January 2, 2017


Zoltan Korda (1895-1961) b. Turkeve, Hungary.

Zoltan Korda

Hungarian-born director with a talent for wide-ranging adventure stories, bringing across the atmosphere of the country in which they were set, and a feeling for the oppressed indigenous peoples of the world that added a bite and poignancy to much of his work. Working with his brothers Alexander Korda (the studio chief) and Vincent, a production designer and art designer, for London Films in the Britain of the 1930s, Zoltan made two outstanding ‘British Empire’ films – The Drum (1938) and The Four Feathers (1939). By and large, he followed his brother Alex’s footsteps, working with him in Hungary and later in Britain and Hollywood. Although plagued by tuberculosis in the middle part of his life, Zoltan kept working, mostly as a writer, until Alexander called him to Britain in 1932, following the founding of London Films. At first Zoltan worked on routine projects, but was delighted when asked to make Sanders of the River (1935), although the film, from inception to completion, took two years to bring to the screen, a situation that was repeated with much irony when Zoltan, of all people, was called in ‘rescue’ Robert Flaherty when he was thought to be taking too long to make Elephant Boy (1937). Sanders was a great commercial success, principally on account of the music and the appeal of Paul Robeson, although from then on Zoltan and Alexander had many fierce battles over the extent to which native populaces should be portrayed as people: Alexander’s coarser view (and seniority) usually won. Zoltan liked India and Africa as much as he liked tales of high adventure, and he returned to the locales time and again, although his masterwork, The Four Feathers (1939), was made as early as 1939. This is a magnificent film, its TechniColour photography beyond anything Hollywood had achieved up to that time, its parched landscapes brilliantly captured. And Zoltan obtains an awesomely good performance from Ralph Richardson as Durrance, especially when blinded and lost in the heat of the desert. He went to Hollywood with his brother in the early 1940s, and stayed there when Alexander returned to Britain. Although he never made anything approaching The Four Feathers (1939), there are some interesting films, especially Sahara (1943), another desert-set war story, this time with Humphrey Bogart, and A Woman’s Vengeance (1948), a not inconsiderable version of Aldous Huxley’s story The Gioconda Smile.

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