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Bryan, John (1911-1969)

Designer, Producer

Main image of Bryan, John (1911-1969)

Until his untimely death, John Bryan (born in London in 1911) was perhaps Britain's most gifted production designer. Apprenticed to scenic artists at 16, he worked first in stage design. He joined London Film Productions in 1932, first as draughtsman, assisting Laurence Irving on Diamond Cut Diamond (d. Maurice Elvey/Fred Niblo, 1932), later as associate art director to Vincent Korda on Things to Come (d. William Cameron Menzies, 1936). During the war, he was involved with camouflage.

That some of the '40s Gainsborough melodramas look so sumptuous may be substantially attributed to his romantic and stylish designs: e.g., Fanny by Gaslight (d. Anthony Asquith, 1944) has little connection with realism but evokes superbly the essence of Victorian contrasts of low and high life. After working on Gabriel Pascal's two previous Shaw films, Pygmalion (d. Asquith, 1938) and Major Barbara (d. Pascal, 1941), he was sought for the ambitious calamity, Caesar and Cleopatra (d. Pascal, 1945), in which his towering evocations of palace and desert dominate proceedings.

Postwar, he joined the distinguished Cineguild production team: he designed all but one of its output, winning an Oscar for Great Expectations (d. David Lean, 1946); and there are few better-looking British films than it or the rapturous melodrama, Blanche Fury (d. Marc All├ęgret, 1947), or Oliver Twist (d. Lean, 1948) or The Passionate Friends (d. Lean, 1948), all with cinematographer Guy Green. Though he also won an Oscar for Becket (d. Peter Glenville, 1964), arguably his greatest work is in monochrome.

In the '50s and '60s, he produced a dozen films, including After the Fox (US/Italy, d. Vittorio De Sica,1966) and four for ex-Cineguild colleague, Ronald Neame, including The Card (1952), The Million Pound Note (1953), Windom's Way (1957) and The Horse's Mouth (1958), but his greatness lies in his production design.

Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Caravan (1946)Caravan (1946)

Flaming passions, treacherous gypsies and Stewart Granger

Thumbnail image of Fanny By Gaslight (1944)Fanny By Gaslight (1944)

Costume melodrama about a Cabinet minister's illegitimate daughter

Thumbnail image of Great Expectations (1946)Great Expectations (1946)

David Lean's definitive Dickens adaptation

Thumbnail image of Love Story (1944)Love Story (1944)

A terminally ill pianist falls in love with a man who's going blind

Thumbnail image of Madeleine (1949)Madeleine (1949)

David Lean's film about real-life alleged murderess Madeleine Smith

Thumbnail image of Magic Box, The (1951)Magic Box, The (1951)

Star-studded biopic of British film pioneer William Friese-Greene

Thumbnail image of Millions Like Us (1943)Millions Like Us (1943)

Launder & Gilliat film about the lives of women during World War II

Thumbnail image of Oliver Twist (1948)Oliver Twist (1948)

David Lean's definitive version of Charles Dickens' classic novel

Thumbnail image of Passionate Friends, The (1948)Passionate Friends, The (1948)

David Lean film about a woman who marries for money rather than love

Thumbnail image of Pygmalion (1938)Pygmalion (1938)

Oscar-winning adaptation of George Bernard Shaw's celebrated play

Thumbnail image of Secret Place, The (1957)Secret Place, The (1957)

Crime melodrama about a small boy upsetting jewel thieves' plans

Thumbnail image of Things to Come (1936)Things to Come (1936)

Britain's biggest sci-fi film of the 1930s, adapted from H.G.Wells

Thumbnail image of Two Thousand Women (1944)Two Thousand Women (1944)

Drama set in a women's internment camp during World War II

Thumbnail image of Wicked Lady, The (1945)Wicked Lady, The (1945)

A bored Margaret Lockwood finds fulfilment through highway robbery

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