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Anger Made Him A Film Magnate
'Mr. Rank,' by Alan Wood. (Hodder & Stoughton, Lon don : Copy from W. S. Smart, Sydney, 30/ ). A highly tangled skein is unravelled by Aus tralian Alan Wood in his study of J. Arthur Rank,
the magnate who in so many ways has influenced the production, exhibition and distribution of Bri tish films in the past two decades.
'ARTHUR RANK is a -rt- strange man to find in the bizarre world of finan ciers, film stars and direc tors. ? ? . He was. brought up in the family business of flour milling, in accordance with the stern tenets of his father Joseph, himself a con troversial figure who took delight in amassing a for tune and in marking gifts to charity. The author draws atten tion to Arthur Rank's com plex character— a Christian with a strong personal faith, he could go from a Metho dist prayer meeting to a party and proceed to act as bookmaker 'shouting the odds at the top of his voice'; .a sincere Sunday school teacher, yet enjoying a' mild flutter at cards or oh a round of golf; a teetotaller, offer ing his guests drinks. Arthur Rank was a middle-aged businessman in the 1930's when he went into films, 'to help the nation,' as he put it later. One thing .is certain: his first steps in filmland were directly due to his Methodism. He believed In the value of moving pic tures in religious teaching. From this he became »inr terested in a comparatively modest way in commercial film makine.
The crucial point In his ?new career was reached in 1935 when 'Turn of the TJde,' a film in which he was specially interested, won a third prize at the Film Fes tival in Venice but had diffi culty in even getting a show ing on the ordinary com mercial cinema circuits in Britain. He learnt the fun damental. fact that the men with the whip hand are not the producers who make the films, but the middlemen who buy and sell them. Moreover he found the ex tent to which the British film industry was dominated by the Hollywood product occupying 80 p.c. of screen time. Before his anger over 'Turn of the Tide' was finally spent, Rank ' had bought the whole Gaumont British circuit and much else besides. He could see.onlj one answer: if he was to pro duce British films in a big way he must become his owr distributor and exhibitor too, or no one might evei see them. 'I decided,' he said after wards, 'that the film busi ness had got into the hand: of -the wrong people' Sc he got it out of their hand! and into his own. The story of how thi Odeon cinema circuit came under his control and of hov, the J. Arthur Rank Organi sation came into being is to- - involved to be told Driefly but some highlights ane sidelights should be re counted. There is no doubt abou the great part Rank playei hi raisins the prestige q British films and in keepinj production goine during thi war. A man without intel lectual pretensions himseli he was a true liberal ii
allowing his directors crea tive freedom and consider able latitude in their bud gets. One notable achievement was the making of chil dren's films, one of which, 'Bush Christmas,' was made in Australia and went to 41 different countries. Much has been written of the financial difficulties which beset the Rank Orga nisation after the war. Alan Wood gives a lucid ex planation of what hap pened, together with pun gent comments on the effect of the actions of Britain's Socialist Government. One figure emerges as the financial saviour of the Or ganisation—John Davis, the accountant and Rank's right-hand man. It is safe to say that, whatevei leaders rise and fall in the British film industry, Join Davis will remain a ruling power for many years tc come. His is a name to be remembered.
J. ARTHUR RANK
J. ARTHUR RANK