(Sir) Alexander Korda - Writer

Producer and Director. Nationality: British. Born: Sándor László Kellner in Túrkeve, Hungary, 16 September 1893; became British Citizen 1936. Brother of the production designer Vincent Korda and the director Zoltan Korda. Education: Attended Jewish School in Túrkeve. Family: Married 1) the actress María Farkas (divorced 1930); 2) the actress Merle Oberon, 1939 (divorced 1945); 3) Alexandra Boycun, 1953. Career: Newspaper reporter in Budapest; secretary and assistant at Ungerleider Projectograph Distribution Company; 1914—exempted from military service on health grounds, directed educational films and others; 1917—bought Corvin Production Company and built studio in Budapest; 1919—escaped to Vienna after overthrow of the Béla Kun regime in Hungary, and began collaboration with Lajos Biro; formed Korda Productions with Maria Corda; 1927—signed contract with First National in Hollywood; 1930—contract with Fox cancelled after one film, went to Paris with Biro; 1931—signed contract with Paramount-British in London; 1932—formed London Film Productions, making "quota quickies"; The Private Life of Henry VIII brought international fame and long-term contract with United Artists; 1935—became partner in United Artists; 1939—established Alexander Korda Productions; 1940—went to U.S., formed production companies Romaine Film Productions and Gloria Pictures; 1944—left United Artists; 1946—took control of British Lion Distribution; took over Regina Productions in France with Marcel Carné, René Clair and Julien Duvivier; formed Tricolore Films to distribute films in the US; took over Shepperton Studios;

Alexander Korda
Alexander Korda
1949—withdrew from British Lion and announced the removal of his name from the credits on his productions; 1955—formed London Films Television Company, which was liquidated upon his deth and before any programmes were made; 1943—knighted. Died: In 1956.

Films as Producer:


A csikós ( The Horseherder ) (Pásztory); A peleskei notárius ( The Notary ) (Pásztory); Piros bugyelláris ( The Crimson Notebook ); A riporterkirály ( The King of Reporters ) (Pásztory); A ketlekü asszony ( The Woman in Two Minds )


Károly Bakák (Z. Korda and Pásztory); A testör ( The Guardsman ) (Antalffy); A kis lord ( The Little Lord ) (Antalffy)


Men of Tomorrow (Sagan and Z. Korda); That Night in London ( Overnight ) (Lee); Strange Evidence (Milton)


Counsel's Opinion (Dwan); Cash ( For Love or Money ) (Z. Korda)


Catherine the Great ( The Rise of Catherine the Great ) (Czinner); The Private Life of the Gannets (Huxley)


Sanders of the River ( Bosambo ) (Z. Korda); Wharves and Strays (Browne); Moscow Nights ( I Stand Condemned ) (Asquith); The Ghost Goes West (Clair); Things to Come (Menzies)


Fire over England (Howard); The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Mendes); Men Are Not Gods (Reisch); Miss Bracegirdle Does Her Duty (Garmes); Forget-Me-Not ( Forever Yours ) (Z. Korda); Fox Hunt (Gross and Hoppin)


Dark Journey (Saville); Elephant Boy (Flaherty and Z. Korda); Farewell Again ( Troopship ) (Whelan); Action for Slander (Whelan); Knight without Armour (Feyder); The Squeaker ( Murder on Diamond Row ) (Howard); The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (Schwartz); Paradise for Two ( The Gaiety Girls ) (Freeland); Over the Moon (Freeland); 21 Days ( 21 Days Together ; The First and the Last ) (Dean)


Prison without Bars (Hurst); The Challenge (Rosmer); The Drum ( Drums ) (Z. Korda); South Riding (Saville); The Divorce of Lady X (Whelan)


Q Planes ( Clouds over Europe ) (Whelan); The Rebel Son (Granovsky and Brunel); The Spy in Black ( U-Boat 29 ) (Powell); The Four Feathers (Z. Korda); The Lion Has Wings (Powell, Hurst and Brunel)


The Conquest of the Air (Z. Korda, Esway, Taylor, Shaw,Saunders and Menzies); The Thief of Bagdad (Berger, Powell and Whelan); Old Bill and Son (Dalrymple)


Lydia (Duvivier); New Wine (Schunzel)


To Be or Not To Be (Lubitsch); Jungle Book (Z. Korda)


The Biter Bit


The Shop at Sly Corner ( The Code of Scotland Yard ) (King)


A Man about the House (Arliss); Mine Own Executioner (Kimmins); Night Beat (Huth); Anna Karenina (Duvivier); Les Dessous des cartes (Cayatte)


The Fallen Idol (Reed); The Winslow Boy (Asquith); Bonnie Prince Charlie (Kimmins); The Small Back Room (Powell and Pressburger); The Last Days of Dolwyn ( Woman of Dolwyn ) (Williams)


Saints and Sinners (Arliss); That Dangerous Age ( If This Be Sin ) (Ratoff); Interrupted Journey (Birt); The Third Man (Reed); The Cure for Love (Donat); The Angel with the Trumpet (Bushell)


State Secret ( The Great Man Hunt ) (Gilliat); The Happiest Days of Your Life (Launder); My Daughter Joy ( Operation X ) (Ratoff); The Wooden Horse (Lee); Seven Days to Noon (Boulting); Gone to Earth (Powell and Pressburger); The Bridge of Time (Eday and Boothby); The Wonder Kid (Hartel)


Flesh and Blood (Kimmins); The Tales of Hoffman (Powell and Pressburger); Lady Godiva Rides Again (Launder); Mr. Denning Drives North (Kimmins); Outcast of the Islands (Reed); Cry, the Beloved Country ( African Fury ) (Z. Korda)


Home at Seven ( Murder on Monday ) (Richardson); Who Goes There! ( The Passionate Century ) (Kimmins); Edinburgh (Eady); The Road to Canterbury (Eady); The Sound Barrier ( Breaking the Sound Barrier ) (Lean); The Holly and the Ivy (O'Ferrall); The Lost Hours ( The Big Frame ) (Macdonald); Folly to Be Wise (Launder); The Ringer (Hamilton)


Twice upon a Time (Pressburger); The Man Between (Reed); The Heart of the Matter (O'Ferrall); Hobson's Choice (Lean); Three Cases of Murder (Toye, Eady, and O'Ferrall); The Captain's Paradise (Kimmins); The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan ( Gilbert and Sullivan ; The Great Gilbert and Sullivan ) (Gilliat)


Devil Girl from Mars (Macdonald); The Green Scarf (O'Ferrall); A Kid for Two Farthings (Reed); The Constant Husband (Gilliat); The Man Who Loved Redheads (French); Aunt Clara (Kimmins); The Teckman Mystery (Toye); The Belles of St. Trinian's (Launder)


Raising a Riot (Toye); Summer Madness ( Summertime ) (Lean); The Deep Blue Sea (Litvak); Storm over the Nile (Z. Korda and Young); Richard III (Olivier); The Man Who Never Was (Neame); I Am a Camera (Cornelius)


Smiley (Kimmins)

Films as Director:


A becsapott újságíró ( The Duped Journalist )


Tutyu és Totyo ( Tutyu and Totyo ); Lyon Lea ( Lea Lyon ) (with Pásztory); A tiszti kardbojt ( The Officer's Swordknot ) (+ sc)


Mágnás Miska ( Miska the Magnate ); A nevtö Szaszkia ( The Laughing Saskia ); Vergödö szívek ( Struggling Hearts ); Ciklámen ( Cyclamen ); Fehér éjszakák ( White Nights ; Fedora ) (+ sc); A nagymama ( The Grandmother ) (+ sc); Mesék az írógépröl ( Tales of the Typewriter ) (+ sc); A ketszívü férfi ( The Man with Two Hearts ); Az egymillió fontos bankó ( The Million Pound Note )


A gólyakalifa ( The Stork Caliph ); Mágia ( Magic ); Harrison es Barrison ( Harrison and Barrison ); Faun


Az aranyember ( The Man with the Golden Touch ); Mary Ann


Ave Caesar! ; Fehér Rosza ( White Rose ); Yamata ; Se ki, se be ( Neither in Nor Out ); A 111-es ( No. 111 )


Seine Majestat das Bettelkind ( Prinz und Bettelknabe )


Herren der Meere ; Eine versunkene Welt ( Die Tragödie eines verschollenen Fürstensohnes ); Samson und Delila ( Der Roman einer Opernsängerin ) (+ co-sc)


Das Unbekannte Morgen (+ co-sc)


Jedermanns Frau ( Jedermanns Weib ); Tragodie im Haus Habsburg ( Das Drama von Mayerling ; Der Prinz der Legende )


Der Tänzer Meiner Frau


Eine Dubarry Von Heute


The Stolen Bride ; The Private Life of Helen of Troy


The Yellow Lily ; The Night Watch


Love and the Devil ; Her Private Life ; The Squall


Lilies of the Field ; The Princess and the Plumber ; Women Everywhere


Rive Gauche ; Marius ( Zum Goldenen Anker )


Service for Ladies ( Reserved for Ladies )


Wedding Rehearsal ; The Private Life of Henry VIII ; The Girl from Maxim's


The Private Life of Don Juan




That Hamilton Woman ( Lady Hamilton )


Perfect Strangers ( Vacation from Marriage )


An Ideal Husband


By KORDA: articles—

Photoplay (New York), vol. 32, no. 6, November 1927.

Picturegoer , vol. 3, no. 154, May 1934.

Film Weekly , vol. 19, no. 456, 10 July 1937.

On KORDA: books—

Tabori, Paul, Alexander Korda , London, 1959.

Kulik, Karol, Alexander Korda—the Man Who Could Work Miracles , London, 1975.

Korda, Michael, Charmed Lives (autobiography), 1979.

Stockham, Martin, The Korda Collection: Alexander Korda's Film Classics , Secaucus, New Jersey, 1993.

Frayling, Christopher, Things to Come , London, 1995.

On KORDA: articles—

Picturegoer , vol. 5, no. 243, 18 January 1936.

Sight and Sound Supplement: Films of 1951 (London), 1951.

Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1956.

Quarterly Journal of Film, Radio and Television , vol. 11, no. 3, Spring 1957.

Screen (London), vol. 13, no. 2, Summer 1972 + filmo.

National Film Theatre booklet (London), February-March 1976.

Australian Journal of Screen Theory , no. 5–6, January-July 1979.

Films and Filming (London), no. 346, July 1983.

Film Dope (London), no. 31, January 1985 + filmo.

Historical Journal Of Film, Radio and Television (Abingdon), vol. 6, no. 2, October 1986.

Sight and Sound (London), vol. 55, no. 2, Spring 1986.

Watson, G., in Variety , 28 September 1992.

De Toth, A., in Positif , September 1993.

Schiff, Morty, " Marius ," in Cineaste (New York), Winter 1993.

Ringer, Paula, "Alexander Korda: Producer, Director Propogandist," in Classic Images (Muscatine), May 1995.

Fischer, Dennis, "A World of Childhood Delights: The Thief of Baghdad ," in Filmfax (Evanston), April-May 1997.

Wilinsky, Barbara, "First and Finest: British Films on U.S. Television in the Late 1940s," in Velvet Light Trap (Austin), Fall 1997.

Wollen, Peter, "The Vienna Project: The Third Man to be Rereleased," in Sight and Sound (London), July 1999.

* * *

After the last and greatest of the financial crises that punctuated his career, Alexander Korda was obliged to relinquish the chairmanship of his production company, British Lion. Rather tactlessly, the government receiver asked him to recommend a suitable successor. Korda considered, but failed to come up with any suggestions. "You see," he explained urbanely, "I don't grow on trees."

Irreplaceable Korda certainly was. When, in 1933, with the audacious and unexpected success of The Private Life of Henry VIII , he erupted on to the international scene, the staid British movie industry had never experienced anyone like him: a mogul on the grand scale, flamboyant, lavish, autocratic, and infinitely ambitious. Since his death in 1956, no other British producer has come within a mile of replacing him.

Cosmopolitan and cultured, Korda never took to the parochial world of Hollywood ("it was like Siberia"), but he readily absorbed the blockbuster mentality. "I can't afford to make cheap pictures," he observed once. Though in fact quite capable of making small-scale, intimate films ( Rembrandt , Perfect Strangers ), he instinctively gravitated towards grand themes, epic tales of history and heroism which were given the full spectacular treatment. At all times, even when money was short, he believed in thinking big. The finest and most expensive personnel were hired. Prestigious names such as Churchill and H.G. Wells were drafted in to write scripts. Denham, founded on the strength of Henry VIII , was the first British film studio built on a Hollywood scale.

Although Korda was also a director, his achievements in this field were rarely more than competent, and he often admitted to finding directing work dull. His real talent was as an impresario, inspiring others with his own glittering, slightly cockeyed vision. Teamwork was never his style ("you can work for Korda, but not with him," a colleague noted), but he knew how to flatter. Actors, writers, and directors—including the prickly von Sternberg—were disarmed by his professional understanding of their problems. To Britain, his adopted country, he offered a shrewdly inflated version of the national myth, Kiplingesque sagas subtly leavened with sophisticated Hungarian irreverence. His pre-war "Empire trilogy" ( Sanders of the River , The Drum , The Four Feathers ) make embarrassing viewing today, but in the 1930s provided reassurance to an insecure nation—as did Fire over England , with its ringing patriotic defiance of potential invaders.

During the war Korda continued in heroic vein with Lady Hamilton —"propaganda with a very thick coating of sugar," in his own estimation, but Churchill's favourite film. As post-war tastes changed, his penchant for high period style betrayed him: both Bonnie Prince Charlie and Anna Karenina fell woefully flat. The greatest success of his later years was The Third Man —romanticism still, but of the dark, downbeat variety. Not that failure ever narrowed the scope of his ambition. Among his final projects were a remake of The Four Feathers ( Storm over the Nile ) and Laurence Olivier's Richard III .

Korda's greatest asset as a producer was his legendary charm. He was, recalled the actor Jack Hawkins, "a man to whom it was impossible to say no," and hard-headed businessmen melted into compliance in his presence. The Prudential Assurance Company, belying its name, was beguiled into financing Denham, and watched helplessly as £2m (of pre-1939 money) vanished beyond recall. "His engaging personality and charm of manner must be resisted. His financial sense is non-existent and his promises (even when they are sincere) worthless," reported a Prudential executive—but by then it was far too late. Yet even after this debacle, when Korda's profligacy was public knowledge, he could coolly appropriate £1m from MGM to re-establish himself in London after the Second World War. Later still the British Government was persuaded to pour a further £2m into the ravenous jaws of British Lion.

It would be wrong to dismiss Korda as little more than a glorified con man. True, he could be accused of making rootless, international films lacking in any indigenous style, and of inducing delusions of grandeur among other British producers (most notably J. Arthur Rank). He was largely, if not entirely, responsible for making cinema such a suspect investment that the British movie industry has remained chronically underfunded to this day. On all these counts, the downfall of a company like Goldcrest can be traced directly back to Korda's disastrous precedent.

But against that, he brought to British cinema qualities it badly needed: vitality, imagination, sophistication, and style. At their best, there is an ebullience of conception about Korda's films for which he himself (always a great initiator of projects) deserves full credit. The generosity of his nature and the excitement engendered by his presence, inspired everyone who came into contact with him. Ralph Richardson spoke of the "gleam of light from the steel of his personality that gave one courage." A prestigious array of actors—Richardson, Charles Laughton, Olivier, Leslie Howard, Vivien Leigh, Merle Oberon—owed their screen careers to his encouragement, and it was his flair for teaming that introduced Graham Greene to Carol Reed, and Michael Powell to Emeric Pressburger. Without Korda, the British film industry might well have been a more soundly-based structure, but it would have been a duller one, too.

—Philip Kemp

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