Nationality: Austrian/American. Born: Vienna, 29 April 1907. Education: Educated in law, University of Vienna, degree 1927; studied one year at the Ecole Technique de Photographie et Cinématographie, Paris. Family: Married Renée Bartlett, 1936, one son. Career: Assistant cameraman in Paris and Berlin, then with Billy Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan, and Robert Siodmak, made Menschen am Sonntag, 1928; moved to Hollywood, became assistant cameraman and cutter for Berthold Viertel, 1929; worked with Robert Flaherty on unrealized documentary project, Berlin, 1931; worked in Mexico with Paul Strand on Los Redes, 1934–35; hired by MGM to direct short subjects, 1937; directed first feature, 1942; vice president, Directors Guild of America, 1961–64. Awards: Oscars for Best Short Subject, for That Mothers Might Live, 1938, and Benjy, 1951; Best Direction, New York Film Critics, for High Noon, 1952; Oscar for Best Director, and Director Award, Directors Guild of America, for From Here to Eternity, 1953; Best Direction, New York Film Critics, for The Nun's Story, 1959; Oscar for Best Director, Best Direction, New York Film Critics, and Director Award, Directors Guild of America, for A Man for All Seasons, 1966; D. W. Griffith Award, 1971; Order of Arts and Letters, France, 1982; U.S. Congressional Lifetime Achievement Award, 1987; John Huston Award, Artists Rights Foundation, 1994. Died: 14 March 1997, in London, England, of heart attack.
Films as Director:
Los Redes (The Wave)
A Friend Indeed (short for MGM); The Story of Dr. Carver (short for MGM); That Mothers Might Live (short for MGM); Tracking the Sleeping Death (short for MGM); They Live Again (short for MGM)
Weather Wizards (short for MGM); While America Sleeps (short for MGM); Help Wanted! (short for MGM); Oneagainst the World (short for MGM); The Ash Can Fleet (short for MGM); Forgotten Victory (short for MGM)
The Old South (short for MGM); Stuffie (short for MGM); TheWay in the Wilderness (short for MGM); The Great Meddler (short for MGM)
Forbidden Passage (short for MGM); Your Last Act (short for MGM)
The Lady or the Tiger? (short for MGM); The Kid GloveKiller; Eyes in the Night
The Seventh Cross
Little Mr. Jim
My Brother Talks to Horses
Act of Violence
Teresa; Benjy (short)
High Noon ; The Member of the Wedding
From Here to Eternity
A Hatful of Rain
The Nun's Story
The Sundowners (+ pr)
Behold a Pale Horse (+ pr)
A Man for All Seasons (+ pr)
The Day of the Jackal (+ pr)
Julia (+ pr)
Five Days One Summer (+ pr) (re-edited version released 1988)
La Marche des machines (Deslaw) (asst cameraman)
Ich Küsse Ihre Hand, Madame (Land) (asst cameraman); Sprengbagger 1010 (Achaz-Duisberg) (asst cameraman); Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday) (Siodmak) (asst cameraman)
Man Trouble (asst d to Berthold Viertel); All Quiet on the Western Front (Milestone) (bit role)
The Spy (asst d to Viertel)
The Wiser Sex (asst d to Viertel); The Man from Yesterday (asst d to Viertel); The Kid from Spain (asst to Busby Berkeley)
Stand under the Dark Clock (doc) (Walker) (role)
By ZINNEMANN: book—
Fred Zinnemann: My Life in the Movies, New York, 1990.
By ZINNEMANN: articles—
"Different Perspective," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1948.
"Choreography of a Gunfight," in Sight and Sound (London), July/September 1952.
"The Impact of Television on Motion Pictures," an interview with Gideon Bachmann, in Film Culture (New York), no. 2, 1957.
"A Conflict of Conscience," in Films and Filming (London), December 1959.
Interview with John Russell Taylor, in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1960/61.
"A Discussion: Personal Creation in Hollywood: Can It Be Done?," in Film Quarterly (Berkeley), Spring 1962.
"Zinnemann—True or False?," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), February/March 1964.
"Revelations," in Films and Filming (London), September 1964.
"Zinnemann Talks Back," an interview in Cinema (Beverly Hills), October/November 1964.
"Montgomery Clift," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.
"Some Questions Answered," in Action (Los Angeles), May/June 1967.
Interview with Gene D. Phillips, in Focus on Film (London), Spring 1973.
"Fred Zinnemann and Julia," an interview with Cecile Starr, in Filmmakers Newsletter (Ward Hill, Massachusetts), November 1977.
"Individualism against Machinery," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), February 1978.
Interview with M. Buckley in Films in Review (New York), January 1983.
"Dialogue on Film: Fred Zinnemann," in American Film (Washington D.C.), January/February 1986.
"From Here to Eternity," in Sight and Sound (London), Winter 1987/1988.
Correspondence, in Film Criticism (Meadville), Winter 1994–1995.
"Letter to Amos Vogel from Fred Zinnemann," in Wide Angle (Baltimore), no. 2, 1997.
"A Past Master of His Craft," an interview with Brian Neve, in Cineaste (New York), vol. 23, no. 1, 1997.
On ZINNEMANN: books—
Griffith, Richard, Fred Zinnemann, New York, 1958.
Foreman, Carl, High Noon, New York, 1971.
Phillips, Gene D., The Movie Makers: Artists in an Industry, Chicago, 1973.
Nolletti, Arthur, editor, The Films of Fred Zinnemann: CriticalPerspectives, State University of New York, 1999.
On ZINNEMANN: articles—
Knight, Arthur, "Fred Zinnemann," in Films in Review (New York), January 1951.
Hart, Henry, "Zinnemann on the Verge," in Films in Review (New York), February 1953.
Schickel, Richard, "Fred Zinnemann: Quiet Man on the Set," in Show (Hollywood), August 1964.
Stanbrook, Alan, "A Man for All Movies: The Films of Fred Zinnemann," in Films and Filming (London), June 1967.
Adler, D., "Zinnemann's Fate," in Show (Hollywood), May 1970.
"High Noon," in Values in Conflict, edited by Richard Maynard, New York, 1974.
Lueken, V., "Daempfen in aussichtslosen Situationene," in EPDFilm, September 1992.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 17 March 1997.
Nolletti, A., Jr. and others, in Film Criticism (Meadville), Spring 1994.
Caparros-Lera, J.M., "Cinematic Contextual History of High Noon," in Film-Historia, no. 1, 1996.
Obituary, in DGA Magazine (Los Angeles), May-June 1997.
Obituary, in EPD Film (Frankfurt), May 1997.
Obituary, in Film und Fernsehen (Berlin), vol. 25, no. 2, 1997.
Horton, Robert, "Day of the Craftsman," in Film Comment (New York), September-October 1997.
Obituary, in Positif (Paris), June 1997.
* * *
In 1928 Fred Zinnemann worked as assistant to cinematographer Eugene Schüfftan on Robert Siodmak's Menschen am Sonntag (People on Sunday), along with Edgar Ulmer and Billy Wilder, who wrote the scenario for this semi-documentary silent feature made in the tradition of Flaherty and Vertov. Having been strongly influenced by realistic filmmaking, particularly the work of Erich von Stroheim, King Vidor, and Robert Flaherty, Zinnemann immigrated to the United States in 1930 and worked with Berthold Viertel, Flaherty ("probably the greatest single influence on my work as a filmmaker," he later stated), and the New York photographer-documentarist Paul Strand on Los Redes, the first of a proposed series intended to document everyday Mexican life. Los Redes told the story of the struggle of impoverished fishermen to organize themselves against economic exploitation. The film was shot in Vera Cruz, and Zinnemann was responsible for directing the actors.
Zinnemann's documentary training and background developed his style as a "social realist" in a number of early pictures (several shorts he directed, for example, in MGM's Crime Does Not Pay and The Passing Parade series) during the years 1937–1942. His medical short That Mother Might Live won an Academy Award and enabled Zinnemann to direct feature films. His first feature at MGM was a thriller, The Kid Glove Killer, with Van Heflin and Marsha Hunt. The Seventh Cross was adapted from Anna Segher's anti-fascist World War II novel. Starring Spencer Tracy, the film was notable for its atmosphere and documentary style. The Search, shot on location in Europe in 1948, with Montgomery Clift, gave a realistic portrayal of children who had been displaced by the turmoil of World War II and was a critical as well as a commercial success. The Men was the first of a three-picture contract Zinnemann signed with Stanley Kramer and dealt with the problem of paraplegic war veterans, marking Marlon Brando's debut as a film actor. Zinnemann filmed The Men on location at the Birmingham Veteran's Hospital and used a number of patients there as actors.
Zinnemann's next film for Kramer, High Noon, was significant because of the way Zinnemann's realistic style turned the genre of the Western upside down. It featured Gary Cooper in an Oscar-winning performance as Will Kane, a retired marshal who has taken a Quaker bride (Grace Kelly), but whose marriage is complicated by the anticipated return of paroled desperado Frank Miller, expected on the noon train. Zinnemann treated his "hero" as an ordinary man beset with doubts and fears in an existential struggle to protect himself and the community of Haddleyville, a town that proves to be undeserving of his heroism and bravery. Zinnemann created a tense drama by coordinating screen time to approximate real time, which is extended only when the fateful train arrives, bearing its dangerous passenger. Working against the stylized and mythic traditions that had come to dominate the genre, High Noon established the trend of the "psychological" Western and represents one of Zinnemann's finest accomplishments.
Zinnemann's last Kramer picture was The Member of the Wedding, a Carson McCullers novel that had been adapted to a popular Broadway production by McCullers herself. The film utilized the same cast that had made the stage production successful (Julie Harris, Brandon de Wilde, and Ethel Waters) but created cinematically an effective atmosphere of entrapment. Member of the Wedding is a model of effective theatrical adaption. Zinnemann went on to adapt the 1955 movie version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic Oklahoma!, removing the exclamation point, as one wit noted, in a spacious and lyrical, but also rather perfunctory, effort.
In 1953 Zinnemann moved to Columbia Pictures to direct the adaption of the popular James Jones novel From Here to Eternity, a huge popular success starring Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra, and Ernest Borgnine that won Zinnemann an Academy Award for Best Director. Zinnemann's approach effectively utilized newsreel footage of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and his realistic style both tightened and dramatized the narrative. A Hatful of Rain applied Zinnemann's documentary approach to the problem of drug addiction in New York. The Nun's Story (with Audrey Hepburn and Peter Finch) has been linked to A Man for All Seasons in that both reflect conflicts of conscience, a recurring motif in Zinnemann's films. A Man for All Seasons, adapted from Robert Bolt's play, won Paul Scofield an Academy Award for his portrayal of St. Thomas More.
Among Zinnemann's political films are Behold a Pale Horse, starring Gregory Peck and set during the Spanish Civil War, a picture that also incorporated newsreel authenticity, and The Day of the Jackal, a story about an assassin's attempt on the life of Charles de Gaulle, shot on location "like a newsreel." A later and in many ways impressive political film involving a conflict of conscience was Zinnemann's Julia, adapted by Alvin Sargent from Lillian Hellman's Pentimento, concerning Hellman's love affair with the writer Dashiell Hammett (Jason Robards) and her long-standing friendship with the mysterious Julia (Vanessa Redgrave), the daughter of a wealthy family who becomes a socialist-intellectual politicized by events in Germany under the Nazi regime. Julia is a perfect Zinnemann vehicle, impressive in its authenticity and historical reconstruction, and also psychologically tense, particularly in the way Zinnemann films Hellman's suspense-laden journey from Paris to Moscow via Berlin. It demonstrates the director's sense of psychological realism and his apparent determination to make worthwhile pictures that are nevertheless highly entertaining.
—James M. Welsh
Director Fred Zinnemann (1907–1977) was one of the central European-born filmmakers who shaped the classic era of Hollywood film. He directed films whose images are etched deeply into the imaginations of filmgoers everywhere, especially the 1951 Western High Noon and the wartime drama From Here to Eternity, in 1953.
Atrue craftsman of cinema, Zinnemann worked slowly. He made only about 20 feature films over his long career, but many of them were high-minded, detailed films only slightly less significant than his two great classics. Schooled in documentary techniques when he was young, Zinnemann did much to give mainstream American film a straightforward, realistic look. His handling of actors was superb, and a long list of future stars began their careers facing the lens of his camera. The most distinctive characteristic of Zinnemann's films, however, was their consistent focus on integrity as a theme. That integrity carried over into Zinnemann's approach to filmmaking; although he was not of a revolutionary temperament, he often faced down Hollywood money men and insisted on making films as he thought best.
Distracted from Law Studies
Zinnemann was born in Rzeszów, Poland, on April 29, 1907, and grew up in Vienna, Austria. He was of Jewish background, and his father, a doctor, expected him to pursue a professional career. After going to a college-preparatory high school, the Franz-Josef Gymnasium, Zinnemann dutifully enrolled in law classes at the University of Vienna. But he was bored with the law and discouraged about his prospects. "As a Jew, one was a second-class citizen," Zinnemann told David Robinson of London's Guardian newspaper. "I would probably have become a doctor like my father, but there were too many doctors after the first world war, so I was made to study law. To avoid the boredom of the lectures, I went to the movies."
That was during the classic era of European silent film, and Zinnemann saw one directorial masterpiece after another: Sergei Eisenstein's The Battleship Potemkin from Russia, Erich von Stroheim's Greed from Germany, and King Vidor's war drama The Big Parade from the United States. Zinnemann's parents resisted his desire to study film, but eventually gave in and allowed him to attend the Ecole Technique de Photographie et Cinématographie in Paris, France, one of just two film schools in Europe at the time. He had trouble getting a permit to work in France and so moved to Berlin, where he served as an assistant cameraman on several films and met a group of young directors who were thinking of seeking their fortunes in the growing American film industry. Zinnemann sailed for America himself in 1929, arrived in New York on the day the stock market crashed, and took a Greyhound bus to California.
If Zinnemann had stayed in Germanic Europe, he was quoted as saying in the Times of London, "I'd be dead by now. Probably not even buried." Zinnemann's parents, indeed, died in the Holocaust. But Zinnemann prospered in Hollywood. He landed a job as an extra in the antiwar classic All Quiet on the Western Front and was hired as an assistant by the pioneering documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty, the director of Nanook of the North. Zinnemann accompanied Flaherty back to Europe to work on a documentary set in Central Asia. The film fell through, but Zinnemann benefited from long discussions with Flaherty. "He influenced me in every possible way, not only technically, but also in what I learned from him by being his assistant, his whole spirit of being his own man, of being independent of the general spirit of Hollywood, to the point where he didn't worry about working there," Zinnemann told Brian Neve of Cineaste.
Back in the Western hemisphere, Zinnemann directed a documentary, Los redes (The Waves), that was funded by the Mexican government and dealt with the lives of fishermen in the Veracruz area. Armed with a letter of introduction from Flaherty, he got a job at the MGM studio. Zinnemann worked his way up the studio hierarchy in the late 1930s, starting out as a film cutter and later being allowed to direct short subjects. He married English-born Renée Bartlett, a costume assistant, in 1936; they had a son, Tim, who went into the film industry. The following year, Zinnemann became an American citizen. One of his short subjects, That Mothers Might Live (about deaths in childbirth), won an Academy Award in 1938.
Directed Film About German War Resister
It was during World War II that Zinnemann was elevated to the roster of feature-film directors at MGM. After the crime potboiler Kid Glove Killer in 1942 he made his first serious film two years later: The Seventh Cross, with an all-star cast that included Spencer Tracy, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, dealt with a group of German concentration camp escapees. The subject matter of moral individuals surrounded by corrupt organizations or societies would attract Zinnemann throughout his career.
Zinnemann's realistic style proved invaluable in bringing to life the war's aftermath; some dubbed his style neorealist by analogy with the gritty style of contemporary Italian films, but Zinnemann credited his training with Flaherty as a more important influence. The Search (1948), starring a then-unknown Montgomery Clift, marked Zinnemann's emergence as a distinctive talent; its story of European war orphans mixed documentary-style footage with scripted narrative. Clift was cast at Zinnemann's insistence, and he became the first of a long list of actors whose careers the director launched or furthered in their early stages. The list included Marlon Brando who starred in The Men, Zinnemann's 1950 film about disabled veterans, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly, Rod Steiger, Paul Scofield, Meryl Streep and John Hurt. Another important early Zinnemann film, highly esteemed by film buffs, was Act of Violence (1949), a dark-hued drama about survivor's guilt. Zinnemann left MGM after that film and worked mostly with independent producer Stanley Kramer over the next several years. In 1951 he picked up his first Academy Award, a best director nod for the short subject Benjy.
The spare style Zinnemann favored was applied with brilliant effect to the Western genre in High Noon (1952), which brought star Gary Cooper an Academy Award for best actor and a best director nomination for Zinnemann himself. Zinnemann and cinematographer Floyd Crosby set out to duplicate the plain style of a newsreel, and the film was shot in real time, over 85 minutes approaching a showdown between a marshal and a murderous gang. Abandoned by deputies, townspeople and even his wife, Cooper's marshal was both a classic lone hero and, in the view of some observers, an indictment of a corrupt society spiraling into the repressive years of the Red Scare.
The theme of an individual with a conscience recurred in From Here to Eternity, released in 1953 and considered perhaps his greatest film. Zinnemann won the Academy Award for best director, and the film won a host of other awards including one for Frank Sinatra in the role of Angelo Maggio, a soldier friend to Montgomery Clift's Private Prewitt. The film's most famous scene was a beach rendezvous between adulterous lovers Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr, complete with water splashing over the embracing pair, but much of the rest of the story, set in the days surrounding the bombing of Pearl Harbor, brought a new level of realism to Hollywood film. Zinnemann used newsreel footage of the bombing.
Attracted by Big Screen Format
Zinnemann's next film was atypical within his overall output; Oklahoma! (1955) was a musical comedy, the only one he directed. He was offered the helm of the big-budget production because of the success of his last two films, and he agreed to direct it because, as he told Neve, "I found it fascinating to try a new medium, this huge screen." The film was a hugely popular success although one critic joked that Zinnemann's rather dry style had in effect removed the exclamation point from the film's title. Zinnemann returned to more serious fare A Hatful of Rain (1957), a drama about drug addiction, and The Nun's Story, a 1959 film starring Audrey Hepburn as a Belgian missionary nurse serving in the Congo.
The Nun's Story earned eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Zinnemann as best director. He added to his nomination tally with The Sundowners (1960), a family drama set on the Australian frontier, but his next film, the Spanish Civil War tale Behold a Pale Horse, was less successful despite the presence of Gregory Peck in the lead role. Zinnemann moved to London, England, in the early 1960s. He had several motivations: England was his wife's homeland, and he had often worked in Europe and thought about returning there. He was also still troubled by the blacklisting and loyalty oaths that had plagued Hollywood in the anti-Communist atmosphere of the 1950s.
Zinnemann's career got a second wind in London with the historical drama A Man for All Seasons (1966), which starred unknown Paul Scofield as St. Thomas More, another of Zinnemann's maverick heroes. The film took Academy Awards for best director and best picture among others. Despite this success, Zinnemann's next film, Man's Fate, was cancelled by the MGM studio just before Zinnemann was set to begin shooting. Zinnemann rebounded in the 1970s, however, with the taut thriller The Day of the Jackal (1973), in which he returned to his classic detached style. Julia (1977) introduced Meryl Streep in a small role. Based on the memoirs of playwright Lillian Hellman and starring liberal icons Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, the film brought Zinnemann his final best director Academy Award nomination.
Zinnemann made one more film, the gentle romance Five Days One Summer (1982); it featured Sean Connery as its star and a generous portion of mountain scenery in the Swiss Alps. Zinnemann himself was an avid mountaineer. He was frequently honored in the late 1980s for his lifetime of achievements and remained active in film circles, working for directors' rights to resist colorization of their black-and-white films. Ambulatory only with the aid of a walking stick, he nevertheless served as president of the Britain's Directors Guild. In the last year of his life, Zinnemann successfully resisted filmmakers' attempts to give a remake of The Day of the Jackal the same title, arguing that it had been altered too much from the original story (it was eventually released as The Jackal). Asked by Neve shortly before his death about his view of the future of cinema, he replied, "I would like to be optimistic, because we have brilliant directors and writers and actors, but I tend to be pessimistic. We have enormous powers of persuasion, and we are role models for the rest of the world, but we no longer have a positive attitude towards life. Until that is changed, I think it is not going to be good." Zinnemann died in London on March 14, 1997.
International Dictionary of Films and Filmmakers, 4th ed., St. James, 2000.
Zinnemann, Fred, An Autobiography: A Life in the Movies, Scribner's, 1990.
Australian, March 24, 1997.
Chicago Sun-Times, March 15, 1997.
Cineaste, Winter 1997.
Entertainment Weekly, March 28, 1997.
Guardian (London, England), March 17, 1997.
Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 16, 1997.
New York Times, March 15, 1997.
Times (London, England), March 17, 1997.
Variety, March 17, 1997.
Washington Times, March 23, 1997.
"Fred Zinnemann," All Movie Guide, http://www.allmovie.com (January 30, 2006).
ZINNEMANN, FRED (1907–1997), U.S. film director and producer. Born in Vienna, Zinnemann went to Hollywood in 1929, worked as a script clerk, and in 1934 directed a full-length documentary, The Wave. Later he applied documentary techniques to feature films, and worked for m.g.m. until 1950, when he started on his own.
Among his most important films are The Seventh Cross (1944); Act of Violence (1949); The Search (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1949); The Men (1950); Benjy (produced; Oscar for Best Short Documentary, 1951); The Member of the Wedding (1952); High Noon (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1952); From Here to Eternity (Oscar for Best Director, 1953); Oklahoma! (1955); A Hatful of Rain (1957); The Nun's Story (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1959); The Sundowners (produced; Oscar nomination for Best Picture and Best Director, 1960); Behold a Pale Horse (produced, 1964); A Man for All Seasons (produced; Oscar for Best Picture and Best Director, 1966); The Day of the Jackal (1973), Julia (Oscar nomination for Best Director, 1977); and Five Days One Summer (produced, 1982).
Among his many awards, Zinnemann received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America in 1970. His autobiography, Fred Zinnemann: A Life in the Movies, was published in 1992.
A. Nolletti (ed.), The Films of Fred Zinnemann: Critical Perspectives (1999); N. Sinyard, Fred Zinnemann: Films of Character and Conscience (2003).
[Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]