Emeric Pressburger

From Academic Kids

Missing image
Emeric Pressburger in Paris.

Emeric Pressburger (December 5 1902February 5 1988) was a Jewish Hungarian screenwriter and producer, who emigrated to England in the 1930s. He is best known for his series of collaborations with Michael Powell.

Born Imre Jzsef Pressburger in Miskolc, Austria-Hungary (now in Hungary), and educated at the Universities of Prague and Stuttgart, he started out as a journalist. After working in Hungary and Germany he turned to screenwriting in the late 1920s, working for UFA in Berlin. The rise of the Nazis forced him to flee to Paris, where he again worked as screenwriter, and then to London. He later said, "the worst things that happened to me were the political consequences of events beyond my control ... the best things were exactly the same."

In England he found a small community of Hungarian film-makers who had fled the Nazis, including the influential Alexander Korda, owner of London Films, who employed him as a screenwriter. There he met film director Michael Powell, and they worked together on The Spy in Black (1939). Their partnership would produce some of the finest British films of the period.

In 1938 he married Ag Donth, but they divorced in 1941. He married again in 1947 to Wendy Orme, and they had a daughter Angela, but again divorced in 1971. Angela's two sons both became successful film-makers: Andrew Macdonald as a producer on films such as Trainspotting (1996), and Kevin Macdonald as a Oscar-winning director. Kevin has written a biography of his grandfather, and a documentary about his life, The Making of an Englishman (1995).

Pressburger was made a Fellow of BAFTA in 1981, and a Fellow of the BFI in 1983.

In later years he lived near Stowmarket in Suffolk. He died of bronchial pneumonia.



For his films with Michael Powell, see Powell and Pressburger and Powell and Pressburger films

Early work

His early films were made mainly in Germany and France where he worked as Dramaturgie department at the Ufa Studio as well as a scriptwriter. Some of the films made in Germany have French titles and vice-versa. In the 1930s many European films were made in different versions for each of the main European languages

  • 1930: Die Groe Sehnsucht, Abschied
  • 1931: Ronny, Das Ekel, Dann schon lieber Lebertran, Emil und die Detektive, Der Kleine Seitensprung
  • 1932: Une jeune fille et un million, ...und es leuchtet die Puta, Sehnsucht 202, Petit cart, Lumpenkavaliere, Held wider Willen, Eine von uns, La Belle aventure, Wer zahlt heute noch?, Das Schne Abenteuer, A Vn gazember

In 1932/33, when the Nazis are elected to power, the head of Ufa decided to get rid of all Jews so Pressburger was told his contract wouldn't be renewed. He left his Berlin apartment, "leaving the key in the door so that the Storm Troopers wouldn't have to break the door down" and went to Paris.

  • 1933: Une femme au volant, Incognito
  • 1934: Mon coeur t'appelle, Milyon avcilari
  • 1935: Monsieur Sans-Gne, Abdul the Damned
  • 1936: Sous les yeux d'occident

Late in 1935 he decided that he would do better in England. (Remember that film scripts are written some time before the film is made and released so some films that he worked on were released in France some time after he left).

  • 1936: Port-Arthur, Parisian Life, One Rainy Afternoon
  • 1937: The Great Barrier
  • 1938: The Challenge
  • 1939: The Silent Battle

Middle period

In 1939, Pressburger was introduced to Michael Powell to work together on The Spy in Black. They had an instant rapport and went on to make 20 films together in less than 20 years, many of them world-class.

But even while he was working with Powell, Pressburger still did some projects on his own.

  • 1940: Spy for a Day
  • 1941: Atlantic Ferry
  • 1942: Rings on Her Fingers, Breach of Promise
  • 1943: Squadron Leader X
  • 1946: Wanted for Murder

Later work

As Powell and Pressburger began to go their separate ways after the war they remained great friends but wanted to explore different things having done about as much as they could together.

  • 1953: Twice Upon a Time - Pressburger's one attempt at directing
  • 1957: Men Against Britannia, Miracle in Soho
  • 1964: Behold a Pale Horse - Based on Pressburger's novel Killing a Mouse on Sunday
  • 1965: Operation Crossbow

He also wrote two novels, Killing a Mouse on Sunday which was made into the film Behold a Pale Horse (1964) and The Glass Pearls.

Personal Quotes

  • "I think that a film should have a good story, a clear story, and it should have if possible, something which is probably the most difficult thing - it should have a little bit of magic ... Magic being untouchable and very difficult to cast, you can't deal with it at all. You can only try to prepare some nests, hoping that a little bit of magic will slide into them." NYC 1980


  • Kevin Macdonald, The Life and Death of a Screenwriter, Faber & Faber, 1994.

External links

Template:Powell and Pressburgerja:エメリック・プレスバーガー


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