Nationality: American. Born: New York City, 2 March 1902. Education: Dewitt Clinton High School, New York City; attended Elon College, North Carolina; St. John's University, Brooklyn. Military Service: Served in U.S. Army Air Corps, 1942–46. Career: Member, Elia Kazan's Group Theater, 1937–42; stage director, New York City, from 1946; director and actor, live productions for CBS TV, 1948–51; blacklisted by television industry when a Syracuse grocer charged him with donating money to Communist China, 1951; taught acting at Actor's Studio, directed stage plays, 1951–56; directed first film, Edge of the City, 1957. Died: Of cardiac disease, in Santa Monica, California, 8 December 1990.
Films as Director:
Edge of the City (A Man Is Ten Feet Tall); No Down Payment
The Long Hot Summer
The Sound and the Fury; The Black Orchid
Jovanka e le altri (Five Branded Women)
Adventures of a Young Man (Hemingway's Adventures ofa Young Man)
Hud (+ co-pr)
The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (+ pr)
Hombre (+ co-pr)
The Molly Maguires (+ co-pr); The Great White Hope
Pete 'n' Tillie
Conrack (+ co-pr)
The Front (+ pr)
Stanley and Iris (Letters; Union Street)
Winged Victory (Cukor) (role as Gleason)
Der Richter und sein Henker (End of the Game) (Schell) (role)
By RITT: articles—
"It's the Freedom That Counts," in Films and Filming (London), May 1961.
"Martin Ritt—Conversation," in Action (Los Angeles), March/April 1971.
"The Making of Conrack," an interview with B.J. Demby, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), April 1974.
"Paranoia Paradise," an interview with A. Stuart, in Films andFilming (London), March 1977.
Interview with D. Chase, in Millimeter (New York), June 1979.
"Portrait of a Director: The Completely Candid Martin Ritt," an interview with D.S. Reiss, in Filmmakers Monthly (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), April 1981.
"Dialogue on Film: Martin Ritt," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), November 1983.
Intervi ew with P. McGilligan, in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1986.
On RITT: books—
Whitaker, Sheila, The Films of Martin Ritt, London, 1972.
Jackson, Carlton, Picking up the Tab: The Life and Movies of MartinRitt, Bowling Green, Ohio, 1994.
Miller, Gabriel, The Films of Martin Ritt, Jackson, Mississippi, 2000.
On RITT: articles—
Young, Colin, "The Hollywood War of Independence," in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1959.
"Personality of the Month," in Films and Filming (London), April 1960.
Lightman, Herb, "The Photography of Hud," in Action (Los Angeles), July 1963.
McVay, Douglas, "The Best and Worst of Martin Ritt," in Films andFilming (London), December 1964.
Field, Sydney, "Outrage: A Print Documentary on Hollywood Film-Making," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1965.
Farber, Stephen, "Hombre and Welcome to Hard Times," in FilmQuarterly (Berkeley), Fall 1967.
Cook, B., "Norma Rae's Big Daddy," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), April 1980.
Trainor, Richard, "Blacklist," in Sight and Sound (London), Summer 1988.
Ellero, Roberto, in Castoro Cinema (Milan), special section, no. 140, March-April 1989.
Tereus, R., "Martin Ritt en av Hollywoods gamla palitliga," in Filmrutan, vol. 34, 1991.
Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 8, February 1991.
* * *
As his roots in the Group Theater would indicate, Martin Ritt was a man with a social conscience. He had himself known misfortune: he was blacklisted during the McCarthy years of the 1950s, an odious practice that he poignantly attacks in The Front. Often, the characters in his films are underdogs, victims of racism or sexism or capitalism who live lives of quiet dignity while struggling and occasionally triumphing over adversity.
Most refreshingly, Ritt's films are inhabited by odd couplings, characters from diverse backgrounds who unite for a common good while in the process expanding their own awareness. In Norma Rae, for example, Southern cotton mill worker Sally Field and New York Jewish labor organizer Ron Leibman form a curious coalition as they unionize a factory. In a hilarious sequence that symbolizes the cinema of Martin Ritt, Field joins the Lower East Side and Dixie when she petulantly utters the Yiddish word kvetch while complaining to Leibman. (The director also deals with the hardships of overworked, underpaid employees in The Molly Maguires, set in the Pennsylvania coal mines of the 1870s.)
Blacks and whites regularly align themselves in Ritt films, from easy-going, hard-working railroad yard worker Sidney Poitier befriending confused army deserter John Cassavetes in Edge of the City to schoolteacher Jon Voight educating underprivileged black children in Conrack. In all of these, the black characters exist within a white society, their identities irrevocably related to whites. The exception is Sounder, released after Hollywood had discovered that black audiences do indeed attend movies; it was produced at a point in time when blacks on movie screens were able to exist solely within a black culture. Sounder pointedly details the struggles of a black family to overcome adversity and prejudice. Although he spent his youth in New York City, Ritt set many of his films in the South, including Sounder, Conrack, Norma Rae, The Long Hot Summer, and The Sound and the Fury—the last two based on William Faulkner stories.
While Ritt's films are all solidly crafted, they are in no way visually distinctive; Ritt cannot be called a great visual stylist, and is thus not ranked in the pantheon of his era's filmmakers.