Obituary: Edward Dmytryk

Dmytryk's finest film was Farewell, My Lovely - some consider Dick Powell's interpretation of Philip Marlowe to be the screen's definitive portrayal

THE LIFE and career of Edward Dmytryk was marked by ambivalence. The director of Hitler's Children, one of the most successful B movies of all time, and some excellent films noir of the Forties, including Farewell My Lovely, Cornered and Crossfire, he later made some of Hollywood's most lumbering vehicles. A committed left-winger who initially refused to collaborate with the House Un-American Activities Committee and went to gaol for his beliefs, he later recanted and named names, incriminating several of his former colleagues.

Dmytryk was born in 1908 in Grand Forks, Canada, to Ukrainian immigrants. When he was six years old his mother died and his father moved to San Francisco, where the boy was made to contribute to the family budget by selling papers and caddying at the local country club. "I was 14," he later wrote, "when I realised that the beatings I was getting at home were counter-productive."

He ran away from home, and juvenile authorities placed him with a family in Hollywood. At the age of 15, he obtained a job as messenger boy at Paramount and worked in various departments at the studio until in 1930, the director Cyril Gardner hired him as editor on Only Saps Work.

For most of the next decade he worked as an editor, his films including The Royal Family of Broadway (1930), If I Had a Million (1932), Duck Soup (1933) and Ruggles of Red Gap (1935). He directed his first film, The Hawk, a low-budget western, in 1935, but his career as a director did not really start until 1939 when Paramount gave him a contract to direct a series of B movies.

Television Spy (1939) was not an auspicious start. Daily Variety wrote,

Equipped with story material that should have built it into a strong supporting feature, Television Spy slumps into filler division because of the inability of director Edward Dmytryk to draw convincing characterisations from his players.

By 1940, when he moved to Columbia Studios and made the Boris Karloff chiller The Devil Commands, two mystery stories, Secrets of the Lone Wolf and Confessions of Boston Blackie, and the Ruby Keeler musical Sweetheart of the Campus he had gained a reputation as one of Hollywood's most efficient low-budget directors, but it was with a move to RKO the following year that he began to attract attention.

After making an anti-Nazi thriller, Seven Miles from Alcatraz (1942), he was given a story about the indoctrination of children in Nazi Germany adapted from a book called Education for Death. Retitled Hitler's Children (1943), and starring Tim Holt and Bonita Granville, it was a box-office sensation - costing $100,000, it made nearly $4m, though critics were not impressed.

"Old stuff to those who read the papers and unreflective of the deeper drama involved," wrote Bosley Crowther in The New York Times, while Howard Barnes in the Herald-Tribune stated, "Both in the treatment and the direction, the picture is more sensational than dramatically effective." Dmytryk himself said,

The subject matter was shocking to wartime audiences: sterilisation, illegitimate babies to forge a master race. I can't say Bonita Granville and Tim Holt were very German, but that was their appeal. We were really showing how American kids would behave under the same circumstances.

Dmytryk next made another sensational propaganda piece, Behind the Rising Sun (1943), described as "hitting a new high in atrocities" in its depiction of the Japanese bayonetting children (when not giving them opium), raping women, inserting needles under their fingernails and carrying out various forms of torture. It was a massive box- office hit and the studio rewarded the director by giving him another propaganda piece, but this time an A movie with their biggest star, Ginger Rogers. Written by Dalton Trumbo, Tender Comrade (1943) was the story of four war wives who decide to pool resources while their husbands are away, and its communistic principles (Rogers refused to say the line, "Share and share alike") would be cited later when Trumbo and Dmytryk were being tried for their politics.

Dmytryk's next film was his finest, a version of Raymond Chandler's Farewell, My Lovely which is second only to Howard Hawks's The Big Sleep as a film adaptation of a Chandler book - some consider Dick Powell's interpretation of the detective hero Philip Marlowe to be the screen's definitive portrayal. Dmytryk saw Marlowe as "a do-gooder with the patina of toughness only skin-deep" and that is the way Powell played him.

From the striking shot when Marlowe's client, the hulking Moose Malloy (played by the wrestler Mike Mazurki) is reflected in Marlowe's office window, the film is a compulsively gripping saga of paranoia, violence and sexual duplicity, with Powell supported by a fine cast headed by Claire Trevor, who later stated,

Although our director did a very good job, I wasn't keen on him personally. He was a young, attractive and talented man, but a Commie, as we called them. Later, when he really began to make money, he bought apartment buildings and other real estate and became a big capitalist.

Because Dick Powell had become famous for his musicals in the Thirties, early preview audiences assumed that the title Farewell, My Lovely signified a musical, so for the American release in 1945 the film was called Murder, My Sweet. Dmytryk's next thriller, Cornered (1945), also starred Powell as a former war pilot tracking down Nazis in Buenos Aires. Till the End of Time (1946) was a touching study of returning war veterans which did well, and had particular importance for Dmytryk because in the cast was Jean Porter, a peppy and pretty teenage actress. The couple fell in love and in 1948 Jean Porter became Dmytryk's second wife. The marriage was to endure for the rest of their lives, and Dmytryk's autobiography It's a Hell of a Life, But Not a Bad Living (1978) had the dedication, "For Jean -My Only Love".

Dmytryk's Crossfire (1947) was one of Hollywood's first attempts to deal with racial discrimation. The film's use of exaggerated shadows and harsh lighting illustrated the effect of German expressionism on film noir, though Dmytryk also pointed out that the cost of the film's three stars, Robert Young, Robert Mitchum and Robert Ryan (truly chilling as the bigoted killer), necessitated a short shooting schedule, and simple high-contrast lighting took less time to set up. "It was a lot faster to light the people and then throw a couple of big shadows on the wall."

Shortly after the film was finished, Dmytryk and his producer Adrian Scott were among those summoned to appear before the House Un-American Activities Committee. When they refused to answer questions about their political affiliations they became part of the famed "Hollywood Ten" to be imprisoned.

After serving a year in gaol, Dmytryk went into self-imposed exile in Britain, where he made So Well Remembered (1948), Obsession (1949) and Give Us This Day (1949) before returning to the US and agreeing to testify in the second round of committee hearings. His naming of several colleagues was never forgiven by some of them, including the director Jules Dassin, who denied the charge but vehemently refused to testify. "I feel completely betrayed by Dmytryk's accusation," he stated, "but it would be my word against his." There was no evidence against Dassin except Dmytryk's, but the HUAC persecuted him anyway and Dassin was forced into exile at the age of 38.

Dmytryk returned to Hollywood film-making with a low-budget adventure yarn, Mutiny (1952), many of his former colleagues refusing to hire him, but the producer Stanley Kramer came to his rescue and hired him to direct The Sniper (1952), a taut and well-played thriller.

Dmytryk returned to mainstream film-making in 1954 directing Humphrey Bogart in The Caine Mutiny, Spencer Tracy in Broken Lance and Deborah Kerr in a film version of Graham Greene's novel The End of the Affair - all respectable films, but lacking the spark of his earlier successes. Soldier of Fortune (1955), The Left Hand of God (1955, again with Bogart) and The Mountain (1956) were fairly dreary, and MGM's lavish production Raintree County (1957), touted as a new Gone with the Wind, was disastrously dull, notable only for the fine performance of Elizabeth Taylor.

One of the director's better films was The Young Lions (1958), a sometimes effective if sprawling saga of the Second World War with Marlon Brando as a morally confused Nazi. The Carpetbaggers (1964) was a commercially successful adaptation of the Harold Robbins best-seller, and the same author provided the story for Where Love Has Gone (1964).

But the best of the later Dmytryk films was a modest thriller, Mirage (1965), which, from its hypnotic opening sequence in which an amnesiac, Gregory Peck, meets the heroine Diane Baker in the stairwell of a huge office building during a black-out, is totally gripping.

In his late 1970s, Dmytryk taught film at the University of Texas, and in 1981 was appointed a film-making professor at the University of Southern California. "Garson Kanin told me you should take chances, change careers," wrote Dmytryk, "so I decided to take up a new career, teaching - and I'm hooked."

Edward Dmytryk, film director: born Grand Forks, British Columbia 4 September 1908; twice married (one son, two daughters); died Los Angeles 1 July 1999.

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Hope Fletcher
booksFirst video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Arts and Entertainment
Damien Hirst
artCoalition's anti-culture policy and cuts in local authority spending to blame, says academic
Arts and Entertainment
A comedy show alumni who has gone on to be a big star, Jon Stewart
tvRival television sketch shows vie for influential alumni
Arts and Entertainment
Jason goes on a special mission for the queen
tvReview: Everyone loves a CGI Cyclops and the BBC's Saturday night charmer is getting epic
Arts and Entertainment
Image has been released by the BBC
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Len Goodman appeared to mutter the F-word after Simon Webbe's Strictly performance

Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T makes his long-awaited return to the London stage
musicReview: Alexandra Palace, London
Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 back in 2001 when they also supported 'Children in Need'
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Bruce Forsyth rejoins Tess Daly to host the Strictly Come Dancing Children in Need special
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan plays Christian Grey getting ready for work

Film More romcom than S&M

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Review: The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment
The comedian Daniel O'Reilly appeared contrite on BBC Newsnight last night

Arts and Entertainment
The American stand-up Tig Notaro, who performed topless this week show her mastectomy scars

Arts and Entertainment

TVNetflix gets cryptic

Arts and Entertainment
Claudia Winkleman is having another week off Strictly to care for her daughter
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Children in Need is the BBC's UK charity. Since 1980 it has raised over £600 million to change the lives of disabled children and young people in the UK

TV review A moving film showing kids too busy to enjoy their youth

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Flanagan with his winning novel

Books Not even a Man Booker prize could save Richard Flanagan from a nomination

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

    Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

    Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
    Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

    The last Christians in Iraq

    After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
    Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

    Britain braced for Black Friday
    Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

    From America's dad to date-rape drugs

    Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

    As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

    Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

    The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
    Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

    Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
    Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

    Flogging vlogging

    First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

    Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

    US channels wage comedy star wars
    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

    When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

    When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible
    Look what's mushrooming now! Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector

    Look what's mushrooming now!

    Meat-free recipes and food scandals help one growing sector
    Neil Findlay is more a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    More a pink shrimp than a red firebrand

    The vilification of the potential Scottish Labour leader Neil Findlay shows how one-note politics is today, says DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Tenderstem broccoli omelette; Fried eggs with Mexican-style tomato and chilli sauce; Pan-fried cavolo nero with soft-boiled egg

    Oeuf quake

    Bill Granger's cracking egg recipes
    Terry Venables: Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back

    Terry Venables column

    Wayne Rooney is roaring again and the world knows that England are back
    Michael Calvin: Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Abject leadership is allowing football’s age-old sores to fester

    Those at the top are allowing the same issues to go unchallenged, says Michael Calvin