Mamoulian, Rouben

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Nationality: American. Born: Tiflis, Caucasia, Russia, 8 October 1897; became U.S. citizen, 1930. Education: Lycée Montaigne, Paris; gymnasium in Tiflis; University of Moscow; Vakhtangov Studio Theatre, Moscow. Family: Married Azadia Newman, 1945. Career: Stage director in London, from 1920; production director of Eastman Theater, Rochester, New York, 1923–26; directed Porgy on Broadway, 1927; signed to Paramount, directed first film, 1929; stage director, especially of musicals, through the 1940s. Awards: Best

Direction, New York Film Critics, for The Gay Desperado, 1936; Award of Excellence, Armenian American Bicentennial Celebration, 1976. Died: In Los Angeles, 4 December 1987.

Films as Director:




City Streets


Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (+ pr); Love Me Tonight (+ pr)


Song of Songs (+ pr); Queen Christina


We Live Again


Becky Sharp


The Gay Desperado


High, Wide, and Handsome


Golden Boy


The Mark of Zorro


Blood and Sand


Rings on Her Fingers


Summer Holiday


Silk Stockings


By MAMOULIAN: books—

Abigail, New York, 1964.

Hamlet Revised and Interpreted, New York, 1965.

Rouben Mamoulian: Style Is the Man, edited by James Silke, Washington, D.C., 1971.

By MAMOULIAN: articles—

"Some Problems in the Direction of Color Pictures," in InternationalPhotographer, July 1935; also in Positif (Paris), September 1986.

"Controlling Color for Dramatic Effect," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), June 1941; also in Hollywood Directors 1941–1976, edited by Richard Koszarski, Oxford, 1977.

"Bernhardt versus Duse," in Theatre Arts (New York), September 1957.

"Painting the Leaves Black," an interview with David Robinson, in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1961.

Interview with Jean Douchet and Bertrand Tavernier, in Positif (Paris), no. 64–65, 1965.

Article in Interviews with Film Directors, by Andrew Sarris, Indianapolis, 1967.

Interview in The Celluloid Muse, edited by Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, London, 1969.

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," an interview with T.R. Atkins, in FilmJournal (New York), January/March 1973.

"Bulletin Board: Mamoulian on Griffith," in Action (Los Angeles), September/October 1975.

Interview with J.A. Gallagher and M.A. Amoruco, in Velvet LightTrap (Madison, Wisconsin), no. 19, 1982.

Interview with H.A. Hargrave, in Literature/Film Quarterly (Salisbury, Maryland), vol. 10, no. 4, October 1982.

"Dialogue on Film: Rouben Mamoulian," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), January/February 1983.

On MAMOULIAN: books—

Milne, Tom, Rouben Mamoulian, London, 1969.

Prinzler, Hans Helmut, and Antje Goldau, Rouben Mamoulian: EineDokumentation, Berlin, 1987.

Spergel, Mark, Reinventing Reality: The Art and Life of RoubenMamoulian, Lanham, Maryland, 1993.

On MAMOULIAN: articles—

Horgan, P., "Rouben Mamoulian: The Start of a Career," in Films inReview (New York), August/September 1973.

McCarthy, T., obituary, in Variety (New York), 9 December 1987.

Obituary in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 435, February 1988.

Hanke, K., "Rouben Mamoulian," in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1988.

Berthomieu, P., "Rouben Mamoulian et la rétrospective du cinéma arménien," in Positif (Paris), no. 395, January 1994.

* * *

Rouben Mamoulian is certainly one of the finest directors in American film history. While not considered strictly an auteur with a unifying theme running through his films, the importance of each of his movies on an individual basis is significant. Mamoulian did not have a large output, having completed only sixteen assignments in his twenty-year career in motion pictures, principally because he was also very active in the theater. His most famous stage successes were the highly innovative productions of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's musicals Oklahoma! and Carousel in the mid-1940s.

Mamoulian's first film, Applause, is a poignant story of a third-rate vaudevillian played by the popular singer Helen Morgan. The first film to utilize two sound tracks instead of one to produce a better quality sound, Applause is also noteworthy for its innovative use of a moving camera.

Mamoulian's third film, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, is still regarded by most historians as the definitive film version of the Robert Louis Stevenson novella, as well as being one of the best horror films of all time. Yet it would be doing the film a disservice to call it "just" a horror movie. The use of light and shadows, the depth of emotion expressed by the main character, and the evocation of the evil hidden in all men make it a classic. For the time it was a very sensual film. Miriam Hopkins as Ivy Pearson is not just a girl from the lower strata of society, as the character was in other versions. In Mamoulian's film she is deliberately sensual. Fredric March, in a truly magnificent performance, is troubled by his desire for Ivy long before he turns into Hyde, which is especially evident in the erotic dream sequence. What Mamoulian was able to do in this film is show the simultaneous existence of good and evil in Jekyll before it erupts into the drug-induced schizophrenic manifestation of Mr. Hyde.

Becky Sharp, although not particularly noteworthy for its dramatic style, is today remembered as being the first film in the three-strip Technicolor process. Unusually for a director more closely associated with the stage than film, Mamoulian tried to learn and perfect virtually all of the techniques of filmmaking, and he could be accomplished in almost any genre: horror, musical, swashbuckler, or historical drama. Perhaps the only genre at which he was not successful was light comedy. His only real comedy, Rings on Her Fingers, is entertaining, but does not live up to the standards which he set in his other films. The three previous films, Golden Boy, The Mark of Zorro, and Blood and Sand, were all very successful films which are still applauded by critics and audiences alike.

Mamoulian's last film, Silk Stockings, was a very popular adaption of the musical play derived from Ninotchka, with a lively score by Cole Porter. The combination of Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire in the lead roles was naturally responsible for a great part of the movie's success, and Mamoulian's direction and staging allowed their talents to be shown to their best advantage. Silk Stockings has a variety of delightful "specialty" numbers which do not detract from the main action, notably "Stereophonic Sound," as well as some charming character roles played by Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin, and George Tobias.

Rouben Mamoulian was one of the most talented, creative filmmakers of all time, and while his films are few, virtually every one is a tribute to his genius.

—Patricia King Hanson

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