Maurice Ostrer - Rotten Tomatoes

Maurice Ostrer

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Maurice Ostrer was a producer in British cinema during a very busy decade, from the end of the 1930s until the end of the 1940s. He was one of the more reliable in-house producers at the Rank Organization (or, as it was known then, General Film Distributors), releasing a string of respected movies that made money in England, and generated at least one genre classic, The Wicked Lady (1945), that ended up bringing a halt to his career. Ostrer was born in the East End of London in 1896, the youngest son in a family of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants; his father was a jewelry salesman, but Maurice and two of his brothers, Mark and Isadore, were bent on doing something more, and by the 1920s had established a chain of 350 theaters around England. With the coming of sound, their investment in the industry deepened and expanded to encompass film production, through the Gaumont-British Picture Corporation, which, under production chief Michael Balcon, enjoyed great success in the early and mid-'30s. Maurice Ostrer held an executive position at Gaumont-British, but after the departure of Balcon in 1936, he took over as executive in charge of production -- as his credit read on many films -- starting with the Will Hay comedy Ask a Policeman (1939). Ostrer retained his position at Gaumont-British even after he and his family sold out their shares in the company to J. Arthur Rank, a Methodist flour magnate who saw movies as a morally uplifting force, in 1941. Ostrer was responsible for producing such staid, respectable early '40s titles as The Young Mr. Pitt (1942) and We Dive at Dawn (1943), but he and Rank came to loggerheads, ironically enough, over a small group of extremely popular movies known as Gainsborough romances (named for the studio division that generated them). In 1943, director Leslie Arliss had made the first of them, The Man in Grey, a melodrama set in the 17th century, depicting a lusty illicit relationship between two characters (portrayed by Margaret Lockwood and James Mason), which did exceptionally good business. It was the follow-up effort, The Wicked Lady (1945), that caused the split with Rank -- the movie made a fortune on both sides of the Atlantic (though the American censors insisted that some scenes be reshot with less revealing costumes for the women), its provocative portrayals and overtly frank (for the time) sexual references being a tonic for the dreariness of four years (or six, for the British) of wartime devotion to duty. But Rank, devout religious man that he was, couldn't abide the movie's overheated lustiness and sexuality, and forbade any further films of that type, allowing the next of the Gainsborough romances, Madonna of the Seven Moons (1945), to die on the vine, rather than cultivate the same audience that The Wicked Lady had drawn to theaters. Ostrer and Rank went their separate ways in early 1946, and Ostrer next formed his own film company, Premier Productions. He got Arliss back and provided the financing for his next movie, Idol of Paris (1948). The latter (co-authored by one of Ostrer's relatives) was produced well enough and delivered a lot of the same salacious thrills as the earlier Wicked Lady. As with most independent companies, however, the single film failed to generate sufficient profits to sustain its producers to their next movie, and Premier was closed by 1949. Ostrer exited the movie industry and spent the remainder of his professional life as a textiles magnate. He died in 1975 and, thus, never saw Michael Winner's even more overheated remake of The Wicked Lady (to a screenplay by Arliss), starring Faye Dunaway. He might've gotten a good laugh at the expense of the departed Rank, over the fact that the newer movie also ran afoul of censors, this time in the U.K., not for its lustiness so much as a fight between two women wielding carriage whips, which, itself, had been lifted by Arliss out of the Ostrer-produced Idol of Paris.

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