London: The Rank Organisation, 1965. Poster. This is an original movie poster from the documentary film about Churchill, Churchill Champion of Freedom, produced in 1965, the year Churchill died. The poster, quite large, measures 40” x 27” (101.6 cm x 68.6 cm), printed in reddish-pink, black, and white, and features a striking, stylized image of Churchill’s countenance clearly based upon Yousef Karsh’s famous 1941 “Roaring Lion” photographic portrait of Churchill. Condition is very good. The poster is creased once vertically and three times horizontally, ostensibly from original issuance, and there is a small loss to the margin of the lower right corner. The poster is otherwise bright and clean. The verso features a large, ink-stamped "65-508".
The film was directed by George Grafton Green with commentary by Wynford Vaughan-Thomas and apparently took its title from a line in Dwight Eisenhower’s broadcast eulogy of Churchill: “Among the things so written or spoken, there will ring out through all the centuries one incontestable refrain: here was a champion of freedom.” There is some irony in this given the anti-American cinematic aspirations of the man who owned the film’s production company.
The British film conglomerate, the Rank Organisation, which produced Churchill Champion of Freedom, was founded by J. Arthur Rank (1888-1972), a flour miller turned film tycoon. Rank was an ardent Methodist, and viewed cinema as a potential force for good, and a means through which to disseminate proper values. He actively worked against what he believed to be Hollywood’s lurid influence, declaring “I am in films because of the Holy Spirit.” Other times, when asked why a flour miller was getting into film, Rank would respond by saying that it was calling to him (the particular diction of ‘calling’ alludes to his Methodism). But his ‘calling’ to the extravagant world of film making was at odds with his predilections: he was regarded as “present[ing] an extreme philistinism: he had never heard of Thomas Hardy, was alarmed at meeting George Bernard Shaw, disliked music, had the plain man's love of plain food, hung his houses with pictures of gun dogs and dead pheasants, and added a bedroom wing to Sutton Manor which was notably hideous.” (ODNB). Despite how incongruous his character was to the industry, perhaps his modesty and philistinism advantaged him over the other tycoons who were known to excessively interfere with film production.
The First World War was not kind to British film. The world had become accustomed to Hollywood’s film style, and Britain was losing its actors to enticing American movie organizations. But during the Second World War, cinema attendance peaked, and the salvation of British film-making could be entirely attributed to Rank’s efforts. Although he avoided sensational subjects that would have been safe investments, Rank managed to wrestle British film out of the grip of Hollywood by making documentaries and films that featured realistic and historic subject matter. Because of this, his work became important morale boosting propaganda. But following the death of his brother, he settled his controlling interest in his film company on the condition that the Rank Organisation never fall under the control of an American company. After his brother’s death, Rank was obliged to return to the family business of flour milling. For Rank bread was ‘the stuff of life.’ (ODNB). Item #006156