A PROLIFIC director of 'B' movies in the Forties - those films of an hour or so which supported the main feature - Arthur Dreifuss frequently professed his desire to graduate to more prestigious productions and more generous budgets, but there was a strong class hierarchy in Hollywood which made it difficult to cross the boundary from 'B' to 'A' - even such outstanding talents as Ann Miller and Donald O'Connor spent years in low-budget quickies before graduating to major productions. Dreifuss made one prestige production, The Quare Fellow (1962), but is best remembered for his cheerful shoestring musicals featuring the talents of such eager young hopefuls as Miller, Jean Porter, June Preisser and Jinx Falkenburg.
Born in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, in 1908, Dreifuss was a musical child prodigy, a talented conductor-pianist before reaching his teens. Attracted to the musical stage, he had carved a reputation as both choreographer and producer in the German theatre when he embarked for the United States in the mid-Thirties. Hollywood first employed him as a dance director on low-budget musicals before a small-time independent company International Roadshows gave him the chance to direct two mysteries, Double Deal (1939) and Mystery in Swing (1940).
On the basis of these taut little thrillers, Producers Releasing Corporation, the 'Poverty Row' studio which turned out quickly made 'B' pictures, signed him to a contract and his work for them was constantly judged above average by critics - Baby Face Morgan (1942) was a sprightly pastiche of the studio's own style of gangster film. In 1943 Dreifuss moved slightly up-market, dividing his output between Monogram Studios and the 'B' unit at Columbia, and continued to do sterling work with limited means. At Monogram he made two vehicles for the burlesque star Ann Corio, Sarong Girl (1942) and The Sultan's Daughter (1943), and he helped make Gale Storm the studio's biggest star with two engaging musicals Campus Rhythm and Nearly Eighteen (both 1943).
At Columbia Dreifuss made Boston Blackie's Rendezvous (1945), considered one of the best of the popular crime series with a chilling early performance by Steve Cochran, and Eadie was a Lady (1945), a superior Ann Miller musical in which the star played a college student who works in burlesque at night. Dreifuss had become a favourite of the producer Sam Katzman, noted for his ability to cater to prevailing teenage tastes, and together they made several films aimed at that market - Junior Prom, Freddie Steps Out, High School Hero (all 1945), Betty Co-Ed (1946) - featuring the same pool of teenage stars, June Pressler, Jean Porter and Freddie Stewart. Dreifuss also directed the last three starring roles for the singer Gloria Jean, I Surrender Dear (1948), Manhattan Angel and There's a Girl In My Heart (both 1949).
Dreifuss produced and wrote songs for the latter, and had earlier occasionally produced, choreographed or co-written his films. In 1962 he was at last given his chance to direct a major production, The Quare Fellow, made in Ireland and scripted by Dreifuss from Brendan Behan's alternately hilarious and searing indictment of capital punishment. Starring Patrick McGoohan and Sylvia Syms, it was a critical success, but received limited distribution, and Dreifuss ultimately re-joined Katzman for Riot on Sunset Strip and The Love-Ins (both 1967). These had bigger budgets than their earlier efforts, and the latter, co-written by Dreifuss at the height of the flower-power movement in San Francisco, starred Richard Todd as a fake guru and was a prophetic comment on the movement and its eventful disintegration in disillusionment and unrest.
Dreifuss's last film, The Young Runaways (1968), an ineffectual look at teenagers who flee their homes for life on the streets, is sadly only of interest as the last film of the actress Lynn Bari and one of the first to feature the actor Richard Dreyfuss (who was no relation).
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