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Submitted by Malcolm Pratt

Powell and Pressburger: The War Years
Sight and Sound, Winter 1978/9
By David Badder

Six Crowded Years:

     The occasion of the National Film Theatre's thorough, 38-film tribute to Powell and Pressburger (during October/November of last year) was clearly an unparalleled opportunity to interview the now 73-year-old Mr. Powell. The concurrently released newspaper story revealing Churchill's determined efforts to suppress "The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp" was a demonstrative reminder that the war years were a key era in the development of British film-making. As a bonus, concentration on this relatively brief period of a lengthy career could give the interview a natural and concise shape. In the event, what emerges most strikingly is a spirit-stirring account of hectic and impetuous film-making activity. In the circumstances, one is amazed that Powell and his team of talented collaborators were able to find time to draw breath: eight films (and a couple of shorts), each one in some way a significant advance on the last, in the space of six very crowded years, is an astonishing achievement in itself. But when one grasps that all these films except "The Lion Has Wings" were originals, conceived and written by Powell and Pressburger themselves, their achievement reaches mind-boggling proportions.

    Perhaps inevitably, the final interview concentrates on the physical act of film-making rather than the artistic preoccupations of the film-makers. This is partly because the emergence of a cinema of real force (and here one must include Thorold Dickinson, David Lean, Carol Reed, Launder and Gilliat et al.) amid the ashes of war-torn Britain is a feat that has never really been sufficiently acknowledged; and partly because Powell rightly believes that his films speak for him when it comes to themes and meanings. The hints and clues are there but, as with the films themselves, you have to look beneath the surface to discover them.

    What was particularly cheering about the NFT's season was that films like "Colonel Blimp" and "A Canterbury Tale" - rarely seen at all since their premieres and only now in their original form - are at last receiving their proper recognition as fine works by anybody's standards. Allusive, intense, irrepressibly romantic, unabashedly patriotic, uninhibitedly expressionist, witty and adroit, superbly shot in a forceful and exciting visual style and, above all, tinged with a fascination for the unusual and the unknowable that makes them uniquely disquieting, these are films to be seen and savoured over and over again.

Interview with Michael Powell:

    The real start of British films in my opinion came with the war, and this began with an undertaking by Alexander Korda, who was very friendly with Churchill. In fact, in the lean years before the war he had employed Churchill as a writer. As he had built this enormous studio at Denham and had the most complex production set-up in Europe, Korda promised Churchill that if war broke out in 1939 he would turn the whole of his technical staff, his contract actors and directors and everybody he could lay his hands on, into making a propaganda film. This was The Lion Has Wings (1939).

    Most of us at that time were working against time to try to finish The Thief of Bagdad (1940); that's why there are so many directors on the film. Actually, I started the film but Ludwig Berger had done a lot of very good tests; I saw them, they're excellent. Then Alex got in Tim Whelan ... Zoltan Korda did one or two things, Alex directed one or two things ... and we were all rushing about from one end of this vast lot to the other. I had a number of very big sets under my general control and I was preparing all this mostly with Sabu and Conrad Veidt. I'm not sure whether we had any warning; all I remember is that we were working over the weekend to try to finish Thief when war was declared.

    We all gathered in the coal bunker - which fortunately was empty of coal and seemed the safest place because everybody was expecting an air raid at once - to hear Alex tell us what his plan was. Most of us were going to drop off Thief and go straight into a film which he'd already decided with Churchill was to be called The Lion Has Wings. I'd already been asked to consult with Ian Dalrymple, who had been chief editor at Gaumont and then a producer with Victor Saville. An extremely able and very nice man and a wonderful organiser, he had been put in charge of the whole production. We had a talk and I decided to do all the combat stuff with fighter aircraft and most of the stuff dealing with the defence of England, the radar system and all that sort of thing - about none of which I knew anything.

    A bright, young R.A.F. Liaison officer was appointed to me called Squadron Leader Wright. He met me on the Sunday and we made an appointment for the Monday to meet at Denham golf course, where he was going to land with a small aircraft, and we would fly over the balloon barrage to a big airfield in Norfolk. I started shooting on that same day. As it happened we didn't land at a fighter station but a bomber station, where I was lucky enough to get them bombing up and preparing for the first raid on Kiel. After that Wright and I cast around various aerodromes getting material, ending up at Hornchurch on a fighter station. I knew a few people in the R.A.F. High Command so I was able to appeal to them if we got arrested - which we frequently did. After that we moved into the studio. The whole of The Lion Has Wings was hurled into production, completed and on the screen within a month. That was due to Korda's tremendous energy behind everything and the amazing organisation of Ian Dalrymple and his team of editors.

    Well, that convinced Churchill - and other people who had to be convinced because at that time Churchill wasn't Prime Minister, you'll remember - that the British film industry should somehow be kept going. That was very important, because if something like that hadn't happened right away it might have vanished as it did in the 1914 war. I mean, all the Americans quite naturally got the hell out and went back to America, and we were left without a leader unless we wanted to lead ourselves. We needed this stimulus of the Government saying the film industry must go on. As soon as they said that, Emeric Pressburger and I, who had done The Spy in Black (1939) together, said to Conrad Veidt, 'We are going to write, not exactly a sequel, but a similar type of film for you and Valerie Hobson, because we had a big success and we can get the money if we immediately make another one.'

    We went straight to British National Films, which was owned by Lady Yule and managed by John Corfield, and they backed us to do Contraband (1940). Already in November 1939 we were down at Ramsgate shooting in the Contraband Control and out amongst the ships in the harbour. Alfred Junge, the great German art director, worked with us on that film. He had been head of all art direction for Gaumont British - all their art directors were trained by him. And during The Thief of Bagdad we worked out several sequences together - a case of mutual respect. I knew he was the best man in the world so I hurled him into Contraband immediately.

    So that kept us and the British film industry going over that sticky period around January, 1940. About February, John Sutro, who was a great friend of Korda's and one of his directors on the board, came to me and said the Government definitely wants to back films, they will even put Government money into it if we can't raise the money elsewhere. I went with him to see Kenneth Clark, who had been appointed Head of the Films Division of the Ministry of Information. This was the first smell of any organisation to do with films, and since Kenneth Clark was Director of the National Gallery and presumably knew about pictures he was put in charge of the films division. Fortunately, it was a good appointment because Kenneth is a very knowledgeable man and loved films, so he was very sensible. Only he was doing what he'd been told by, I suppose, propagandists, because the first thing he said to me was, 'Would you like to make a film about mine sweeping?' I said, 'No, I wouldn't, the first thing they did in the last war was make a film about mine sweeping, and this is a new war. I want to go to Canada and make a film there.'

     I was quite clear about it; the reason was that I'd read a feature article a few weeks before by Beverley Baxter, a Canadian journalist very popular in London. It was about the fact that Canada had come into the war in spite of French Canadian resistance, and how eventually the influence of Canada would bring America into the war. He didn't absolutely say so but he hinted it. And so I said the same to Clark and, 'I'd like to gather together three or four people in whom I have confidence and we'll go over there and do the research.' He asked what the story would be and I said, 'How can we tell until we go? You send us and we'll come back with a story.' And because we'd had successes with original stories and, I suppose, because I was full of drive, they put up £5,000 and in a week or two we were off. This was really the start of the MOI actually moving into feature films: they had approved the idea of making a film in Canada, the rest of the complications they left to us.

    Emeric though of the idea - the crew of a sunken German U-boat stranded in Canada - of "49th Parallel" (1941) about two days out on the boat. When we got to Halifax, we went straight to Ottawa. In those days, and even now, you can call a Minister direct on the telephone - and he answers. I called all the people I thought we ought to have in on it - the Army, the Navy, the Air Force, Supply, the Prime Minister's secretary - and arranged a meeting next day. We had a big round-table meeting where I told them the story, making most of it up because I had only the basic idea from Emeric - who sat beaming throughout - and they promised us every possible support, gave us letters of introduction right across the continent.

    By the time we came back, Duff Cooper was Minister of Information and the Treasury were rather naturally against the scheme because things were in a terrible state - France was falling and there was tremendous chaos. In spite of that I sold the idea to Duff Cooper and they put up, out of the Treasury, £50,000 in dollars. I was able to contact my actors and get off within about a month. Almost immediately after we landed my Chief of Construction, Sid Streeter, started to build the submarine in Halifax while I was already shooting; I think we started in the mid-west. We'd roughed the whole script out and then Emeric started to write the actual script with dialogue with Rodney Ackland. Emeric's English was still not first rate, but his grasp of the drama and the shape of the scenes was excellent. But he needed to work with an English dialogue writer.

    They started on the first episode with Laurence Olivier while I went off to shoot the rest of the stuff off-the-cuff. We had to: we had to catch the harvest for the Hutterite sequence, then I had to shoot the stuff in the Rockies and then go up to Hudson Bay and round the Labrador coast to get the submarine scenes and the landing at the Hudson Bay post. All before it was too late, because if you're too late in the Hudson Bay the ice can be early. It was all working against time, but as we had complete control ourselves, nobody to argue with, we brought it all off. When we came back to England the Blitz was on. We had shot Raymond Massey's sequence with Eric Portman in a little documentary studio in Montreal because he was already in the Forces and couldn't come over. But the other actors who had given us their word, like Olivier who was in Hollywood when he promised me, Anton Walbrook and Leslie Howard who had promised before we went, they all kept their word.

    That was really the start of wartime films, the proper start. Gabriel Pascal was making "Major Barbara" at that time but nobody was really swinging into wartime films as we were with the help of the MOI. From then on every film we made during the war sprang organically from the one we'd just made because, first of all, we were guessing a year ahead what the general position of the war would be and what would be the propaganda message. After all, films take a year to make and get out, particularly if you're writing, producing and directing them yourself, and so we had to be good guessers. The only one we guessed wrong on was "A Canterbury Tale" - there was a reason for that which I'll come back to.

    We had started to think what sort of film we ought to make next, and I remember quite clearly that I said to Emeric that this phrase 'one of our aircraft failed to return' was a wonderful one to build a story around and would he think about it. After he'd finished his work on the writing of "49th Parallel", he did think about it and by that time the phrase had been turned to the eventual title of our film, " One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" (1942). I guess they thought 'failed to return' was too downbeat. Emeric came up with the idea of turning the story of "49th Parallel" inside out, which is a typically Hungarian manoeuvre but it was also an interesting idea to show how one of our bomber crews got on in occupied territory.

    This was our first independent production as The Archers. We saw pretty clearly that unless we ran our own affairs somebody else would run them for us: everybody seemed quite keen that we should, so we did. It went on that way until after the war, when Rank asked us to form Independent Producers and then we invited other people in. That was also the time that we invented our combined credit, which was a way of describing our work. Nobody every directed but me. I remember my agent was surprised but I told him, 'We're going to invent a credit in the order which we think is important, which is writer, producer and then the director.' Not many people think of it that way. I've always resented so much the way writers are treated in films. Anyway, we more or less decided that almost unsaid.

    "There was one nice scene in "One of Our Aircraft " which I shot but later had to cut out; it's between Godfrey Tearle and Hugh Burden as the elderly rear gunner and the young pilot. They are talking about the girl (played by Pamela Brown) and suddenly the older man makes an observation which startles the young man. He says, 'You know, you are like what I was when I was young and I'm like what you will be like when you're old.' In other words they were both typically British. Then the young fellow looks at him and says, 'Are you right in the head, George?' At first nobody understood the old boy and they didn't bother to, they just thought he was a bit of a nuisance. Later he proved that his experience in everything really meant something. What was really interesting about this was that out of this story Emeric said, 'Wy don't we make a film about this theme that young men can't understand the old men and old men can't explain what it is to be experienced?' And that started the idea of making a film called 'The Life and Death of Sugar Candy'.

    As it progressed and became more and more an epic, a saga of a wonderful, half-lovable, half-infuriating character, it occurred to one of us, I don't know which, to lug in Colonel Blimp. It was probably because the whole idea seemed to chime together and the thought of dramatising the life of Colonel Blimp appealed enormously, because at that time Blimp was a household word. That was how " Life and Death of Colonel Blimp " (1943) evolved. And that was when all the trouble started which everybody now knows about. (See the dossier following this interview for the story.)
[transcriber's note: this parenthetical note refers to the magazine's subsequent 2-page article by Ian Christie entitled "The Colonel Blimp File." The story contains a brief introduction by Mr. Christie, followed by a few excerpts from the documents of various British governmental officials, which were later covered at length in Mr. Christie's excellent 1994 monograph, " Life and Death of Colonel Blimp."]

    Some time before this, Jack Beddington, who had been Head of Publicity for Shell, had been appointed in charge of the MOI's films division in the place of Kenneth Clark. We began to have very lively contacts with him. He had a very good mind himself, and as well as understanding publicity, he understood artists and creative people and he took great pains, he and the Ministry, to put us all in touch with the people who were doing documentaries and training films. I remember going there to see films smuggled out of Europe, two or three times a week sometimes, to see films on blood transfusion, on plastic surgery for pilots who were burned ... He took great trouble that feature film-makers should be well-informed, much better informed than the average person about what was going on in the war. It was very good, don't you think?

    I'm sure it was with Jack that we had most of the rows about "Colonel Blimp". They weren't really rows: simply that we were determined to make it and they were determined that we shouldn't. Beddington and Brendan Bracken were probably laughing like hell in their offices, but they had to do what they were told and follow the policy of the War Office and the Cabinet. James Grigg was the one who started the alarm but afterwards he withdrew the whole thing. The thing that affected us was that not only could we not have Laurence Olivier to play Blimp, we couldn't have one gun, one rifle, one uniform or one truck. So everything we have on the screen in the form of khaki uniforms and trucks is stolen. We could have been shot for it, I suppose, but then nobody minded about a little thing that that then! It shows how well film prop men had been trained by Korda, you know, how do you make a Hungarian omelette ... first steal three eggs. Alfred Junge was wonderful, he hadn't been on "One of Our Aircraft" because at first all enemy aliens were interned. There was a story: he was interned at Liverpool in a big camp where a lot of very good art directors were interned who'd worked for Korda. They were all put to work at camouflaging the camp and they did it so well nobody could find it! Alfred was always known as Uncle Alfred to the entire unit.

    I don't really know whether "Blimp" was ever shown in its complete version because, at the time of its premiere, I was already in the Mediterranean shooting material for "The Volunteer" (1943). I was on the beach in Oran, Algeria, wondering how to get off it. Of course, I got off with the Americans, that's the answer always. More or less right away, the Rank people, they loved the picture but decided it was too long for commercial release in wartime and asked us to cut it. I've got a feeling that all the opening sequences with the young solder bursting into the Turkish bath were lopped and the film made into a straightforward narrative story instead of being mostly in flashback. That may have been partly because of opposition from Churchill and the War Office, because it is a much less abrasive way of telling the story. But we had quite consciously set out to make a big epic because we didn't think we could tell the three episodes of Blimp's life in much less than two hours and a half.

    The cast of "Blimp" was marvellous. Deborah Kerr is enormously sensitive and responds to a director particularly. I think she could have gone on to become a very great actress, but she went on as a contract artist with MGM for just too long. Her performance, performances really, were clever too - with help from me, she makes the three girls absolutely different. And I had always wanted to work with Roger Livesey; he was going to be in "The Phantom Light" (1935) but Michael Balcon didn't like his voice, that lovely hoarse voice of Roger's. Mickey Balcon was very suburban in his tastes. I hadn't the slightest doubt; when C.M. Woolf and Arthur Rank said to me if you can't get Olivier who will you get, I said Roger Livesey. 'Is he available?' 'Yes, he's working in an aircraft factory' - I'd already found that out.

    "Then we planned "A Canterbury Tale" (1944), which was to be about Americans in England and also an examination of materialism (in the form of the organist/soldier played by Dennis Price) against idealism (as exemplified by the young American soldier). That was really the reason for making the film, because we thought the moral issues of the war were almost as exciting as the war that was being fought. The whole idea was to examine the values for which we were fighting and to do it partly through the eyes of a young American who was training in England. That's where we guessed wrong, because by the time the film came out, all the Americans were off fighting in North Africa.

    The critics didn't like the glueman business - they were rather shocked. They thought there was something a bit perverted and horrible about it - 'we always suspected this of Powell' - they'd heard vaguely that some people loved to throw jam at naked girls and they thought this was the idea. You can't imagine how prudish people were then, you should read some of the reviews. I remember also the suggestion that the young girl spent her holiday in the caravan with her young man shocked some people - 'Are we to understand that Mr. Powell and Mr. Pressburger are advocates of free love?' They couldn't believe that this had actually been said in a film - I thought they can't have been around too much. Such ridiculous conventions there were.

    The only thing wrong with "Canterbury Tale" is that Emeric got crazy about the story and it's far too complicated - Agatha Christie couldn't have done better. I said, 'Emeric, don't worry, I shall be doing all my atmospheric stuff and getting to Canterbury with the pilgrims, you don't have to bother about working out all the story.' They have several pointless discussions about who the glueman is, when it's quite obvious from the first show of Eric Portman that it's him. That's what happens, Emeric used to laugh sometimes and say, 'I'd forgotten you were going to see it.' So it was a failure and practically hasn't been seen until recently. Now it looks a wonderful film, I think, I was really thrilled with it. It's got all the things I knew so well: I was born and brought up in and around Canterbury and there's a lot of a little boy growing up in the film. Of course, what I love is this semi-mystical feeling that you get ... anybody who has lived near Canterbury's old stones must have this feeling.

    There is one thing it might please you to know: the film opens, if you remember, with a staggeringly successful tracking shot through the bells of the belfry, a most intricate and beautiful shot that finishes up looking through a little oriel window opening out on the east end of Canterbury. Alfred Junge loved this idea of starting with the bells and had designed it all; one day I asked him how we were going to do it. He said, 'I will build the bells from papier-mache at one-eighth scale, and it will all work like the real bells.' Then about a week before we were supposed to shoot it, he came to me beaming and said, 'Do you know what I've got, Mickey? I have the team of bell ringers from Canterbury to ring the bells.' They all came down for the day - it was lovely, don't you think? All the shots in the Cathedral were studio created because we couldn't shoot in the real Cathedral. [Apart from the one shot as Peter (or is it Bob?) first comes into the Cathedral and looks up. That one shot was "sneaked" with a hand held camera]

    This is where Jack Beddington comes into the picture again. He said to us, 'I want you to consider that our relations with the Americans were very good while we were losing the war, but now we're winning it, they're getting very bad. Will you write a story which plays up American/English relationships.' Emeric suggested a love story and came up with "A Matter of Life and Death" (1946). However, we found out that all the Technicolor cameras, crews and stock were tied up on training films and we had to postpone the film for a year. I said to Emeric, 'We've got to think up a film to make this year or we shall be drafted into the Services,' because I was already technically in the Navy. He said, 'There is a story I've always wanted to make about a girl who wants to get to an island, she's quite close and she can see the people on it but she can't get there.' I asked him, reasonably enough, I thought, why she wanted to get there. 'Oh, let's make the film and then we'll find out.'

    I'd rented a cottage in Devon for my father who had escaped from France, so we all went down there and Emeric wrote the basic script, not just the story but the basic screenplay of "I Know Where I'm Going!' (1945) in about five days. Then I snatched up these sheets of paper and rushed off to find the island: because until I know were I'm going to make a film, I can't visualise it, I can't get on with it. I have to know all the answers and then the other things start to expand. That's how we usually worked. I went to several places and finally chose the Isle of Mull in the Hebrides because the bleakness and beauty suited the story.

    I thought Pamela Brown's part was particularly intriguing and called her Catriona after the witch in the legend. She was obviously in love with Torquil (Roger Livesey) and would have been in love with him at any time in the past two or three centuries. I wanted to get that over without ever actually saying it. Originally, I had a lot more stuff of her watching Torquil. I shot a scene at the end when he apparently leaves Wendy Hiller and goes into the Castle to face the curse; in the scene Catriona followed him in there and watched what he was going to do, as if she were drawn there by the same inspiration as him, the same legend. I think there is much more goes on in life - below the surface - than people realise. It's not really mysticism as far as I can see: I think life is like that, it's not everything that you see but many layers underneath.

    I like these unexpressed things, they can be enormously effective in a film. I think I probably learned that from seeing the early German films which were full of unexpressed and beautiful ideas - films like "Destiny". In other words I'm a great 'eye' but I also believe there's more than meets the eye. But "I Know Where I'm Going!" was only a partial success; it's a film that has grown to be much loved over the years. Wendy Hiller was very clever in it, the way she worked it all out: we just had little talks about how we would gradually change and she would become more and more natural. We were paying her back in a way because originally she was going to play the girl that Deborah Kerr played in "Blimp". But she had a baby instead.

    "We went straight into "A Matter of Life and Death" afterwards because Technicolor was now available. The script had been ready the previous year, and I remember quite clearly that I was shooting the last day's work on "I Know Where I'm Going!" - the scene where Roger Livesey runs down to the quay and tries to stop the boy taking the boat out - when suddenly somebody came to me and said, 'We've got you on the Queen Mary and she leaves tonight.' I left the camera, Roger, everything. I yelled back to Roger, 'Direct yourself!' Which he did. There were about 20,000 Americans on the ship, about ten of us in one cabin. On the way over I worked on the script from a medical point of view; I had all my notes in a special file on medical cases which I'd been looking up through my brother-in-law, who is a great surgeon. I don't think I ever stated what was wrong with the young flier (David Niven) after he's crashed in the bomber. A previous injury had caused adhesions on the brain ... probably I didn't want to state it too much because so many people had had bangs and bumps during the war and you didn't want people to get too worried ... anyway, these adhesions can produce pressures on various parts of the brain which can produce what are called 'highly organised hallucinations'. These can be comparable to an experience of actual life.
[As described in the book "A Journey round my Skull" by Frigyes Karinthy, which P&P are known to have referred to]

    I use this phrase because it was quoted to me by the surgeon who did the job in the particular case I was studying. And then he uttered another marvellous phrase which really altered the whole conception of the film. He said, 'And this illusion can take place in space but not in time.' And that's what we showed with the 'frozen' ping-pong game and David Niven sitting up during the operation with everyone around him frozen in time - we had lots of fun then. There is this whole hallucination taking place in the thousandth of a fraction of a second.

    I believe we used the ping-pong game because Emeric thought of it as the most wonderful thing to stop in motion. It's done by a combination of stop-frame and posing by the actors with the ball suspended on an invisible thread. Very nearly all my tricks are a combination of two or three different things. At first, it was suggested that when I froze the scene, we should then re-project it in back-projection and then David Niven would come in and look at it. I said, 'That won't work, he's got to walk all around them.' So Roger Livesey said, 'I can stay absolutely still - even with a funny expression on my face - if Kim (Hunter) will.' [and what a great funny expression it is on Roger's face] Of course, David Niven then tried his damnedest to make them laugh during the shooting - but that was how we got it.

    We had gone to America to find an actress to play the young American girl in the film. Those were the days when British films had prestige and, of course, all the producers in Hollywood and studio owners and owners of girls were really genuinely anxious to help us, but also genuinely anxious to get their girl into the film. Everybody we saw was wrong, we wanted an absolutely natural, clever girl, an actress but still like any other girl. I was explaining this to Hitchcock, who was giving us dinner, and he said, 'Well, Mickey, there's a girl I was testing for Selznick the other day, he wants to give her a contract.' 'What's her name?' He said, 'Oh, not that girl, the girl who was giving lines to the girl that I was testing for Selznick who wanted to hive her a contract.' 'Well, did he give her a contract?' 'Oh, I don't know, Mickey, but he didn't give a contract to the girl who was giving the lines, because he didn't see her, but I did because she was alongside me - and she's the sort of girl you're looking for.' That was Kim Hunter.

    I'm pretty sure it was Emeric's idea to do the other world in monochrome and this world in Technicolor. I decided to bleed the colour out of it, and that led to things like the rose losing its colour and then regaining the colour. We started shooting on Saunton Sands in Devon, all those sequences with David Niven being washed ashore after the bomber had crashed, the little naked boy piping with the goats all around. It was all a spoof, of course, I think people got that. But I wondered if I would get away with it at the time.

    You see, in all these films I was finding out just what I could do. Fortunately, I hadn't any crass producer to say, 'What does that mean?' because half the time I didn't know what it meant either. I just felt it was right. The opening of the film, of course, with Niven spouting poetry and the bomber roaring down, that's all Powell. I took with me to America - as well as my medical notes - the Oxford Book of English Verse, so that I could pick out some good bits for Niven to declaim as the bomber fell.

    The film was expensive but, on the other hand, it came in right on budget, and we had it all cut together a week after we'd finished shooting. Some of the big trick shots like leaving the court, going out into the starry sky and seeing the golden stairway forming, they were done 'in work' as we say - there's a blend of maybe a dozen different shots in that one sequence. We worked out the shots before shooting began, first up the staircase in perspective with the vast statues going away in the distance, and then down the staircase in perspective. All the angles were fixed and then the whole thing was shot in about one day It was extraordinary how Junge had the whole thing worked out on the drawing board. But it's the only thing to do, otherwise you get yourself into a terrible tangle like they did on "The Thief of Bagdad" - the flying carpet sequence and things like that. It was the most beautifully planned and executed film I've ever worked on and it's my favourite of all my films because it looks so easy and it wasn't. A justification of the whole long training of the British film industry. I remember that we started shooting the film on the day that the Japanese surrendered, so that was the end of our British war service.

    After making "Black Narcissus" (1947) and "The Red Shoes" (1948), we made another film with a war setting - "The Small Back Room" (1948). It was very interesting because it was a complete failure; nobody wanted to know about it because the war was over. They wanted "The Red Shoes", they wanted "Black Narcissus ", anything with colour and romance, but the last thing they wanted was a love story shot in black-and-white and laid in wartime. It was a miscalculation on my part: I loved the book and since Korda had made, with Anthony Kimmins directing, a very successful psychological thriller of another Nigel Balchin book, "Mine Own Executioner", I thought that at last I could get Korda to back "The Small Back Room". But it was an error of judgment, after all, if the public didn't want to see it ... that's not the intention. People sometimes forget that, they talk to me as if I've planned a film to be a failure. They can't all be good, they can't all be successes, but you do expect to make a profit - otherwise you're out of business. But then people don't usually risk their necks every day like I was doing.

    That's correct, it never is appreciated that the bulk of these films were original stories written with the heart and the mind and the imagination. Hardly anybody has ever made the point but it's the main reason, I think, why, as the years go by, the films get better instead of worse.

    Now, let's go and have that drink.

Other P&P reviews