Hans May

Active - 1930 - 1958  |   Born - May 11, 1891   |   Died - Jan 1, 1959   |   Genres - Drama, Musical, Crime, Comedy, Historical Film

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Biography by Bruce Eder

Hans May was a Viennese-born composer and music director who spent much of his career writing for the screen and the stage. He was initially best known for his songs, and he entered the movie business in Berlin and Paris during the silent era, composing incidental music for feature films beginning in the mid-'20s. May first visited London in 1930 but continued to work on German films until 1935. The coming of sound only increased the demand for his movie scores, though many of his projects tended to involve the lighter musical fare of the era. He left Germany in the mid-'30s and initially transferred his career to France, where he worked on the Mayerling (1936). In the late '30s, however, May settled in England, where his film music career took root first on such lighter-weight entertainments as the operetta-based vehicle The Lilac Domino (1937). A little later, he showed himself well able to deal with more serious dramatic subjects, beginning with The Stars Look Down (1939). May's big breakthrough film in England, however, was Thunder Rock (1942), an anti-isolationist fantasy-drama directed and produced by John Boulting and Roy Boulting, which commanded the attention and admiration of British film critics and serious filmgoers -- May's music for the film was particularly effective at setting and underscoring the delicate moods needed to make the topical ghost story work on the screen.

Over the next few years May's career advanced as he joined The Rank Organization, scoring smaller-scale comedies at first, such as Back-Room Boy (1942), and then more expensive and prestigious movies, including the Gainsborough costume productions Madonna of the Seven Moons (1944) and The Wicked Lady (1945), and the psychological melodrama Bedelia (1946). He was back with the Boultings for their film Brighton Rock (1947), but his next few movies were less prominent and prestigious. During that period, however, May was concentrating more on a theatrical work, Carissima, in collaboration with playwright and screenwriter Eric Maschwitz -- the latter play debuted on London's West End in 1948 and ran 488 performances, a major success by the standards of the day. He resumed his film work in 1950, and by the middle of that decade, he had begun working on international film productions, including his first German movies in nearly 20 years. In 1954, he enjoyed a second major stage hit with Wedding in Paris, written in collaboration with Vera Caspary and Sonny Miller, and starring Anton Walbrook and Evelyn Laye, which ran for more than 400 performances. His health began declining late in the decade, and May died at Beaulieu in the south of France soon after midnight on January 1, 1959.

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