J. Arthur Rank -- later Lord Rank -- was less well known to the world than his rival, Alexander Korda, but he was the most important of that small fraternity of British film moguls, in terms of the filmmaking organization that he founded and the careers that he fostered. He started out as a flour magnate and a devout Methodist, who originally began producing movies in 1933 in order to to spread the gospel. By the end of the '30s, he had an interest in key centers of film production, distribution, and exhibition, and in less than a decade, his empire -- known as the Rank Organisation -- controlled half of the theaters in England, and the majority of the production facilities. Much more important than his business achievements, which were considerable, however, were the films whose production he fostered. Rank owned Gaumont British studios was the home to Alfred Hitchcock in the years prior to his departure for America, where he made his best British films -- more directly, Rank was responsible for organizing Independent Producers, the production company through which Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, Laurence Olivier, David Lean, Frank Launder and Sidney Gilliat, and Carol Reed made their most important movies.
During the mid-1940's, however, he over-extended his activities into America, at a time when U.S. theaters were filled to over-capacity with home-grown films, and the Rank Organisation was forced to retrench -- in the course of doing so, Rank lost virtually every major director/producer working under the umbrella of his company, and the company's releases were never the same. The Rank Organisation of the 1950's and 1960's was a shadow of its former glory -- it outlasted the man whose name it bore, and by the 1970's, with the company diversified into real estate and other activities, the filmmaking activities virtually ceased. In the 1980's, Rank became best known in video circles as the maker of the Rank Cintel, the standard device used for the transfer of film image to videotape.