Henry Cornelius

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Henry Cornelius (b. Cape Town, 18/08/1913 – d. London, 02/05/1958) was a film director, editor and scriptwriter.


Jakob Ott-Heinz Cornelius was the son of Julius Cornelius and Therese Sophie Schwarzschild. His parents had come to South Africa more than a decade earlier and lived in Barkly East, but the family returned to Germany at least partly to further the children’s education. In Berlin he was accepted by Max Reinhardt to study theatre production and was subsequently entrusted to stage some minor plays at the Schiller Theatre. When Hitler came to power, Cornelius left for France, first supporting himself as a freelance journalist and then as an assistant editor in the French film industry. Because he was fluent in three languages and had a South African passport, he decided to go to England, where he was engaged by Alexander Korda to work with French director René Clair on his first English production, The Ghost Goes West (1935). He stayed with Korda for four years, editing such major films as Drums (1938) and The Four Feathers (1939), both directed by Zoltan Korda.

He had just joined Alberto Cavalcanti at the G.P.O. Film Unit when World War II broke out and he was recruited by the South African government to help organize the country’s propaganda effort. As Deputy Director of the Film Section of the Union Unity Truth Service, he worked with filmmakers like Joseph Albrecht (from African Film Productions) and Leon Schauder. With the latter he filmed in what were then Southern and Northern Rhodesia, Nyasaland, the Belgian Congo and French Equatorial Africa. Credits for these war-time documentaries are elusive, but there are indications that he worked on Noordwaarts (with Albrecht), Trekgees, Libya, Who, Me? (with an early role for Moira Lister), We of Velddrift / Ons Velddrifters (with Schauder), Remember Japan / Onthou Japan and Unite for Victory / Verenig vir Oorwinning.

Towards the end of the war he returned to England to join Ealing Studios as an associate producer for films such as Hue and Cry (Charles Crichton/1947) and It Always Rains On Sunday (Robert Hamer/1947). He made only five features as director, but amongst them are two classic comedies, namely Passport To Pimlico (1949) and Genevieve (1953). In 1947 it was announced that Owen Henry Cornelius, a naturalized British subject, had renounced and abandoned his first names of Ott-Heinz by deed poll. He died at the tragically early age of 44. (FO)


Film Dope No. 8



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