Emeric Pressburger: Wikis


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Emeric Pressburger

Pressburger in Paris
Born Imre József Emmerich Pressburger
5 December 1902
Miskolc, Hungary
Died 5 February 1988 (age 85)
Saxstead, Suffolk, England
Spouse(s) Agí Donáth (1938-1941)
Wendy Orme (1947-1971)

Emeric Pressburger (5 December 1902–5 February 1988) was an Oscar-winning Hungarian/British screenwriter, film director, and producer. He is known for his series of collaborations with Michael Powell.



Emeric Pressburger (Imre József Emmerich Pressburger) was born in Miskolc, Hungary of Jewish heritage.[1] He was the only son (he had one elder half-sister from his father's previous marriage) of Kálmán Pressburger, estate manager, and his second wife, Kätherina Wichs. He attended a boarding-school in Temesvár, where he was a good student, excelling at mathematics, literature and music. He then studied mathematics and engineering at the Universities of Prague and Stuttgart before his father's death forced him to abandon his studies.

He began a career as a journalist. After working in Hungary and Germany he turned to screenwriting in the late 1920s, working for UFA in Berlin (having moved there in 1926). 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."

He entered Britain in 1935 on a stateless passport; once he decided to settle, he changed his name to Emeric in 1938. 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.

On 24 June 1938 he married Agí Donáth, daughter of Antal Donáth, a general merchant, but they divorced in 1941. He married again, on 29 March 1947, to Wendy Orme, and they had a daughter, Angela, and another child who died as a baby in 1948; but this marriage also ended in divorce in Reno, Nevada in 1953 and in Britain in 1971. His daughter Angela's two sons both became successful film-makers: Andrew Macdonald as a producer on films such as Trainspotting (1996), and Kevin Macdonald as an Oscar-winning director. Kevin has written a biography of his grandfather, and a documentary about his life, The Making of an Englishman (1995).

Pressburger became a British citizen in 1946. He was made a Fellow of BAFTA in 1981, and a Fellow of the BFI in 1983.

Pressburger was a diffident and private person who, at times, particularly later on in his life, could be hypersensitive and prone to bouts of melancholia. He loved French cuisine, enjoyed music, and possessed a great sense of humour. In appearance he was short, wore glasses, and had a sagacious, bird-like facial expression. He was a keen supporter of Arsenal F.C., a passion he developed soon after arriving in Britain. In his later years he lived in Saxstead, Suffolk, England, where he died in a nursing home on 5 February 1988 of the complications of old age including pneumonia.[2] His grave is at Our Lady of Grace Church cemetery in Aspall, Suffolk.[3]


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 at the Ufa Studio in the Dramaturgie department (script selection, approval and editing) and as a scriptwriter in his own right. 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 Große 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 Pußta, Sehnsucht 202, Petit écart, Lumpenkavaliere, Held wider Willen, Eine von uns, La Belle aventure, Wer zahlt heute noch?, Das Schöne Abenteuer, A Vén gazember

In 1932-33, when the Nazis came 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 Stormtroopers 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-Gêne, 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 (aka Sons of the Sea)
  • 1942: Rings on Her Fingers, Breach of Promise
  • 1943: Squadron Leader X
  • 1946: Wanted for Murder

It is worth noting that he wasn't just "Michael Powell's screenwriter" as some have categorised him. The films they made together in this period were mainly original stories by Pressburger, who also did most of the work of a producer for the team. Pressburger was also more involved in the editing process than Powell, and, as a musician, Pressburger was also involved in the choice of music for their films.

Later work

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.

Other works

  • Killing a Mouse on Sunday - made into the film Behold a Pale Horse (1964). London: Collins, 1961.
  • The Glass Pearls. London: Heinemann, 1966.

Awards, nominations and honours

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.
— Emeric Pressburger, NYC 1980



  1. ^ "350 years: Variety Club colour supplement." Jewish Chronicle, 15 December 2006, pp. 28–29.
  2. ^ Find a Grave: Emeric Pressburger
  3. ^ Pressburger Addresses
  4. ^ "1st Berlin International Film Festival: Prize Winners". berlinale.de. http://www.berlinale.de/en/archiv/jahresarchive/1951/03_preistraeger_1951/03_Preistraeger_1951.html. Retrieved 2009-12-21. 


  • Christie, Ian. Arrows of Desire: The Films of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. London: Waterstone, 1985. ISBN 0-947752-13-7, later edition, 1994. ISBN 0-571-16271-1.
  • Christie, Ian. Powell, Pressburger and Others, London: British Film Institute, 1978. ISBN 0-85170-086-1.
  • Christie, Ian and Moor, Andrew, eds. The Cinema of Michael Powell: International Perspectives on an English Filmmaker. London: BFI, 2005. ISBN 1-84457-093-2.
  • Esteve, Llorenç, Michael Powell y Emeric Pressburger. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: Catedra, 2002. ISBN 978-843-76195-07.
  • Howard, James. Michael Powell. London: BT Batsford Ltd, 1996. ISBN 0-7134-7482-3.
  • Lazar, David, ed. Michael Powell: Interviews. Jackson, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2003. ISBN 1-57806-498-8.
  • Macdonald, Kevin. The Life and Death of a Screenwriter. London: Faber & Faber, 1994. ISBN 0-571-16853-1
  • Moor, Andrew. Powell and Pressburger: A Cinema of Magic Spaces. London: I.B. Tauris, 2005. ISBN 1-85043-947-8.
  • Powell, Michael. A Life in Movies: An Autobiography. London: Heinemann, 1986. ISBN 0-434-59945-X.
  • Powell, Michael. Million Dollar Movie. London: Heinemann, 1992. ISBN 0-434-59947-6.

External links

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