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Denham Studios


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By 1935 Alexander Korda, the Hungarian émigré, was a film impresario of international stature who had apparently rejuvenated England's film industry with his productions of The Private Life of Henry VIII (d. Alexander Korda, 1933)and The Scarlet Pimpernel (d. Harold Young, 1935). Korda capitalised on his box-office success by securing funding from the Prudential Assurance Company to underwrite future productions and finance the construction of his own studio.

Building the massive Denham Studios started in late summer 1935 on a 165-acre site near Denham village in Buckinghamshire. The complex was designed by Jack Okey, who had been responsible for the First National and Paramount Studios in Hollywood. The largest production facility in the country opened in May 1936, boasting seven sound stages, workshops for every craft, restaurants and dressing-rooms fit for Hollywood stars and a new Technicolor laboratory. This was to be a dream factory whose movies would have "prestige, pomp, magic and madness", according to Korda.

Unfortunately, many believed the 'madness' was in actually building the studios so large in the first place and taking on the financial burden of 2,000 employees. The design of the studios was also criticised, with its ribbon layout requiring lengthy walks between departments that were next-door neighbours in other facilities. Korda was hard pressed to utilise the studios fully even with tenant producers supplementing his own productions.

It was a non-Korda film which was first on the floor at Denham - Max Schach's Southern Roses (1936) - although Korda's The Ghost Goes West (d. René Clair, 1935), Things to Come (d. William Cameron Menzies, 1936) and The Man Who Could Work Miracles (d. Lothar Mendes, 1936) had all used the back-lot for exteriors while the studios were being finished. Knight Without Armour (d. Jacques Feyder, 1937) was the kind of extravagant 'Hollywood' style picture Korda wanted to make at Denham and Marlene Dietrich's temporary residence at the studios kept Denham in the spotlight.

In reality, however, there were too few films being made there, and with competition from Pinewood, opened in September 1936, and the fallout from the infamous film companies' 'crash' of 1937, Prudential were considering winding up the operation as early as April of that year. Within months, Prudential effectively operated Denham as Korda relinquished control and saw his beloved studios merged with Rank's Pinewood Studios in 1939.

Pictures continued to be made at Denham, including some of Britain's most notable films, but they were not Korda pictures and under corporate control there was little effort expended to ensure the survival of Denham Studios. For a man seemingly able to re-invent himself and relaunch his career at will the loss of Denham Studios was a crushing blow nonetheless. Disney's Robin Hood (1952) brought the curtain down on Denham Studios' role as a major full-time film studio and the site served various commercial uses before being demolished for an industrial park.

Other films of note made at Denham Studios include Rembrandt (d. Alexander Korda, 1936), A Yank at Oxford (1937), South Riding (Victor Saville, 1938), Thief of Bagdad(partial) (US/UK, d. Ludwig Berger, Michael Powell, Tim Whelan, 1940), In Which We Serve (1942), The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (d. Michael Powell/Emeric Pressburger, 1943),and Brief Encounter (partial) (d. David Lean, 1945).

Martin Stockham, Encyclopedia of British Film

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