Writer. Nationality: American. Born: Wapakoneta, Ohio, 6 April 1895. Education: Attended the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Family: Married Esta Vacez Gooch-Collins, 1924. Career: 1913—Ship's radio operator on Great Lakes; 1918–19—served in the United States Navy (devised electronic device to protect mine-sweepers); 1920–29—journalist for New York Evening News and New York World; also freelance writer; 1930—first film as writer, Men without Women; 1938–39—President, Screenwriters Guild; 1943—first film as director, Government Girl. Awards: Venice Festival Prize and Academy Award for The Informer, 1935; Writers Guild Laurel Award, 1953. Died: 4 January 1960.
Films as Writer:
Men without Women (Ford); On the Level (Cummings); Born Reckless (Ford); One Mad Kiss (Silver); A Devil with Women (Cummings); El Precio de un beso
Seas Beneath (Ford); Hush Money (Lanfield); Not Exactly Gentlemen (Stoloff); Skyline (Taylor)
This Sporting Age (Bennison and Erickson); Robber's Roost (King)
Pilgrimage (Ford); Hot Pepper (Blystone); The Man Who Dared (MacFadden)
You Can't Buy Everything (Reisner); Hold That Girl (MacFadden); Wild Gold (Marshall); Call It Luck (Tinling); Judge Priest (Ford); The Lost Patrol (Ford)
Steamboat 'round the Bend (Ford); Mystery Woman (Forde); The Informer (Ford); The Arizonian (C. Vidor); The Crusades (DeMille) (co); The Three Musketeers (Lee)
Mary of Scotland (Ford); The Plough and the Stars (Ford)
The Toast of New York (Lee); The Hurricane (Ford and Heisler)
Bringing Up Baby (Hawks); Carefree (Sandrich)
Stagecoach (Ford); The 400 Million (Ivens and Ferno)
The Long Voyage Home (Ford)
Man Hunt (F. Lang); Swamp Water (Renoir)
This Land Is Mine (Renoir); Air Force (Hawks); For Whom the Bell Tolls (Wood); Government Girl (+ d)
It Happened Tomorrow (Clair); The Sign of the Cross (DeMille) (prologue)
And Then There Were None (Clair); The Bells of St. Mary's (McCarey)
Scarlet Street (F. Lang); Sister Kenny (+ d)
Mourning Becomes Electra (+ d)
The Fugitive (Ford)
Return of the Texan (Daves); The Big Sky (Hawks)
Prince Valiant (Hathaway)
Run for the Sun (R. Boulting)
The Tin Star (A. Mann)
The Hangman (Curtiz)
Heller in Pink Tights (Cukor)
By NICHOLS: books—
The Informer (script) in Modern British Drama, edited by Harlan Thatcher, New York, 1941.
With Jean Renoir, Stagecoach (script) and This Land Is Mine (script) in Twenty Best Film Plays, edited by Nichols and John Gassner, New York, 1943.
Editor, with John Gassner, The Best Film Plays of 1943–44, New York, 1946.
By NICHOLS: articles—
Screen Guild's Magazine, March and April 1935.
"Film Writing," in Theatre Arts (New York), December 1942.
"The Writer and the Film," in Theatre Arts (New York), October 1943.
"Death of a Critic," in Theatre Arts (New York), April 1947.
On NICHOLS: articles—
On The Informer in Novels into Film, by George Bluestone, Baltimore, Maryland, 1957.
Cinéma (Paris), March 1960.
Avant-Scène (Paris), February 1965.
Kino Lehti (Helsinki), no. 6, 1970.
Jensen, Paul, in Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.
Films in Review (New York), February 1971.
Lesser, Stephen O., in American Screenwriters, edited by Robert E. Morsberger, Lesser, and Randall Clark, Detroit, Michigan, 1984.
"Dudley Nichols," in Film Dope, no. 47, December 1991.
Sesonske, Alexander, "Jean Renoir in America: 1942, This Land is Mine," in Persistence of Vision (Maspeth), no. 12–13, 1996.
* * *
Dudley Nichols started his Hollywood career in 1930, and collaborated with John Ford on his films of the 1930s and early 1940s. While these films are somewhat dated, they are still highly valued. Nichols did other scripts, but the ones he wrote for Ford constitute the real contributions to cinema. The single possible exception would be the screwball comedy he wrote with Hagar Wilde—Howard Hawks's Bringing Up Baby. It is significant that the script for this comedy lacks the sentimentality that often flaws Nichols's scripts for Ford. It may be, then, that Nichols was above all a collaborator. Concerning his work with Ford, Nichols was self-deprecating. In a letter dated 24 February 1941 (in the Lilly Library collection) he wrote to the director that screenwriting "is not a creative act like directing."
Men without Women and Born Reckless, both made in 1930, were the first films Nichols and Ford worked on and contain some of the themes and settings that the two were to handle so successfully in the coming decade. Born Reckless certainly offers one important characteristic of the best of Nichols's screenplays—a brooding urban underworld of lights and shadows. In this scenario, Nichols demonstrates a careful attention to dialects and street idioms. There is also the element of maternal/filial affection between Ma Beretti and her son. Men without Women (also in the Lilly collection) opens with a characteristic chiaroscuro street-scene, carefully described in the "stage" descriptions. This scene is set in front of an American bar in Shanghai; it ends with the redemption of a traitor, like that in The Informer, Nichols constructs The Informer as a labyrinthine journey through misty streets. Men without Women also contains a noble self-sacrifice, as does The Long Voyage Home. The latter film culminates in the paternal sacrifice of an older sailor's life so a young sailor can experience what all sailors dream of, but often fail to achieve—a voyage home. By directing the several O'Neill plays towards this spiritual culmination, Nichols ably gives the material a dramatic unity not in the original.
With a characteristic expansive, exuberant humanity, Nichols poured out 146 pages of a densely packed rough-draft script for Stagecoach (the released dialogue-continuity is 40 sparsely covered pages). In the process of realizing the script on film, Ford had severely pared down Nichols's script. Nichols's screenplay shows a real sense of cinematic techniques; yet the masterstrokes of Ford—like the tracking shot up to Ringo's (John Wayne's) face—had to be added in the filming. All in all Nichols's script seems to have been a rich and varied grab-bag of ideas from which Ford could pick and choose.