Vincent Korda - Writer

Art Director. Nationality: British. Born: Vincze Kellner in Pusztaturpaszto, Hungary, 1897; brother of the directors Alexander and Zoltan Korda; emigrated to Britain, 1932; naturalized 1938. Education: Attended schools in Túrkeve, Kecskemet, and Budapest until 1909; studied at the College of Industrial Art, Budapest, 1910–12; also apprentice in an architect's office, Budapest, 1910–12; studied painting and drawing under Belya Avanyi Grunwald, Kecskemet art colony, 1912–15; also studied painting in Vienna, Florence, and Paris, 1919–25. Family: Married the actress Gertrude Musgrove, 1933 (divorced 1942); son: the writer Michael Korda. Career: 1916–18—served in Hungarian army; then painter in Hungary and Paris; 1932–45—art director, London Films, and later for British Lion Films, 1946–54. Awards: Academy Award for The Thief of Bagdad , 1940. Died: In London, 5 January 1979.

Vincent Korda
Vincent Korda

Films as Art Director/Production Designer:


Marius (A. Korda)


Men of Tomorrow (Sagan and Z. Korda); Fanny (Allégret)


Wedding Rehearsal (A. Korda) (co); The Private Life of Henry VIII (A. Korda); The Girl from Maxim's (A. Korda)


Catherine the Great ( The Rise of Catherine the Great ) (Czinner); The Private Life of Don Juan (A. Korda)


The Scarlet Pimpernel (Young); The Ghost Goes West (Clair); Sanders of the River ( Bosambo ) (Z. Korda); Moscow Nights ( I Stand Condemned ) (Asquith); Things to Come (Menzies)


The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Mendes); Rembrandt (A. Korda); Men Are Not Gods (Reisch); Cesar (Pagnol)


Elephant Boy (Flaherty and Z. Korda); I, Claudius (von Sternberg—unfinished); The Squeaker ( Murder on Diamond Row ) (Howard); Over the Moon (Freeland); 21 Days ( The First and the Last; 21 Days Together ) (Dean)


The Drum ( Drums ) (Z. Korda)


The Lion Has Wings (Powell, Hurst, and Brunel)


The Conquest of the Air (Z. Korda and others) (co); The Thief of Bagdad (Berger, Powell, and Whelan); Old Bill and Son (Dalrymple)


Major Barbara (Pascal) (co); Lydia (Duvivier); That Hamilton Woman ( Lady Hamilton ) (A. Korda)


To Be or Not To Be (Lubtisch); Jungle Book ( Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book ) (Z. Korda)


Perfect Strangers ( Vacation from Marriage ) (A. Korda)


An Ideal Husband (A. Korda)


The Fallen Idol (Reed); Bonnie Prince Charlie (Kimmins) (co)


The Third Man (Reed)


Miracolo a Milano ( Miracle in Milan ) (De Sica) (uncredited)


Outcast of the Islands (Reed)


Home at Seven ( Murder on Monday ) (Richardson); The Sound Barrier ( Breaking the Sound Barrier ) (Lean); The Holly and the Ivy (O'Ferrall) (co)


Malaga ( Fire over Africa ) (Sale) (co)


Summer Madness ( Summertime ) (Lean); The Deep Blue Sea (Litvak)


Scent of Mystery ( Holiday in Spain ) (Cardiff)


The Longest Day (Annakin, Marton, and Wicki) (co)


The Yellow Rolls-Royce (Asquith) (co)


Nicholas and Alexandra (Schaffner) (uncredited)

Films as Supervisor:


Action for Slander (Whelan); Paradise for Two ( The Gaiety Girls ) (Freeland)


The Challenge (Rosmer); Prison without Bars (Hurst)


Q Planes ( Clouds over Europe ) (Whelan); The Spy in Black ( U-Boat 29 ) (Powell)


By KORDA: article—

"The Artist and the Film," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1934.

On KORDA: books—

Kulik, Karol, Alexander Korda , London, 1975.

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

On KORDA: articles—

Picturegoer (London), 17 August 1935.

Myerscough-Walker, R., in Stage and Film Decor , London, 1940.

Carrick, Edward, in Art and Design in the British Film , London, 1948.

Film Dope (Nottingham), January 1985.

* * *

Vincent Korda, who took charge of the art department at Denham Film studios in the 1930s, brought to art direction there a quality far higher than that of the average designer in either theatre or film. His period as a painter in France made an imprint on both his personal set designs and those produced under his charge in the studio, while his strongly persuasive character and impatience dominated the work of those around him, from his fellow designers to carpenters and decorators who carried out the finished sets.

The ideal situation in set design is a cooperative, integrated effort between the film director, the cameraman, and the designer. In many instances, the role of the latter has been considered unimportant, but Korda never allowed this to happen. If anything, his art direction, with his strong personality, dominated the production. On the other hand, he insisted on emphasizing the director's ideas and the cameraman's artistic and technical potential. Consequently, the end result was almost always satisfactory, well above average. Even when the film itself failed to gain acceptance, the set design received acclaim.

Such was the case with the film Things to Come , one of the first science-fiction subjects brought to the screen by Denham Studios in 1935. The sets stunned with their functional, Bauhaus interiors and immensely distorted perspectives of exteriors. Korda pioneered the use of models for trick effects for this production, accentuating distances, and avoiding the flat, direct appearance of ordinary, dull reality.

Possibly his most memorable designs were the sets for the film Rembrandt , made in 1936. As a former painter, he found a remarkable sympathy with Rembrandt and succeeded in recreating the background and atmosphere of the subject. His knowledge of architecture, combined with his pictorial sense and attention to minute detail, as well as—for a change—the money lavished on this production, resulted in one of the most satisfying achievements in the history of set design.

Korda's approach differed from Hollywood's. Instead of lavishing money on sets which did not reflect their cost on the screen, he spent little but made the sets look expensive. He strove frequently to save money and, with it, valuable time. He made his team work throughout the night on the production of The Private Life of Henry VIII , re-using many props to turn a bedroom into a banquet hall ready for the cameras the following morning. The next night, he turned the same set back into a reception room. He even saved (as his son maintains) the reusable nails and pasteboard structures to be used in another production. The success of this film included comments to the effect that no other film resembled such classic "Englishness" as Henry VIII .

He succeeded in applying his sense of period style in other films such as the unfinished I, Claudius , That Hamilton Woman , and The Thief of Bagdad , although the latter also demanded huge sets which proved to be almost beyond the technical resources of the British film industry at that time. In spite of his personal dislike of the style of the production, it won him an Oscar for art direction. Another production of great distinction was The Drum , which once again gave proof of his unique sense of pictorial style, his talent for establishing the right atmosphere, and his technical perfection. Korda is one of the most imaginative art directors the film medium has had.

—John Halas

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