May 2-9,  2002

American Cinematheque Presents...

A Matter of Life And Death: The Films of Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger


Series Compiled by  Dennis Bartok.

Special Thanks to: John Kirk/MGM-UA; Michael Schlesinger and Grover Crisp/COLUMBIA PICTURES REPERTORY; Scott MacQueen and Howard Green/WALT DISNEY CO.; Dennis Doros/MILESTONE FILMS; Mike Thomas/RIALTO PICTURES; John Shephard/BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE; Mike Ewin/WINSTONE FILMS.

Tickets available 30 days in advance. Tickets are $8 general admission unless noted otherwise.



SCHEDULE (by series)

SCHEDULE (by date)







Sold out programs will be indicated here if sold out 24 hours in advance of screening date.


Michael Powell called their partnership "a marriage without sex," and Emeric Pressburger said "Ours is an ideal way of working together, and at the same time, working separately." It was an unlikely pairing of the lean, unmistakably British Powell and the stocky, worldly Hungarian Pressburger that resulted in some of the most intelligently written, beautifully conceived and photographed, and gloriously romantic films in cinema history, including BLACK NARCISSUS, I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING and A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

Born in 1905 in Bekesbourne, near Canterbury, England, Powell abandoned a career as a banker in the mid-1920’s to pursue filmmaking, first as assistant to expatriate American director Rex Ingram in France, and later as a stills photographer on Alfred Hitchcock’s CHAMPAGNE. Powell got his own chance to direct in the early 1930’s, churning out a series of "quota quickies" before breaking out with his first truly personal picture, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD.

Born in 1902 in Miskolc, Hungary, the young Pressburger moved to Berlin in 1925, where he worked as a film critic until director Robert Siodmak, impressed by some of his reviews, gave him a job as screenwriter at the U.F.A. Studios. After Hitler’s rise to power, Pressburger fled first to Paris, then London, where he continued working as a writer. (Sadly, Pressburger’s mother and most of his extended family died in the Nazi concentration camps.)

Brought together in 1939 by producer Alexander Korda to work on THE SPY IN BLACK, Powell and Pressburger immediately recognized each other as kindred spirits. Beginning in 1943 with THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, and continuing on a total of 13 feature films through ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT in 1957, they took the unique collaborative credit of "written, produced and directed by" both men – although by their own admission, Pressburger concentrated primarily on screenwriting (with Powell’s creative input), while Powell handled most of the actual on-set directing.

This short series is an opportunity to see some of Powell and Pressburger’s best known (and rarest) films as a team and individually – most in brand-new 35 mm. prints, courtesy of MGM/UA, Columbia Repertory, Milestone Films, Rialto Releasing and the Walt Disney Co.!!


Thursday, May 2 – 7:30 PM


Double-Feature!! Restored 35 mm. Print!!

THE EDGE OF THE WORLD, 1937, Milestone Films, 73 min. Dir. Michael Powell. A major rediscovery, recently restored by the British Film Institute and Milestone Films, THE EDGE OF THE WORLD was Michael Powell’s first truly personal picture, as well as one of his most wildly poetic. Set on the remote, rocky crag of Foula (called in the film "Hirta") in the Scottish Shetland Islands, EDGE OF THE WORLD follows three young friends (Niall MacGinnis, Eric Berry and Belle Chrystall) struggling against the inevitable end of their ages-old way of life. The weather on Foula was so fierce that young director Powell and crew had to be airlifted off after two weeks of storms – but not before he captured some of the most unforgettably lovely black-and-white images ever put to film. Plus, Powell’s rarely-seen 1941 short, "An Airman’s Letter To His Mother" (5 min.).

THE SPY IN BLACK, 1939, MGM/UA, 82 min. Director Powell and screenwriter Pressburger’s first collaboration is a strikingly dark espionage tale with debonair Conrad Veidt as a German agent sent to meet fellow spy Valerie Hobson in the Orkney Isles, setting in motion a plot to destroy the British fleet. Romantic sparks fly and some characters are not who they seem to be in this literate, superbly well-crafted entertainment.


Friday, May 3 – 7:00 PM


New 35 mm. Print!!

I KNOW WHERE I’M GOING, 1945, MGM/UA, 91 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Along with Jean Vigo’s L’ATALANTE, this is our choice for the most heartbreakingly romantic film ever made. The great Wendy Hiller stars as a girl determined to marry for money, not love – until she finds herself trapped by high seas in a small Scottish town with local laird Roger Livesy. As the days go by, Hiller becomes more and more desperate to leave – not realizing that her life’s destination has already, magically, irreversibly, changed.


Friday, May 3 – 9:00 PM


Double-Feature !!– New 35 mm. Prints!!

49th PARALLEL, 1941, MGM/UA, 123 min. Dir. Michael Powell. Sponsored by the British Ministry of Information as wartime propaganda, 49th PARALLEL emerges as a surprisingly intelligent adventure yarn with even-handed depictions of both German U-boat captain Eric Portman, stranded with his comrades in a Canadian settlement, and local villagers Leslie Howard and Laurence Olivier, who eventually overcome their ambivalence and character flaws to fight off the enemy. Pressburger won an Academy Award for Best Story for his screenplay. (Released in a shortened version in the U.S. as THE INVADERS, this is the full British release version of the film.)

THE LION HAS WINGS, 1939, MGM/UA, 76 min. Powell’s first film for producer Alexander Korda, co-directed with Adrian Brunel and Brian Desmond Hurst, the rarely-seen LION HAS WINGS was hurriedly produced to bolster British morale at the onset of World War II. Combining newsreel footage of RAF bombers and fighters with dramatic scenes involving wing commander Ralph Richardson and loving wife Merle Oberon, the half-documentary/half-fiction LION was (and still is) a fascinating piece of propaganda. "An enormous lot of us were working on THE THIEF OF BAGDAD on Fridays and THE LION HAS WINGS on Saturdays!" – Michael Powell.



Saturday, May 4 – 5:00 PM


THE RED SHOES, 1948, MGM/UA, 133 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A delirious, shimmering Technicolor dream of a movie, THE RED SHOES stars Scottish dancer-turned-actress Moira Shearer (in her film debut) as an aspiring ballerina caught between the maniacal, domineering passion of impresario Anton Walbrook and the equally-controlling love of composer Marius Goring. An awesome, superbly fluid blending of music, dance and cinematography (courtesy of the great Jack Cardiff.)



Saturday, May 4 – 7:45 PM


Double Feature:

New 35 mm. Print!! A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH (aka STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN), 1946, Columbia Repertory, 104 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A breathtaking meditation on the mercies of love and the cruelties of fate, A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH stars David Niven as a WWII pilot pleading his case in Heaven, claiming that he was not meant to die and should be allowed to return to lovely Kim Hunter on earth. Roger Livesey co-stars as the doctor who becomes Niven’s solicitor on the astral plane, with the delightful Marius Goring as a dandified angel. This print is a brand new RE-restoration of the film, just completed by Columbia Pictures!

BLACK NARCISSUS, 1947, MGM/UA, 99 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. Powell and Pressburger’s exquisite (and surprisingly erotic) drama of spiritual devotion and earthly temptation stars the luminous Deborah Kerr as a nun nearly overwhelmed by the physical beauty of her new Himalayan home, and the worldly charms of rugged David Farrar. Widely hailed as one of the most visually stunning films ever made (courtesy of d.p. Jack Cardiff’s Oscar-winning cinematography). Co-starring Sabu, Jean Simmons, Flora Robson. "Color, sex, exotic locations – it was a big hit in austerity-stricken England!" – Michael Powell. This film sold out during our Technicolor series so get your tickets in advance!



Sunday, May 5 – 5:00 PM


Double Feature -- New 35 mm. Prints!!

A CANTERBURY TALE, 1944, MGM/UA, 124 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A beautifully told, and surprisingly intricate interweaving of the stories of four contemporary "pilgrims" – an American and a British soldier, a British "Land Girl," and a local magistrate/historian – in the village of Canterbury during World War II. A CANTERBURY TALE is filled with Powell and Pressburger’s marvelous, worldly humor – along with one of their most bizarre and disturbing characters in the form of the mysterious "Glue Man," pouring paste into the hair of young girls as they sleep! (Interestingly, Powell himself was born not far from Canterbury, and educated at King’s School there.) Starring Thomas Colpeper, Alison Smith and Bob Johnson. (Released in the U.S. in a shortened 95 minute version, this is the original 124 min. U.K. version.)

THE BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE (aka PURSUIT OF THE GRAF SPEE), 1956, MGM/UA, 119 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. A stirring recreation of the defeat of behemoth battleship the Graf Spee by three lightweight, outgunned British cruisers, featuring admirable performances by John Gregson, Anthony Quayle, Ian Hunter, Jack Gwillim and Patrick Macnee as the British officers, and a surprisingly warm, sympathetic portrayal by Peter Finch as the German captain. Excellent atmosphere and an effective, at times semi-documentary approach make this a remarkably suspenseful recreation.



Wednesday, May 8 – 7:30 PM



Restored 35 mm. Print!! PEEPING TOM, 1960, Rialto Pictures, 101 min. Dir. Michael Powell. Almost universally reviled by critics on its initial run, but now looked on as a masterpiece of psychological horror, PEEPING TOM all but killed Powell’s career when it was released. In an unforgettably creepy and affecting performance, Carl Boehm stars as a shy, gentle photographer, who is really a tormented serial killer filming his female victims at their moment of death. Boehm’s crush on boarding house tenant Helen (Anna Massey) brings on a crisis that can result only in redemption or destruction. Insightful and subversive, PEEPING TOM poses difficult questions about the universal desire for voyeuristic thrills and the very nature of watching film.

New 35 mm. Print!! ILL MET BY MOONLIGHT, 1957, MGM/UA, 104 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. For their final feature film together, Powell and Pressburger returned to the wartime thriller setting of THE 49TH PARALLEL for this true-to-life story of a British major (Dirk Bogarde) who led a band of Greek partisans in kidnapping a prominent German general (Marius Goring) – and then were faced with the nearly-impossible task of smuggling him alive out of Crete to British-occupied Cairo. (Released in the U.S. in a shortened 93 minute version as NIGHT AMBUSH, this is the full 104 minute U.K. version.)



Thursday, May 9 – 7:00 PM



THE LIFE AND DEATH OF COLONEL BLIMP, 1943, Winstone Films, 163 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. No less than Winston Churchill tried to stop the production of COLONEL BLIMP because he didn’t approve of its depiction of the British military, in the form of old-school, gentlemanly officer Clive Candy (brilliantly played by the great Roger Livesey). Luckily, Churchill failed, and the finished film -- the first released under Powell and Pressburger’s soon-to-be-famous "The Archers" banner – ranks as one of British cinema’s crowning glories. Hopscotching between the end of the Boer War and World Wars I and II, the story charts Candy’s heartbreaking pursuit of his ideal woman, embodied in three different forms by the gorgeous Deborah Kerr, while he spars with German officer Anton Walbrook.

New 35 mm. Print!! GONE TO EARTH, 1950, David O. Selznick Prod. (Walt Disney Co.), 110 min. Written, produced and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. One of Powell and Pressburger’s most gloriously mystical films, GONE TO EARTH stars the enchanting Jennifer Jones as an orphaned country girl, who lives surrounded by magic, superstition and wild forest animals. David Farrar (BLACK NARCISSUS) co-stars as the aristocratic squire who finds himself bewitched by Jones’ charms. Released in a tragically-shorted version in the U.S. as THE WILD HEART, this is a brand-new print of the full-length British version!