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The Powell & Pressburger Pages

Dedicated to the work of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger and all the other people, both actors and technicians who helped them make those wonderful films.

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Submitted by Colin Thurlow

A Meeting John Justin

Colin Thurlow writes:

In the spring of 1990, I returned to London with a friend and one afternoon yet another friend (English) joined us and went to Hampstead Heath. We had some food at Iveagh House and whilst eating I happened to look up and in the distance saw this rather angular man with a couple of dogs returning his tray to the service area.

I asked the English friend if the man was John Justin and his response was "Full marks!" Upon which I went chasing after the unfortunate man who walked quite athletically for someone who was about 73 or 74 years of age.

"Excuse me, sir, but are you John Justin?"

"I used to be," with a slightly devilish grin.

We got to talking and my only regret was that 1) I didn't have a tape recorder with me and 2) the filmography I had worked up was back in the States.

The conversation ranged widely and a bit wildly, but I learned that he hated California especially the environment and the smog. No complaint from me, I live in the northern part of the state. He felt imprisoned by his contract with Fox (only three films for them over a six-year period and none particularly noteworthy) and, as has been printed elsewhere, was not terribly fond of filming anyway. That was in response to my question about the overall number of films. He said that the only good thing about the 1983 Trenchcoat (his last) was that he got to go to Malta, the film was essentially junk and that star Margot Kidder was "mostly manic".

Regarding The Thief of Bagdad and Korda, he said that Sir Alex could be charm incarnate or be the bearer of terrible temper tantrums and all fled upon latter occasions. However, there was one person who frightened Korda and for whom he would do anything however impossible and that was the French photographer Georges Perinal, who first started working for him with Henry VIII, later TheThief, of course, and Blimp. If necessary, Korda would cower in secret rather than face Perinal until whatever problem blew over.

Justin also was amazed (and I think this was an honest response) at The Thief's enduring popularity, that it has innumerable fans today (including my 10-year-old nephew) and that it never disappears and is a constant in any retrospective of fantasy, adventure, or P&P films. I said, "I guess that makes you an immortal."

There was a deprecating smile. Perhaps he didn't feel that it was important enough after all. But I can vouch for the film's popularity, once it has been seen and at whatever age, it is never forgotten.

I only learned of Justin's death from the note you posted on the site. It got no coverage here in the US and I had to practically strongarm Variety into printing an obituary, which was quite brief under the circumstances.

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