Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stick to directing

As part of TCM's birthday salute to Lionel Barrymore, they showed several of his appearances in the Dr. Gillespie movie series. One of them, Dr. Gillespie's New Assistant, is interesting for a few reasons. First, it's one of the earliest movie appearances for Van Johnson, who played one of the three men vying to become Dr. Gillespie's assistant. Second, another of the candidates was played by Richard Quine. If the name sounds familiar, it's not for his acting work. He played relatively small parts up until 1950, when he became a director, making such films as Pushover and Paris -- When it Sizzles.

A lot of people have made the move from acting to directing. In many cases, it seems to have more to do with vanity or reasons of control: big stars either think they can do a better job than the people who are directing them, or else want more control over the movies they make. God knows people like Orson Welles were obsessed with how their movies ended up. On the other hand, I wonder how much of Gene Kelly's directing was directing, and how much of it was just choreography -- he certainly had firm opinions about dancing.

There are also those who got into directing almost as a necessity, and then found out that they liked it. Ida Lupino, for example, had to fill in on one of the movies in which she was a star (On Dangerous Ground, if memory serves), and found out that she actually enjoyed the challenge of directing. Robert Montgomery took a similar path, being forced to do some of the directing on They Were Expendable, and enjoying it.

And then there are the people, like Richard Quine, for whom it was probably a wise choice to go into directing. Sydney Pollack does a good job as Dustin Hoffman's agent in Tootsie, but it's really as a director that he shines. And if you get the chance to rent Blues In the Night (available on DVD), watch for the band member who really wants to be a lawyer. That's future director Elia Kazan.

No comments: