Henry Cornelius died too young to have a full career but too old to get an aura of lost promise. With a handful of films as a director, all fitting comfortably into the prevailing film culture, he gets overlooked by both auteurists and film historians. But of those five films, two are stone cold classics, so his 40% hit rate should give him a higher rank than he gets.
Cornelius was born in South Africa into a German-Jewish family which moved back to Berlin when he was still young. At eighteen he studied under Max Reinhardt, after which he joined the Schiller Theatre. With the Nazis in power, he moved first to Paris and then to London becoming an assistant editor.
His big break came with The Ghost Goes West when it was thought helpful for director Rene Clair to have a French-speaking assistant editor. He continued as editor with Korda for four years and, after a brief spell at the GPO Film Unit, he moved back to South Africa to make propaganda shorts for the war effort.
Cornelius returned to Britain in 1943 and joined Ealing Studios as a producer on the recommendation of his GPO boss Cavalcanti. His first production was the sorry docudrama Painted Boats, but his next was the hit Hue and Cry which sparked the Ealing Comedy cycle.
His first directorial assignment was Passport to Pimlico which was another big hit. His success prompted him to demand a raise from studio head Michael Balcon. When Balcon refused, Cornelius quit.
His next effort, the independent The Galloping Major, flopped so Cornelius offered his next project to Ealing. Balcon refused. Rank took up the project but Rank's boss John Davies hated the resulting film so much he tried to stop its release, possibly because it starred his wife-to-be Dinah Sheridan. Happily, Genevieve went on to become a smash hit and is still one of the most loved films of the period.
With his career on a high, ill health started to dominate his life. His next project was the disastrous I am a Camera and his last the unexciting comedy Next to No Time. He died in 1958.
|1945||Painted Boats (prod)|
|1947||Hue and Cry (prod)|
|1947||It Always Rains on Sunday (prod)|
|1949||Passport to Pimlico (dir)|
|1951||The Galloping Major (dir)|
|1955||I am a Camera (dir)|
|1958||Next to No Time (dir)|
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