The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is presenting a tribute to Director/Producer Otto Preminger in honor of his 100th birthday. Many of his best films have recently been restored or reprinted and will be screened at the Academy through Sunday, November 12.
Otto Preminger is not a name readily identifiable by the usual film fan, let alone the average moviegoer of today. It’s one of those names you recognize as a great but you may not know why. This is perhaps due to the fact that many of his films have established a greatness of their own, beginning with one of Preminger’s early American successes, the 1944 mystery classic Laura, for which he earned his first Academy Award nomination. Laura has lived on in the annals of American film history as an ethereal murder mystery with a beguiling romance and an incredible cast of character actors representing the best the 1940s had to offer. When will you ever again have the opportunity to say the names Clifton Webb and Vincent Price in the same sentence!
A larger than life figure, the public persona of Otto Preminger epitomizes what most people envision as the typical Hollywood movie director of the “Golden Age” of cinema. His imposing physical appearance (think large bald man with a riding crop and jodhpurs) enhanced his reputation as a disciplinarian who never hesitated to terrorize his actors and put fear into the hearts of his subordinates. Although Preminger often clashed with authority, studio executives liked what the autocratic filmmaker brought to the screen and so he ended up directing many important films including Angel Face with Jean Simmons and Robert Mitchum, The River of No Return again with Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe, Carmen Jones with his famed amore Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, Porgy and Bess which teamed Dandridge with Sidney Poitier, and Advise and Consent with an all star cast that included Henry Fonda, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon, Peter Lawford and a return to the screen of Laura star Gene Tierney.
Born in Austria and raised in an atmosphere of privilege and entitlement, Preminger was a man of strong beliefs. It was inevitable that he should become an independent producer in order to make his own films, often of a more controversial nature and too hot for studios to handle, such as The Moon is Blue, a sex comedy released in 1955 without a Production Code seal of approval, and The Man with the Golden Arm, a film about heroin addiction. Always an agitator, Preminger was also known for work practices unpopular with the Hollywood masses, including location shooting for the sake of authenticity, developing projects that promoted the industries underutilized talents of African American performers, and employing the so called “untouchable” members of the Hollywood blacklist.
Most notable among Preminger’s enormous abilities was his true gift for creating an overall portrait of a scene. This particular talent was unmatched by his contemporaries, an important skill which is all but forgotten by today’s filmmaker. He had a great talent for creating a wide expansive mural, often filling the big screen with well-orchestrated single shot scenes. Preminger had faith with the audience’s ability to discern points of interest and absorb details as they revealed themselves. Furthermore, he had complete confidence in his own ability to express the important, having details rise to the attention of the camera as the unimportant receded to the background.
Preminger’s Oscar nominated Anatomy of a Murder wraps up the tribute on Sunday, November 12 at 7pm at the Linwood Dunn Theater. This frank and bold film (for its time) deals with a murder case instigated by the rape of a man’s wife. Jimmy Stewart stars as the attorney for the defense and George C. Scott gives a career establishing performance as the prosecutor. Tickets are a great bargain at $5 for the general public ($3.00 for Academy members). The theater is located at the Pickford Center at 1313 North Vine Street in Hollywood.