Continuing a series about Art Directors in the British film industry up to 1948, when the book containing these articles was published.
This chapter deals with the remarkable John Bryan. (1911 – 1969)
(Click on the thumbnail images to enlarge them)
John Bryan’s work shows him to be a designer of the romantic school.
His drawings are always full of vitality, while his handling of light and shade and his distorted perspective show a nice disregard for convention which is also characteristic of his own personality.
His visualization of an idea is all that matters, and he spares neither himself nor anyone else in his attempts to achieve it.
Great Expectations 1946
Watch the Great Expectations trailer.
His backgrounds to ‘The Night of the Fire’, made by Desmond Hurst in 1947 first showed that he was an outstanding young artist and one of the most promising designers in the British film industry.
The cameraman on this production was the great Gunthe Krampf, who has been associated with some of the most memorable film productions in the last thirty years.
However good a designer may be, unless the cameraman working together with him is also an artist, the audience will never appreciate the value of his work. Today, Bryan is again lucky in his association with Guy Green. Their work together as designer and cameraman on ‘Great Expectations’ was a memorable experience.
Like Carrick and Junge, John Bryan began his experience in the theatre. At sixteen he was apprenticed for two years to Arthur and Lemaitre, scenic artists, who at that time were busy painting scenery for Bryan’s father who was producing for Daly’s. Then he was with Alick Johnston’s Scenic Studios, where he met Laurence Irving, an artist who was to have such an influence upon his film career.
Irving’s theatre production of ‘The Good Companions’ was being painted at Johnston’s studio when he took an interest in young John’s work and offered him a job as his personal assistant, so off he went to the lovely atmosphere of Irving’s Mill at Whitstable. With Irving he worked on his first film, ‘Diamond Cut Dianiond’ and later on ‘Colonel Blood’ at Sound City, where he was later to work as an Art Director, getting £7 10s. a week turning out ‘quickies’ until the studio closed in 1940.
When William Cameron Menzies was looking for assistants for ‘The Shape of Things to Come’, Bryan and Frank Wells joined him, and from there he ‘drifted’ on to Vincent Korda’s staff.
Following various jobs as Art Director on small films, he joined Pascal to become Art Director on ‘Pygmalion’, a production which Laurence Irving designed.
During the war camouflage claimed him for a couple of years, then he was back at film work designing ‘The Adventures of Tartu’ for M.G.M. (in England), followed by ‘Millions Like Us’ and ‘Fanny by Gaslight’.
Then came that great production of ‘Caesar and Cleopatra’, and here he again linked up with Pascal as his Art Director. Oliver Messel was responsible for decor and costumes while Heckroth and Bellan also worked on the production, a fine group of artists all working together.
In 1945 he renewed his association with Tony Havelock-Allen, for whom he had worked in the old days at Sound City and, together with David Lean and Guy Green, they made ‘Great Expectations’. On this film, however, Bryan worked as Production Designer and Shingleton was his Art Director.
Oliver Twist 1948
(You can see this exact shot in this Trailer.)
‘Great Expectations’ was followed by ‘Oliver Twist’, a picture which was admirably suited to Bryan’s love of the romantic. On this picture he has not separated the responsibilities of Production Designer from that of Art Director and to my mind the result is even better.