Star Archive

Alberto Cavalcanti (1897 - 1982)

Alberto Cavalcanti is often seen as a dilettante, flitting from country to country without settling or leaving much of a mark. Yet for much of his career he had the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, and his contribution to British Cinema puts most of his English contemporaries to shame. 

He was born in Brazil, the son of a maths teacher. Cavalcanti's school career was disappointing and he was sent to Switzerland in 1913 to study architecture. He lasted there for about a year before moving to Paris to work for an architect. Then back to Brazil and then to Liverpool to work in the Brazilian consulate.

He had struck up an correspondence with Marcel L'Herbier after writing fan letter, and received an invitation from L'Herbier to work for him as a set designer. So he took a year off work and went back over to France. L'Herbier was a leading light in the avant-garde film movement and among the films Cavalcanti worked on was the avant-garde classic L'Inhumaine.

He directed his first film, Le Train Sans Yeux, in 1926 but its release was held up because of financial difficulties. His first release, Rien Que Les Heures established him as an interesting film maker. The problems the industry had with the coming of sound forced him to take a job with paramount's French studios which demanded more commercial films. Cavalcanti was soon bored and headed for England to work with the GPO Film Unit.

The GPO Film Unit was at the heart of the Documentary Film Movement. Cavalcanti preferred to direct but it was his talent as a producer which was most appreciated by his boss John Grierson. As a director he was felt to be too frivolous and the bulk his directorial assignments were co-productions with Switzerland. His production credits were more impressive, and his productions include Night Mail, N or NW, and Spare Time.

He finally got fed up and moved to Ealing. Again it was his production skills that were required, but he did find time to direct such great films as Went the Day Well?, Champagne Charlie and the ventriloquist sequence of Dead of Night. The contraction of the British film industry in the late 40s made Cavalcanti move again: this time back to Brazil.

He produced for a company called Vera Cruz which collapsed spectacularly. He managed to direct three films for other countries before trying his hand in East Germany. After that he flitted around the world with less and less success.

Though Cavalcanti never stopped long enough to get truly rooted in any nation's cinema, many countries have cause to be grateful he dropped by. Certainly British cinema would have been poorer without his input. 

Poster for Champagne CharliePoster for Nicholas Nickleby

Filmography (as director)

1926 Le Train Sans Yeux (Fr.)
1926 Rien Que les Heures (Fr.)
1927 En Rade (Fr.)
1927 Yvette (Fr.)
1927 La P'tite Lilie (Fr.)
1928 La Jalousie du Barbouille (Fr.)
1929 Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Fr.)
1929 Vous verrez la semaine prochaine (Fr.)
1930 Toute sa vie (Fr.)
1930 A Cancao do Berco (Fr.)
1930 A Mi-chemin du ciel (Fr.)
1930 les Vacance du diable (Fr.)
1931 Dans une ile perdue (Fr.)
1932 En lisant le journal (Fr.)
1932 Le jour du frotteur (Fr.)
1932 Revue montmartroise (Fr.)
1932 Nous ne ferons jamais du cinema (Fr.)
1932 Le Truc du bresilien (Fr.)
1933 Le Mari garcon (Fr.)
1933 Plaisirs defendus (Fr.)
1933 Coralie et Cie (Fr.)
1933 Tour de chant (Fr.)
1934 Pett and Pott
1934 The Glorious Sixth of June: New Rates
1935 Coal Face
1936 Line to Tcherva Hut
1937 We Live in Two Worlds
1937 Who Writes to Switzerland?
1937 Message to Geneva
1937 Four Barriers
1938 Alice in Switzerland
1939 Men of the Alps
1939 A Midsummer Day's Work
1941 Yellow Caesar
1942 Film and Reality
1942 Went the Day Well?
1943 Watertight
1944 Champagne Charlie
1945 Dead of Night (co.)
1947 The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby
1947 They Made Me a Fugitive
1947 The First Gentleman
1949 For Them That Trespass
1952 Simao, O Caolho (Bra.)
1954 Mulher de Verdade (Bra.)
1955 Herr Puntila und sein Knecht Matti (DDR)
1956 Die Windrose (DDR)
1958 La Prima notte (Fr./It.)
1960 The Monster of Highgate Ponds
1967 Thus Spoke Theodore Herzl (Is.)
1969 Les Empailles (Fr.)
1970 La Visite de la vieille dame (Fr.)
1976 Le Voyageur du silence (Fr.)
1976 Um Homem e o cinema (Bra.)

Alberto Cavalcanti at Amazon UK

Alberto Cavalcanti at Amazon US