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Ostrer, Maurice (1896-1975)


Main image of Ostrer, Maurice (1896-1975)

If one single person was responsible for the Gainsborough melodramas, it was Maurice Ostrer (1896-1975). The head of production at the studio between 1943 and 1946, the melodramas were the logical outcome of his views on the need for escapism and heightened emotion to distract war-weary audiences.

Born Maurice Ostravitch, Ostrer began his career at the Ostrer Brothers Merchant Bank, set up with his older brothers Isidore and Mark. One of the many company flotations that the bank supervised was that of the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation in 1927, the upshot of which was that the Ostrer brothers assumed control of the company and some 350 British cinemas.

The Ostrers then went into production, making use of Gaumont's studios in Shepherd's Bush. Although Maurice Ostrer had no practical film-making experience, he took an increasing role on the production side of things from 1935 onwards, often to the annoyance of the vastly more experienced Edward Black.

Ostrer began to credit himself as being 'In Charge of Production' on the Will Hay vehicle Ask a Policeman (d. Marcel Varnel, 1939), though he wouldn't assume complete control until after Black's departure in 1943, when the success of The Man in Grey (d. Leslie Arliss, 1943) shaped the studio's fortunes and policies.

In stark contrast to the realistic films that Black produced, such as Millions Like Us (d. Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, 1943) and Two Thousand Women (d. Frank Launder, 1944), Ostrer favoured films that were as stylised and artificial as the studio could get away with.

Gainsborough producer R J Minney said that "melodrama is essential in a film if it is to hit the box office since the film is more akin to the music hall and the circus than to a theatre", and all evidence suggests that Ostrer firmly believed this too.

But the Rank Organisation, which distributed Gainsborough's titles in British cinemas, was unhappy with both the relatively small quantity being produced and their lurid tone (the devoutly Methodist J.Arthur Rank vetoed a sequel to The Wicked Lady (d. Leslie Arliss, 1945), despite its huge commercial success). Since these criticisms were clearly aimed at Ostrer's policies, he resigned from the studio as soon as his contract expired in September 1946.

After leaving Gainsborough, Ostrer produced the independent Idol of Paris (d. Leslie Arliss, 1948), a blatant attempt at reviving his formula. It flopped, and Ostrer left the film industry to run a textile company.

Michael Brooke

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From the BFI's filmographic database

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Ask A Policeman (1939)Ask A Policeman (1939)

A policeman is forced to commit crimes to avoid the sack

Thumbnail image of Man in Grey, The (1943)Man in Grey, The (1943)

Melodrama about two girls whose fortunes run on very different paths

Related collections

Thumbnail image of Gainsborough MelodramaGainsborough Melodrama

1940s costume dramas for a newly independent female audience

Related people and organisations

Thumbnail image of Gainsborough Pictures (1924-51)Gainsborough Pictures (1924-51)