Zoltan Korda

Active - 1927 - 1955  |   Born - Jan 1, 1895   |   Died - Jan 1, 1961   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure, Action

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Biography by AllMovie

The brother of producer/director Alexander Korda, Zoltan Korda achieved recognition in his own right as a director of action films, first in England and later in Hollywood. He was the second of three sons, born Zoltan Kellner in 1895 in Túrkeve, which was then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The death of their father threw the Kellner family into personal and financial chaos, and Zoltan and his younger brother, Vincent (later a top art director), along with their mother, were forced to live in the home of their paternal grandfather, a cruel and ignorant man whose influence prevented either boy from realizing anything like his potential for years after. Meanwhile, older sibling Sandor Kellner, taking a new, less ethnic last name, established himself as a writer and journalist, and finally a filmmaker as Alexander Korda.

Zoltan served in the cavalry during the First World War, experience that he put to good use as a filmmaker in the decades that followed. He followed Alexander Korda into the film business, first as a cameraman and later an editor; he directed a pair of movies in Germany at the close of the silent era, and when Alex Korda established London Films in 1932, Zoltan came along. He tried his hand as a director in several genres, including comedy and romantic drama, but it was in adventure films that he distinguished himself, starting with Sanders of the River (1935), a story of intrigue and conflict on the African continent, starring Leslie Banks and Paul Robeson. That movie, which featured some fairly extensive location shooting, became the first in a series of adventure films through which Korda would distinguish himself across the next two decades. But it was also one of his most controversial and frustrating films, owing to the differing views that he and his brother Alex had of colonialism and the British Empire -- Alex Korda loved the empire, and felt the colonial peoples were well served by the British, where as Zoltan held deep sympathy for the colonized people and their desires for independence and self-determination. In the case of Sanders of the River, Alex as producer and head of the studio had the final authority, and he recut the movie and edited it in such a way so that Robeson's character -- a would-be African tribal chief, proud and strong -- was made to seem subservient to Banks' white British colonial official. Even though the film got Zoltan a Best Director nomination at the Venice Film Festival, he was unhappy with the final cut of the movie and Robeson was mortified, so much so that he spent a decade distancing himself from it and never made another movie for Alexander Korda.

Zoltan Korda's next notable achievement was as the co-director of Elephant Boy (1937), which garnered him the Best Director award at the Venice Film Festival. That movie also introduced a young Indian actor named Sabu, who was popular enough in his own right to justify a follow-up effort. The Drum (aka Drums, 1938) was set in the contemporary British Raj and, in addition to Sabu, also starred Raymond Massey, Roger Livesey, and Valerie Hobson, and was shot in Technicolor. It was on this picture that Korda's experiences in the cavalry, and his ability to deploy men for maximum effectiveness, came to the fore. And on his next film, The Four Feathers (1939), he was able to put his military experience to even better use. The battle scenes in the films he directed, including The Four Feathers and Drums, as well as parts of The Thief of Bagdad (1940), helped make those movies among the most exciting in history.

When Alex Korda transferred his production company to America in 1940, Zoltan (and brother Vincent) came along, and it was there that the middle Korda brother fully came into his own as a filmmaker. He directed Sahara (1943), starring Humphrey Bogart, for Columbia Pictures, which proved to be one of the screen legend's finest films. Zoltan Korda's health, which was never very strong, began to falter in the second half of the 1940s. Despite this, he did two major Hollywood movies, A Woman's Vengeance, starring Charles Boyer, at Universal -- which had him venturing quite successfully into Alfred Hitchcock territory -- and The Macomber Affair (both 1947), with Gregory Peck at United Artists. In 1951, Zoltan directed a film adaptation of Alan Paton's anti-apartheid book Cry, the Beloved Country, starring Canada Lee and a young Sidney Poitier. Apart from being a fine and groundbreaking film in its own right, this was his long-awaited "apology" for Sanders of the River.

Korda's health deteriorated during the 1950s, and he only made one more film after that, Storm Over the Nile (1955), which was essentially a remake of The Four Feathers, and even employed much of the same second unit footage from the earlier production. Alex Korda's sudden death in early 1956 brought a halt to any further filmmaking activity on Zoltan's part. He died in Hollywood in 1961, after an extended illness.

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