Powell…Or Powell and Pressburger. The team of “The Archers” as they are known and proclaim (complete with their own mission statement long before von Trier and the Dogme 95). I usually only consider Powell, not only because he has a very accomplished solo work (Peeping Tom) but because it is pretty well known that he did the bulk of the directing (sort of like another British duo Merchant/Ivory). From Wikipedia: “Powell did most of the directing while Pressburger did most of the work of the producer and also assisted with the editing, especially the way the music was used.” Powell, Lean, and Hitchcock are usually considered the best British directors of all-time. Obviously Hitch is in his own class and really it’s Lawrence that separates Powell and Lean for me. There’s no film from P & P in the top 138 though their quality beyond that in their filmography is remarkable. They have 10 archiveable films and 8 are in the top 100 of their respective decade (Kubrick is 8 for 12 when doing the same). They dominated with 1940’s with 7 of the top 100 films that decade.

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A stunningly beautiful grab from I Know Where I’m Going

Best film:  The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp. Many call it the greatest of all British films or the most British of all great films. I have this as their best film largely because of that incredible narrative—we’ll see if it can hold off the stunning visuals of Narcissus the next time I dive into a study.

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by the narrowest of margins I have Life and Death of Colonel Blimp ahead of Black Narcissus to rank as their best film

total archiveable films: 10

before their technicolor days in I Know Where I’m Going

top 100 films: 0

top 500 films: 5 (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, Peeping Tom, The Red Shoes)

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painterly use of color in The Red Shoes

top 100 films of the decade: 8 (The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, Peeping Tom, The Red Shoes, The Thief of Baghdad, 49th Parallel, I Know Where I’m Going)

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a little more subtle here in Powell’s solo effort Peeping Tom-but appreciate the three different color lights overhead

most overrated:  Canterbury Tale. The TSPDT consensus has it at #305 and their 5th best and I have it outside of my top 500 and at #8 for the duo (and #9 for Powell).  

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if there are any more of these from A Canterbury Tale I’ll be apologizing for calling it overrated- haha

most underrated: Black Narcissus is virtually tied with Colonel Blimp on both my list and the TSPDT so I’ll use it here since I have Colonel Blimp above. The TSPDT consensus has it #166 and I have it at #141—not far off.  I think it’s their most beautiful film (Scorsese and some others would argue The Red Shoes is). It’s in gorgeous Technicolor.

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total control of the mise-en-scene and a true artist’s use of color– in the 40’s— here in Black Narcissus
another jaw-dropper from Black Narcissus– from 1946-1948 they released A Matter of Life and Death (consensus #1), Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes – an incredible run
again from Black Narcissus- I believe their strongest visual film

gem I want to spotlight:  A Matter of Life and Death– it’s inventive, emotional and intelligent. This is not a bad starting spot if you haven’t seen much P&P. It’s their top rated film on TSPDT.

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great imagery here from A Matter of Life and Death- like Wizard of Oz– a film that uses the break of color and b/w with genius formal structure

stylistic innovations/traits:   When I think of Powell I think first of color—in a time when few films used it and nobody used it as well (and few have since). They are known for a touch of magical realism in their films and many have elements of fantasy in them.

The Red Shoes – work done with color decades before Kurosawa, Fellini and Antonioni would master it

top 10

  1. The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
  2. Black Narcissus
  3. A Matter of Life and Death
  4. Peeping Tom
  5. The Red Shoes
  6. The Thief of Baghdad
  7. 49th Parallel
  8. I Know Where I’m going
  9. Canterbury Tale
  10. Tales of Hoffman
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mise-en-scene wall-art in The Red Shoes

By year and grades

1940- The Thief of Bagdad HR
1941- The 49th Parallel HR
1943- The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp MP
1944- Canterbury Tale R/HR
1945- I Know Where I’m Going HR
1946- A Matter of Life and Death MP
1947- Black Narcissus MP
1948- The Red Shoes MS
1951- Tales of Hoffman
1960- Peeping Tom MS

*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives