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The Times (07/Nov/1984) - Obituary: Ivor Montagu

(c) The Times (07/Nov/1984)


Film director and writer

The Hon Ivor Montagu, the film producer and director died on November 5. A prominent British Communist in his day he was also a noted left wing theorist of the cinema and had collaborated with some of the great names of Soviet film making, such as Eisenstein.

In addition Montagu was a moving force, in the early days of table tennis and made a considerable contribution to the establishment of the game as an international sport.

Ivor Montagu, son of the 2nd Lord Swaythling, the banker, was born in 1904, and educated at Westminster, the Royal College of Science, and Kings College, Cambridge. His special interest was zoology.

Brought up in the height of traditional luxury, he broke away early in order to live independently in a style he felt to be more proletarian. He was attracted to films both as an art form and as offering him a career, and from the late 1920s he played an active part in film-making, working at various times in many different capacities - as an editor, screen-writer, director and producer.

He was for a while the Observer's film critic and was also a regular contributor to the Daily Worker, and in 1925 was one of the original founders of the London Film Society. In 1928 he was associated with Adrian Brunei, H. G. Wells, Charles Laughton and Elsa Lanchcster in the production of an experimental series of short comedies based on original ideas by H. G. Wells - Bluebottles, The Daydream, and The Tonic. Although these films arc remembered because of the distinction of those involved in them, they were successful only in Germany.

Ivor Montagu's interest and involvement in left-wing politics as well as his love for the cinema led to visits to the USSR during the 1920s, and to his close association with Eisenstein, Alexandrov, and Eisenstein's cameraman, Tisse during the greater part of their grand tour of Western Europe and the United States during 1929-30.

Montagu and his lively wife, Eileen, affectionately known to everyone as Hell, established a menage for the distinguished Russian visitors in Hollywood, and Montagu assisted Eisenstein in his abortive script projects for Paramount, Sutter's Gold, based on the novel L'Or by Blaise Cendrars, and An American Tragedy, derived from Theodore Dreiser's work.

Although Hollywood scarcely knew what to do with Eisenstein, he, and Montagu with him, were for a while feted, enjoying, in particular the hospitality of Charles Chaplin. Montagu wrote his own colourful account of this period in With Eisenstein in Hollywood (1968). When Eisenstein left with his colleagues for Mexico, the Montagus returned to London.

Montagu's various later assignments included Wings over Everest (1933, co-director), and production or associate production for several of Alfred Hitchcock's British films, such as The Man Who Knew Too Much and The Thirty-Nine Steps; during this period he began his long association with Michael Balcon. He also produced Behind the Spanish Lines and Spanish ABC during the Civil War in Spain.

From 1941-45 he acted as adviser to the Soviet Film Agency, and in 1948 he joined Sir Michael Balcon at Ealing Studios as an associate producer; here he co-wrote the screenplay for Scott of the Antarctic (1948).

His considerable literary work included the translation of Pudovkin's Film Technique (1929) and Film Acting (1935), the translation of plays and novels from French, German and Russian, political works such as The Traitor Class, Plot Against Peace, and Germany's New Nazis, and the Pelican book, Film World.

Montagu was an active executive member of the film-makers' Union, the Association of Cinematograph, Television and Allied Technicians, of which he was one of the founders.

Montagu was a champion table tennis player, representing Britain in matches all over the world. But he also made a great contribution to the life of the early game, helping to establish and finance the first world championships in London in 1926 and becoming the first chairman of table tennis's international federation, a post he held for over forty years.

He also wrote two books, Table Tennis Today (1924) and Table Tennis (1936) which were both part of the impetus he gave to the sport.

His wife died last month.