Twice upon a Time

UK 1953, 76 mins
Director: Emeric Pressburger

+ intro by James Bell with Andrew Macdonald

The only film Pressburger directed alone was this adaptation of a book by his old collaborator Erich Kästner, about identical twins who are separated as babies when their parents’ divorce. Each grows up unaware of the other’s existence, until by chance they meet on holiday and agree to swap places. A whimsical curio barely released at the time, and all but impossible to see since, it screens on a new digitisation from the negative held at the BFI National Archive.
James Bell

Emeric Pressburger was more than the scenarist whose work Powell rewrote, a fact plain from even a casual look at films either side of their working relationship. His films are distinct, playing with fantasy and personal relationships, rhapsodic and nostalgic. In his partnership with Powell, he created most of their stories, was responsible for most of the producing, collaborated (but never on the floor) in the directing, and worked patiently in the editing room.

Pressburger’s one attempt at directing, Twice upon a Time (1953), showed how greatly he depended on Powell’s sprightly visual cockiness. On the other hand, Powell’s films without Pressburger lack ambiguity and are directed with little sensitivity towards the actors. The visualisation was always predominantly Powell’s, at least in combination with their designers and photographers, but everything was discussed between the two, and it is at this point that their two imaginations met. Who knows how Powell’s or Pressburger’s careers would have developed had Pressburger left for Hollywood in 1938 (as the entertainment journalist Pem expected)? As it was, Pressburger started working for Korda on a story that eventually became The Red Shoes and Korda, shortly after, introduced them to one another.

Pressburger sometimes saw his pension in the continual optioning of stories that went unmade. If they were turned down, as was his third novel, he relegated them not to the wastebin but to the drawer of his desk, where like wine, he would wait for them to mature. Sometimes he misjudged it and the ideas went flat, as with Miracle in St. Anthony’s Lane, which he had written in Paris in 1934.

A few years earlier he had slept rough in a famous Berlin synagogue, planning to creep out just before morning service. Too late, he heard the congregation chanting, and crept down, only to be welcomed as a member of the quorum; the service had not started, and the sounds he had heard had been in his imagination. ‘Surely,’ he claimed, ‘a miracle.’ A René Clair-like idea, full of character, with a number of interlocking stories, Miracle in St. Anthony’s Lane was another story of exile, only a step away from this anecdote. It reached the screen only in 1957, directed by Julian Amyes, converted into Miracle in Soho. Originally a story of the German exiles in Paris, it had now become one about Italian immigrants in London.

In all the most successful of Pressburger’s writing, his novels included, important and significant events occur inside the heads of the characters. Their limits are those of the imagination. He believed in music’s power to translate human experience and translate human ideals; his favourite work towards the end of his life being Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier. Powell and Pressburger came close to making a Strauss film that would have taken place entirely within the composer’s imagination.

Pressburger’s films, from Abschied in 1930 to Miracle in Soho in 1957, reveal more consistent themes and concerns than their Powell equivalents. Their joint praxis discloses a compatible philosophical view of the world which is essentially anti-Rationalist, expressed not only pictorially but textually, through Pressburger’s belief in the primacy of the perceiver and the role of tradition in constructing a morally integrated world.
Kevin Gough-Yates, Sight and Sound, December 1995

Contemporary reviews

Unusual domestic comedy drama, with a compelling juvenile interest. Charmian and Yolande Larthe act quite naturally as the girls, while guest artiste Jack Hawkins gives the play star billing in the role of family doctor and narrator. Agreeably mounted and made expressly for the feminine fan, it becomingly wears its heart on its sleeve.

The picture, which employs the long arm of coincidence to bring the twins together, is very ingenious stuff, but, despite its naïve fundamentals, it frequently touches the emotions and confidently addresses its appeal to the fair sex. Good staging, including ‘shots’ of the ballet and the Tyrol, doubly underline its obvious family angle. Human, if extravagant, story, clever and talented child stars, popular supporting players, good atmosphere, intriguing title and homely sentiment.
Kinematograph Weekly, 21 May 1953

The remarkable Jack Hawkins, who, now that British films have at last discovered his worth, can do no wrong, crops up all over the place. He plays ‘guest star’ in a pretty little picture, Twice upon a Time. Jack plays the part of family doctor and commentator – a nice change into civvies. It isn’t a big part, but he does it splendidly and comes in very useful because the events are none too easy to follow.

Adapted by Emeric Pressburger from a German original, the film tells of young twins who meet accidentally in an Austrian mountain resort, find that they share the same divorced parents and change places in order to bring Mummie (Elizabeth Allan) and Daddie (Hugh Williams) together again. Fourteen-year-old London twin girls, Yolande and Charmian Larthe, play the children, never having been in a picture before.

The production lacks perfection but I fancy that the clean, benign atmosphere of this little joke will be welcome.
Jympson Harman, Evening News, 4 July 1953

Directed by: Emeric Pressburger
©: British Lion Film Corporation
Presented by: London Film Productions
Produced in association with and distributed by: British Lion Film Corporation
Produced by: Emeric Pressburger
Associate Producer: George Busby
Assistant Director: Sydney Streeter
Continuity: Margaret Shipway
Written by: Emeric Pressburger
From a story by: Erich Kastner
Photography: Christopher Challis
Camera Operator: Frederick Francis
Editor: Reginald Beck
Art Director: Arthur Lawson
Wardrobe: Ivy Baker
Make up: George Frost
Hairdressing: Gordon Bond
Music by: Johannes Brahms, Corol Maria Weber
Musical Director: Frederic Lewis
Sound Supervisor: John Cox
Sound Recording: Bert Ross, Red Law
Sound System: Western Electric
Publicity: Jean Osborne *
Produced at: The British Lion Studio

Hugh Williams (James Turner)
Elizabeth Allan (Ann Bailey)
Violetta Elvin (Florence Laroche)
Charmian Larthe (Carol-Ann Bailey)
Yolande Larthe (Carol Turner)
Jack Hawkins (Dr Matthews)
Michael Gough (Mr Lloyd)
Isabel Dean (Miss Burke)
Nora Gordon (Emma)
Molly Terraine (Miss Wellington, headmistress)
Martin Miller (photographer)
Lilly Kann (photographer’s wife)
Isabel George (Molly) *
Cecily Walger (Miss Maybridge) *
Walter Fitzgerald (Professor Reynolds) *
Eileen Elton *
Ken Melville *
Margaret McCourt *

UK 1953©
76 mins


Rynox + Hotel Splendide
Mon 16 Oct 18:10; Fri 10 Nov 18:10
A Matter of Life and Death
Mon 16 Oct 20:45 (+ intro by Thelma Schoonmaker and Kevin Macdonald); Sun 29 Oct 12:10; Sat 4 Nov 15:00; Tue 7 Nov 18:10 (+ intro by academic Lucy Bolton); Sun 19 Nov 18:30
Farewell (Abschied)
Tue 17 Oct 18:40 (+ intro by filmmaker Kevin Macdonald); Wed 1 Nov 20:40
His Lordship
Tue 17 Oct 20:50; Sat 4 Nov 12:20
The Fire Raisers
Wed 18 Oct 18:40; Sat 11 Nov 12:30
Black Narcissus
Wed 18 Oct 20:50; Sun 22 Oct 18:30; Wed 8 Nov 18:15; Sun 12 Nov 18:50; Thu 16 Nov 20:50; Sat 18 Nov 20:50; Mon 20 Nov 20:45 (+ intro by author Mahesh Rao)
The Edge of the World + Return to the Edge of the World
Fri 20 Oct 18:20; Wed 8 Nov 20:30; Wed 15 Nov 20:50
The Thief of Bagdad: An Arabian Fantasy in Technicolor (aka The Thief of Bagdad)
Fri 20 Oct 20:30; Tue 24 Oct 14:40; Sat 28 Oct 15:00; Sun 26 Nov 12:00
The Spy in Black + Smith
Sat 21 Oct 15:30; Sun 29 Oct 15:30 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
The Boy Who Turned Yellow + Heavenly Puss
Sun 22 Oct 12:00
49th Parallel
Sun 22 Oct 12:20; Mon 6 Nov 20:30
One of Our Aircraft Is Missing!
Sun 22 Oct 15:10; Tue 31 Oct 20:40 (+ intro by film historian Ian Christie)
Mon 23 Oct 17:50 (+ intro by Miranda Gower-Qian, BFI Inclusion Lead); Mon 30 Oct 20:30
Red Ensign + The Night of the Party
Tue 24 Oct 20:30; Sun 5 Nov 14:40
A Canterbury Tale
Wed 25 Oct 20:20 (+ intro by academic Thirza Wakefield); Sat 11 Nov 14:50; Fri 24 Nov 20:35
Library Talk: The interior life of an archive: an evening with the Michael Powell Collection
Mon 27 Nov 18:00
The Elusive Pimpernel
Sat 28 Oct 12:20; Mon 13 Nov 18:00 (+ intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator)
Gone to Earth
Sat 28 Oct 18:20; Wed 22 Nov 20:45; Sat 25 Nov 17:50
Silent Cinema: The Magician + The Riviera Revels + intro by Bryony Dixon, BFI National Archive Curator
Sun 29 Oct 15:00
The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp
Sun 29 Oct 17:20 (+ intro by Kevin and Andrew Macdonald); Sun 5 Nov 17:45; Thu 23 Nov 17:45; Sun 26 Nov 14:00 (+ pre-recorded intro by Stephen Fry)
Paths to Partnership: Powell + Pressburger before The Archers
Tue 31 Oct 18:30
Projecting the Archive: The Queen’s Guards + intro by Josephine Botting, BFI National Archive Curator
Thu 2 Nov 18:20
Twice upon a Time
Mon 6 Nov 18:10 + extended intro by James Bell, BFI National Archive Senior Curator
Talk: Philosophical Screens: A Matter of Life and Death
Tue 7 Nov 20:20
Talk: Centre Stage: The Leading Women of Powell + Pressburger
Thu 16 Nov 18:20
Ill Met by Moonlight
Fri 17 Nov 20:40; Sat 25 Nov 12:40
The Battle of the River Plate
Sat 18 Nov 18:20; Mon 27 Nov 20:30
Behold a Pale Horse
Sun 19 Nov 11:50 Wed 22 Nov 17:50
The Wild Heart
Sun 19 Nov 15:10
Miracle in Soho
Mon 20 Nov 18:10; Sun 26 Nov 18:30

Course: The Magic of Powell + Pressburger
Wed 25 Oct to Wed 22 Nov 18:30

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Programme notes and credits compiled by Sight and Sound and the BFI Documentation Unit
Notes may be edited or abridged
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