The current revival series at the Key in Geogetown dusts off some of the more famous and entertainig movies made under the auspices of Sir Alexander Korda during his prolific, colorful and controversial career in England: "The Four Feathers," "The Third Man," "The Private Life of Henry VIII," "The Scarlet Pimpernel," "Richard III," "The Thief of Baghdad," "The Jungle Book," "Things to Come," "The Man Who Could Work Miracles."
In addition to the 14 selections produced by Korda, the series includes two important features he nourished behind the scenes, "Odd Man Out" and "The Red Shoes." Even non-Korda productions like "As You Like It" and "Pygmalion" have a defensible place in the series apart from their entertainment value.
"As You Like It," paired with "Richard III" for an Oliver Plays Shakespeare double-bill, was directed in 1936 by Paul Czinner with his illustrious wife, Elisabeth Bergner, and the young Laurence Olivier in the leads. Following the success of his "Henry VIII" in 1933, Korda, himself a Hungarian immigrant surrounded by European associates, had imported Czinner and Bergner from Austria to do "Catherine the Great" for his newly prestigious company, London Films.
"Pygmalion," paired with "The Scarlet Pimpernel" for a superlative Leslie Howard double-bill, was produced by another Hungarian who rose to prominence in British films, Gabriel Pascal, the impresario who finally talked George Bernard Shaw into letting his plays be adapted to the screen. Korda had been influential in fostering the movie career of Howard, whose parents were Hungarian immigrants who arrived in England shortly before their son was born. The Korda entourage considered it a delightful historical joke that the Scarlet Pimpernel, apparently a definitive English hero, had been invented by a Hungarian author and transposed indelibly to the screen by Hungarians.
Korda sponsored so much emigre talent, beginning with his younger brothers, the director Zoltan Korda and art director Vincent Korda, that a joke evolved about the five Union Jacks flying over the huge studio complex he built at Denham in 1934; the flags were alleged to stand for the number of English employes at London Films. Although a wild exaggeration, this jest illuminated an undercurrent of resentment about Korda's operation that persists.
Korda ran the MGM operation England during the war and reemerged as a leading British producer after the war when he joined British Lion. Although he is remembered primarily as a producer and executive with nearly 100 films to his creidt, Korda directed 20 features in his native Hungary between 1916 and 1919 and another score in Vienna, Berlin, Hollywood and Paris before arriving in London in 1931. He directed the two famous Laughton vehicles, "Henry VIII" and "Rembrandt," which are paired at the Key. Though enjoyable as period pieces and acting treasure troves, they suggest that Korda's own approach to directing was rather stilted.
Unfortunately, the series omits one of the last films directed by Korda himself, the charming wartime marital comedy-drama "Perfect Strangers." Made in 1944 and released in the United States a year later under the title "Vacation from Marriage," it costarred Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr as a whimpery, unhappy white-collar couple transformed by war service into more ambitious and self-reliant people, each dreading the thought of reuniting with the spouse who used to be.
Zoltan Korda was one of the most capable commercial directors of the '30s and '40s.His 1939 version of "The Four Feathers," shot in three-strip Technicolor with superb locations and battle sequences in the Sudan, is enormously satisfying, an impeccable movie adaption of perhaps the greatest masochistic adventure yarn of them all. Playing this weekend with "Drums," the Korda "Four Feathers" is also inccidentally famous for C. Aubrey Smith's characterization of the heroine's father, a bluff old windbag named Gen. Burroughs who keeps complaining about how soft the army has become and recalling the Good Old Days in the Crimea.
This is the film in which Smith did his immortal tabletop recreation of the battle of Balaclava, a pompous account that is finally deflated by the hero, John Clements, a moment before the fadeout. R. C. Sheriff was presumably responsible for Gen. Burroughs' dialogue, which begins with him grabbing a handful of walnuts and saying, "These nuts were the Russians . . ." Dipping a finger in this wine glass, the general smears it across from the nuts and intones, "On the right, the British infantry . . . the Thin Red Line." The capper comes when he selects a pineapple to symbolize himself: "And here was I . . . at the head of the old 68th." CAPTION: Picture, Gertrude Lawrence and Charles Laughton in 'Rembrandt.'