Remembering Abdel-Fatah El-Kasry: A genuine native of Egypt's films

Ashraf Gharib, Wednesday 13 Mar 2019

The Egyptian actor Abdel-Fatah El-Kasry was born 15 April 1905 and died 8 March 1964, leaving a rich legacy in comedic performances

Abdel-Fatah El-Kasry
Abdel-Fatah El-Kasry

8 March marked the anniversary of the death of Abdel-Fatah El-Kasry (1905-1964), also spelled as El-Quossary, the comedian who spent his life making millions laugh, but lost his sight and mental faculties in his final months.

Nobody knows for sure the real date of birth of El-Kasry, even if sources report he was born 15 April 1905. Through extrapolation we can establish from certain incidents in his career that he was born before the end of the 19th century by a year or two.

He was brought up by a father working in gold ornamentation in El-Gamaleya quarter in the heart of Old Cairo.

El-Kasry learned at the College de La Salle, fulfilling the wishes of his father, who aspired that his son will be a well known government official.

However, the little boy was attracted to something else — theatre.

After El-Kasry watched the Fawzi El-Gazayerly Theatre Company shows, he neglected his studies, and then his father’s profession. He went wholeheartedly into acting, joining Abdel-Rahman Rushdy Theatrical Company in 1917.

After a brief period, El-Kasry joined the George Abyad Company, run by one of the great thespians of tragedy in theatre. However, he did not find what he wished for there and became more interested in comedic performance. The company's owner advised him to focus on this kind of drama and predicted a great future for him.

Indeed, El-Kasry joined theatre companies one after the other, until he ended up in Al-Rihani Company, one of the most famous comedy companies in Egypt at the time.

There, Naguib Al-Rihani shaped the character of the master, which El-Kasry became famous for both on stage and on screen. He remained in the company until the death of its owner in 1949, after which he moved into the Ismail Yassin Company, formed in 1954, until he stopped acting due to health problems in his final months.

As for the silver screen, Abdel-Fattah El-Kasry began his cinematic career in Master Bah Bah (1935, Shukri Mady) starring Fawzi El-Gazayerli, El-Kasry's childhood icon. In the following year, he acted in His Highness Wants to Marry (Alexander Varkas), starring Naguib Al-Rihani. Then he participated in many films, such as Something Out of Nothing (1938) and Life in the Darkness (1940), both by Ahmed Badrkhan. Unfortunately, these films were lost so we miss the opportunity of getting a closer look on the early artistic features of El-Kasry's persona on the screen.

Omar Bey (1941, Niazi Mostafa) starring Naguib Al-Rihani is considered the oldest screen image of El-Kasry and the first landmark in his cinematic career. In this film he didn’t present a wholly comedic performance, but blended the role of villain with comedy, due to Al-Rihani’s presence in most of El-Kasry's scenes. Indeed, El-Kasry often played in his early beginnings villainous roles mixed with comedy, or combined comedy with villainy. This was evident in one of his most significant early roles, which is The Black Market (1945, Kamel El-Telmissany).

However, El-Kasry didn't gain his wide popularity through these roles. Throughout the 1940s, the man proved for filmmakers the breadth of his special comedic talents. Thus, when the 1950s began the artistic features of his screen persona, for which he became famous, crystallised. Between 1950 and 1951 he acted in 19 films. The most important are Hard Luck (1950, Barakat) and My Mother-in-Law is an Atomic Bomb (1951, Helmy Rafla).

El-Kasry was successful with all the directors with whom he worked. His collaboration with Fateen Abdel-Wahab, the long experienced comedy director, yielded perhaps his best and most important films, which started with The House of Ghosts (1951) followed by The Lawyer Fatma (1952) before ending their collaboration with two other films, Miss Hanafy (1954) and Son of Hamido (1957). His four collaborations with Fateen were more like variations on one character. However, El-Kasry was capable of clinging to this fine margin of difference between traditional master in Miss Hanafy and the person affecting being knowledgeable in The Lawyer Fatma, and the fisherman and owner of the Normandy Two boat. After his three final films, Lady Sukkar (1960, El-Sayed Bedeir), The Family Tree (1960, Sherif Zaly) and The Bahari Girls (1960, Hassan El-Seifi), El-Kasry stopped acting.

On another level, El-Kasry achieved cumulative success with Abbas Kamel, the low-class comedy pioneer director in films such as Mermaid (1947), Horseshoe (1949), My Lover’s Window (1951) and Lady Fairouz (1951). The succession of these films and Abbas Kamel’s insistence on presenting El-Kasry in the mould of the master with a sense of humour led to an increase in the audience’s attraction to this loveable character.

El-Kasry wasn’t pedantic comedian. He was simple to the extent that makes you feel like he wasn't acting. He relied on his skillfulness in using his tools, such as intonation, facial expressions and his eyes, as well as his special way of walking and his flabby body. All these mannerisms were enough to raise the audience’s laughter.

Some accused him of being stereotypical because he didn’t seek to develop his performance range. This can be rebutted by saying that it wasn’t required from him to do more, else we would miss the simplicity of the genuine personality. Perhaps his simplicity was the secret of his screen appeal.

El-Kasry’s success was self-made. He was successful with the emergent middle class following the end of World War II in the mid-1940s, and was also successful with the growing attention to the peasantry and workers following the July 1952 Revolution. His presence as a comedian was firmly footed and has remained captivating through the 55 years that have passed since his death.

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