Obituary: Christian Nyby

Christian Nyby, film director and editor: born Los Angeles 1 September 1913; married (two sons); died Temcula, California 17 September 1993.

IN THE WARTIME Warner Bros film Hollywood Canteen (1944) a US Army chaplain is conducting mail call on a South Pacific island. The first name he shouts is 'Chris Nyby]' The subject of that in-joke was the movie's editor. Hollywood Canteen was the second Warner Bros film edited by Christian Nyby, then 31 years old, whose first assignment for Warners had been the submarine drama Destination Tokyo (1943).

Born in Los Angeles, Nyby always wanted a career in films, and started as a studio carpenter at MGM. Ambitious to become a director, he gained valuable experience at Warners, editing Fritz Lang's Cloak and Dagger (1946), Raoul Walsh's Pursued (1947), Cheyenne (1947), Fighter Squadron (1948) and One Sunday Afternoon (1948), and Howard Hawks's To Have and Have Not (1944) and The Big Sleep (1946). In 1948 Hawks produced and directed Red River for United Artists, and borrowed Nyby from Warners to edit it.

It has been said that any story can be turned into a western, and the screenwriter Borden Chase demonstrated this axiom with Red River, which he based on Mutiny on the Bounty. John Wayne and Montgomery Clift were the Captain Bligh and Fletcher Christian figures, and the mutiny occurred on a cattle drive instead of a sea voyage. Red River was a sprawling but riveting epic, packed with spectacular black-and- white set pieces, and Nyby's masterly editing earned him an Academy Award nomination.

In 1948 the United States Supreme Court made its anti-trust ruling that the leading Hollywood studios had to give up their lucrative cinema chains. In a resultant economy drive, Warners dropped the options of many of their personnel, including Nyby's. As a freelance, Nyby spent 1950 editing three films - Tarzan and the Slave Girl, The Second Face and Southside 1-1000 - that were a far cry from the sweeping Red River. Such assignments made him more determined than ever to become a director, and he enlisted the help of Hawks, who gave him a film to direct.

Capitalising on the then current flying saucer scare, The Thing From Another World (1951) dealt with a group of military men, reporters and scientists trapped in a North Pole research station by a blood- drinking extra-terrestrial vegetable, which possesses an awesome intelligence. 'An intellectual carrot]' gasps 'Scotty', one of the reporters. 'The mind boggles.' Douglas Spencer, who played 'Scotty', also has the movie's famous final line: 'Watch the skies]'

The Thing was a moneymaker, but although Hawks repeatedly maintained 'I was on the set for all the important scenes, but Chris actually directed the picture', the word around Hollywood was that Nyby was the film's director in name only, and he was offered no important films to direct.

After editing Hawks's next film The Big Sky (1952), Nyby turned to television, directing Ann Sothern's sitcom Private Secretary, which ran for four years. He also directed episodes of The Twilight Zone, I Spy, Lassie, Perry Mason, The Rockford Files, The Six Million Dollar Man, Ironside, and Kojak. He did especially impressive work on such western series as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, Wagon Train and Rawhide.

For 24 years television kept Nyby steadily employed. In that time he directed only four feature films: Hell on Devil's Island (1957), Young Fury (1965), Operation CIA (1965) and First to Fight (1967). The fact that these were less than prestigious movies strengthened the theory that The Thing was a Hawks film in everything but director's credit.

Christopher Wicking and Tise Vahimagi write in their book The American Vein:

Those critics who exhume The Thing almost every year as an excuse to lay more palm leaves at the feet of Howard Hawks and dismiss Nyby as an accident of geography are the same faction who regard filmed television as nothing more than a forest of insignificant, unlabelled trees . . . Nyby spent over a decade directing Western series for television. They reveal an area of Nyby craftsmanship unknown outside television.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Recruitment Genius: Project Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This privately-owned company designs and manuf...

Day In a Page

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk
Nepal earthquake: One man's desperate escape from Everest base camp after the disaster

Escape from Everest base camp

Nick Talbot was sitting in his tent when the tsunami of snow and rock hit. He was lucky to live, unlike his climbing partner just feet away...
Adopting high fibre diet could dramatically cut risk of bowel cancer, says study

What happened when 20 Americans swapped diets with 20 Africans?

Innovative study in the US produces remarkable results
Blake Lively and 'The Age of Adaline': Gossip Girl comes
of age

Gossip girl comes of age

Blake Lively is best known for playing an affluent teenager. Her role as a woman who is trapped forever at 29 is a greater challenge
Goat cuisine: Kid meat is coming to Ocado

Goat cuisine

It's loved by chefs, ethical, low in fat and delicious. So, will kid meat give lamb a run for its money?
14 best coat hooks

Hang on: 14 best coat hooks

Set the tone for the rest of your house with a stylish and functional coat rack in the hallway
Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?