sexuality and the mystical powers of nature are expressed in the colors of the film that earned Jack Cardiff the Oscar for best photography of the year.

Cast: Deborah Kerr, Flora Robson, Jenny Laird, Kathleen Byron, Esmond Knight, Sabu, David Farrar, Jean Simmons

Col., 100 min., 1947

The Red Shoes


Regarded as the best film on ballet of all times. With exteriors filmed in Covent Garden, in London, in the Opera House in Paris and in Monte Carlo, the film is based on a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Composer Marius Goring and empresario Anton Walbrook contend for the love of Moira Shearer, in her first film. This is a rhapsody of expressionist color, with scenes of ballet that are sheer beauty.

Cast: Moira Shearer, Marius Goring, Anton Walbrook, Leonide Massine, Esmond Knight, Ludmilla Tcherina, Robert Helpmann

Col., 134 min., 1948

The Small Back Room


A classical suspense movie on an expert in deactivating explosives, physically handicapped, and an alcoholic, who must win out on one final hurdle: a German bomb triggered to go off. The sequence is one of the most remarkable in the history of film making. David Farrar and Kathleen Byron who were so great a success in The Black Narcissus are the central pair. The film includes a dream scene with bizarre special effects.

Cast: David Farrar, Kathleen Byron, Michael Gouch, Cyril Cusack, Sidney James, Leslie Banks, Jack Hawkins, Robert Morley, Bryan Forbes, Michael Powell
[Micky did appear in some films but not The Small Back Room]

B&W, 106 min., 1949

The Elusive Pimpernel


The film was originally intended to be a musical; however,co-producer Samuel Goldwyn and Alexander Korda insisted that the operetta touches be removed. Even so, it is a delight to watch this masterpiece on the eccentricities of the eighteenth century set within a historical background setting in England and in France. David Niven is unsurpassed as a youth who frees aristocrats from the guillotine. Sardonic humor.
[In fact Sam Goldwyn pulled out & Korda sued him]

Cast: David Niven, Margaret Leighton, Cyril Cusack, Jack Hawkins, Arlette Marchal, Robert Coote, Patrick Macnee

Col., 109 min., 1950

The Tales of Hoffmann

Following on the success of The Red Shoes, Powell and Pressburger adapted the Jacques Offenbach opera to a show with the participation of the greatest dancers of the times. Besides Shearer, Massine, Helpmann and Tcherina, the cast included singers Robert Rounseville, and Ann Ayars. The chorus is Sadler's Wells with orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. The color and setting are surrealistic. This is one of the greatest of the Powell/Pressburger films.

Cast: Moira Shearer, Leonide Massine, Pamela Brown, Robert Helpmann, Robert Rounseville, Ludmilla Tcherina

Col., 118 min., 1951

The Spy in Black

The first Powell/Pressburger joint contribution based on a book by J. Storer Clouston (script by Pressburger and Roland Pertwee). An officer from the German navy and spy (Conrad Veidt) becomes involved with a charming double agent (Valerie Hobson) in Scotland during the course of World War I. The end to the story is surprising. The following year Veidt and Hobson were once more brought together by the directors in Contraband.

Cast: Conrad Veidt, Valerie Hobson, Sebastian Shaw, Marius Goring, June Duprez, Helen Hayes, Cyril Raymond, Hay Petrie.

B&W, 82 minutes, 1939

49th Parallel/The Invaders


An exciting adventure during World War II when a group of soldiers [sailors] is driven aground with their war ship [submarine] along the coast of Canada. A film rich in suspense and a great performance on the part of the actors. An Oscar for the best story to Emeric Pressburger (script by Pressburger and Rodney Ackland).

Cast: Anton Walbrook, Eric Portman, Leslie Howard, Raymond Massey, Laurence Olivier, Glynnis Johns, Niall MacGinnis, Finlay Currie.

B&W, 123 min., 1941

A Matter of Life and Death/Stairway to Heaven


Powell and Pressburger knew as no one else how to combine reality and fantasy. In this admirable original story in World War II, an English pilot (David Niven) believes that he was chosen to die by mistake and demands that a Celestial Court restore him to life. All of this takes place while the pilot is under anesthetic for surgery.

Cast: David Niven, Kim Hunter, Raymond Massey, Roger Livesey, Robert Coote, Marius Goring, Richard Attenborough.

Col., 104 min., 1946