Edward Dmytryk

Edward Dmytryk

Born in Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, Dmytryk was raised by his Ukrainian immigrant parents, father Michael, a farmer, and his mother, Frances, who raised four children. His family moved to California following his mother's death in 1913, but left home at 14 years old and supported himself as a messenger and office boy at the Famous-Lasky Players studio. A quick study, Dmytryk began learning how to splice film while also working as a projectionist. He soon left the film business for a short time to attend the California Institute of Technology after winning a scholarship, only to drop out after his freshman year. Dmytryk returned to his old studio - now called Paramount Pictures - where he became an editor, working on pictures like "The Royal Family of Broadway" (1930), "Only Saps Work" (1930), "Belle of the Nineties" (1934) with Mae West, and "Ruggles of Red Gap" (1935) starring Charles Laughton. He made his directing debut with the independently made Western "The Hawk" (1935), which he did as a favor for a friend, but Dmytryk stayed primarily in the cutting room for the next four years.Back to work as an editor, Dmytryk cut "Three Cheers for Love" (1936), "Easy to Take" (1936) and the musical "Turn Off the Moon" (1937), before returning to the director's chair for "The Trail of the Hawk" (1937). He continued editing films like "Murder Goes to College" (1937), "Bulldog Drummond's Peril" (1938) and "Love Affair" (1939) until making a permanent jump to directing. He was uncredited on "Million Dollar Legs" (1939) - no relation to the 1932 film with W.C. Fields - for Paramount when the studio was unhappy with how credited director, Nick Grindle, was performing. The eager Dmytryk finished the production on schedule and was rewarded with a handful of B-films including "Television Spy" (1939), "Emergency Squad" (1940) and "Golden Gloves" (1940). Dmytryk moved on and signed with Columbia Pictures, where he cranked out seven B-pictures and programmers in a year's time, including a very solid entry in the "Boston Blackie" series, "Confessions of Boston Blackie" (1941), as well as the atmospheric horror film, "The Devil Commands" (1941), starring Boris Karloff.Dmytryk's fortunes were on the upswing when he moved to RKO in 1942, where for a time he specialized in action thrillers, typically his best genre. "Seven Miles from Alcatraz" (1942) was a taut tale of two escaped convicts, and Dmytryk enjoyed his first box office smashes with two modestly budgeted potboilers, "Hitler's Children" (1943) and "Behind the Rising Sun" (1943). Both were vivid, though sensationalistic wartime propaganda films about human rights atrocities in Nazi Germany and Japan respectively, and naturally struck a chord with the American public. He continued his box office success with his first A-picture, "Tender Comrade" (1943), a weepy Ginger Rogers vehicle about war wives with mild whiffs of the leftist rhetoric which would soon get the director in a great deal of trouble during the post-war McCarthy Era. Meanwhile, Dmytryk entered his peak period as a filmmaker, which proved to be brief, but memorable. He collaborated on four key films with producer Adrian Scott and screenwriter John Paxton, beginning with the marvelous film noir "Murder, My Sweet" (1944). One of the finest and most important films of the genre, it was also a sterling adaptation of Raymond Chandler's original novel and revitalized Dick Powell's starring career.Dmytryk reunited with Scott, Paxton and Powell for a second film, the hair-trigger thriller "Cornered" (1945), another study of deceptive surfaces and shifting loyalties, all filtered through a cynical sensibility and sharp visuals. Even Dmytryk's more routine assignments during this time came off well. "Back to Bataan" (1945) was a solid wartime saga, "Till the End of Time" (1946) a well-acted study of returning war veterans, and "So Well Remembered" (1947) - prophetically made in England - a sincere piece of humanist socialism about a newspaper editor (John Mills) who helps a strike-torn town. Dmytryk's acclaim and popularity peaked with "Crossfire" (1947), a classic film noir starring Robert Ryan and Robert Mitchum that was one of the first major studio films to tackle anti-Semitism and homophobia, and earned Dmytryk the only Best Director Oscar nomination of his career. Although the film's overtly political tone may have seemed more obvious and less impressive to contemporary audiences, "Crossfire" was particularly potent for its time, a mature, skillfully shot and well-acted noir about relevant social problems.Dmytryk's success, however, came to an abrupt halt when hawkish fellow director Sam Wood named Dmytryk as a Communist before Congress' infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Referencing his constitutional rights, Dmytryk refused to answer the committee's questions and was cited for contempt of Congress, leading to being branded one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film industry professionals - mostly screenwriters - who were blacklisted from working in Hollywood. Dmytryk returned to England to make "Obsession" (1949), a dark psychological noir about an insanely jealous husband (Robert Newton) of an unfaithful wife (Sally Gray), and "Give Us This Day" (1949), a touching drama about immigrants living in the tenement slums of New York in the 1920s. Ordered back to the U.S. to renew his passport, Dmytryk was promptly arrested and served six months in prison before he agreed to testify before HUAC and name names. Doing so freed him and made him eligible to work again in Hollywood, though many were critical of Dmytryk for what appeared to be him caving to pressure. Although Dmytryk's actions were questionable, he did have a family to support and had long been alienated from his Communist affiliations. In short, Dmytryk saw himself as suffering for a cause he no longer believed in.With his HUAC problems behind him, Dmytryk received a new lease on his career from producer Stanley Kramer with "The "The Sniper" (1952), a gripping noir about a misogynistic killer (Arthur Franz) and a police lieutenant (Adolphe Menjou) who is gradually won over to preventive social policies. Dmytryk also made the study of a Holocaust survivor, "The Juggler" (1953), the first Hollywood film shot in Israel, and capped his association with Kramer with "The Caine Mutiny" (1954), an excellent adaptation of Herman Wouk's novel about a naval officer's mental disintegration and his crew's rebellion that featured a great late-career performance from Humphrey Bogart. Though re-established as a working director, Dmytryk's track record over the next 20 years proved to be spotty at best. He directed the classic Western "Broken Lance" (1954) starring Spencer Tracy, and the complicated adaptation of Graham Greene's "The End of the Affair" (1955) with Van Johnson and Deborah Kerr. After the mediocre alpine adventure "The Mountain" (1956), he helmed "Raintree County" (1957), a splashy, but overdone melodrama starring Elizabeth Taylor as a Southern belle who goes insane.Dmytryk's penchant for directing longer than necessary films dinged the otherwise excellent character drama, "The Young Lions" (1958) a study of U.S. and German soldiers during wartime that featured Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift and Dean Martin in excellent form. Following another excellent Western, "Warlock" (1959), starring Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn, he directed the critically dismissed "Walk on the Wild Side" (1962), a rather lurid melodrama about a man from Texas (Laurence Harvey) who goes to Louisiana in search of his missing girlfriend (Jane Fonda), only to learn she's a prostitute in a New Orleans brothel with no intention of leaving. From there, he helmed "The Reluctant Saint" (1962) and the family melodrama "Where Love Has Gone" (1964), and scored a smash hit with "The Carpetbaggers" (1964), a Hollywood exposé based on Harold Robbins' trashy 1961 best-seller. After landing another hit with the clever psychological thriller "Mirage" (1966), he directed "Alvarez Kelly" (1966), a Civil War-set actioner starring William Holden and Richard Widmark that proved to be the last film Dmytryk made in the U.S. for 10 years.Back in England again, Dmytryk directed the Western "Shalako" (1968) with Sean Connery and Bridget Bardot, before going to Italy to helm the World War II drama "Anzio" (1968) starring Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan and Peter Falk. After some time off, he directed Richard Burton in the well-worn thriller "Bluebeard" (1972) and George Kennedy in the violent revenge thriller "The Human Factor" (1975). Hardly anybody saw his final directing effort, "He is My Brother" (1976), which led to his retirement from the business. As a seasoned veteran, however, Dmytryk proved to be an articulate and interesting interviewee for documentary films including "Hollywood on Trial" (1976) and "50 Years of Action!" (1986) as well as television documentaries like "Hollywood: The Golden Years" (1988) and "When America Trembled: Murrow/McCarthy" (CBS, 1994). Dmytryk spent his later years teaching film at the University of Texas and the University of Southern California, as well as publishing a series of books on film, including On Directing (1984), On Screenwriting (1985) and Cinema: Concept and Practice (1988). Dmytryk died of heart and kidney failure on July 1, 1999 in Encino, CA. He was 90 years old.By Shawn Dwyer