A Centennial Tribute to Otto Preminger
by Alan Rode
Exclusive: Presented by the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
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“…so there will no Christmas trees, but there will be delousing with ice water from the hoses.”
This line recited by Otto Preminger from a clip of his famous turn as the German POW camp commandant in Stalag 17 (1953) was an apocryphal opening moment to the kick-off of the Motion Picture Academy’s two week tribute to the legendary director from November 3-12.
For more about the Otto Preminger Centennial Tribute, please click here.
Otto Preminger’s life and career was artfully articulated by program host Peter Bogdanovich at the Motion Picture Academy last night. The commentary was interspersed with a series of guest interviews and extended excerpts of the director’s films.
The audience at the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Hollywood certainly got a keen sense of Preminger as a consummate filmmaking auteur whose life resembled an ad-hoc version of Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Otto’s well-earned reputation as a directorial autocrat was counterbalanced by his enduring friendships with Bogdanovich and guests Eva Marie Saint and Carol Lynley as well as being a doting husband and father according to the director’s widow, Hope and daughter Victoria who also appeared at the tribute.
Of greater import than his paradoxical personality, the evening’s tribute focused more on Preminger’s diversified body of work on screen.
From his breakthrough classic, Laura (1944) at Fox, Preminger plumbed dark depths in film noir with Fallen Angel (1945), Whirlpool (1949), Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950), The 13th Letter (1951) and Angel Face (1952) before moving on to different genres with varied, but frequently spectacular success.
After his landmark hit, The Moon is Blue (1953) was released without a MPAA code approval due to the director’s insistence on using such robust language as “virgin” and “pregnant,” Preminger moved into independent production of his own projects.
According to Peter Bogdanovich, Preminger’s filmmaking from the middle 1950s to the early 1960s represents some of the best of American film of that or any other period: Carmen Jones (1954), The Man with the Golden Arm (1955), Anatomy of a Murder (1959)—Bogdanovich: “one of the best talking pictures of the last century…” Porgy and Bess (1959), Exodus (1960) along with Advise and Consent (1962) and In Harm’s Way (1965) are emblematic examples of Preminger’s most highly creative period.
All of Otto Preminger’s motion pictures reflect the style of a highly disciplined, but artistic auteur. The supple camera movement, his long continuous takes without cut (Preminger termed a cut as an “interruption”), the disciplined performance of his actors and his astute attention to detailed composition. Nonetheless, the director did not make movies to suit himself, he crafted films that he believed people would like to see. As Peter Bogdanovich put it, “Otto always had the highest respect for the audience.”
Through the generosity of the Preminger family, negatives, elements and original prints of several of the director’s wholly owned productions have been donated to the Motion Picture Academy for unified preservation and presentation to succeeding generations.
The Academy’s tribute lineup includes new prints or restorations of Laura, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Moon is Blue, Daisy Kenyon, The Man with the Golden Arm, Bonjour Tristesse, Whirlpool, Bunny Lake is Missing and Anatomy of a Murder with all of the screenings scheduled at the Academy’s Linwood Dunn Theatre in Hollywood.
Even though the director’s body of work was paid deserved homage during the over two hour tribute, there was still time for family and friends to remember Otto as, well Otto.
Asked by Bogdanovich if she remembered any specific direction from Preminger during the filming of Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), actress Carol Lynley recalled being tense while initially appearing opposite the legendary Laurence Olivier.
When Preminger inquired why she was acting so “stiff,” Lynley confessed her nervousness due to the presence of Olivier.
Otto pointed to a blonde-haired, blue-eyed ingénue standing around the set as he lowered the boom just before breaking the crew for lunch:
“You see that girl over there? You have until after lunch to get over this. If you don’t, she is going to start playing your part.” Otto then walked away.
Asked by Peter Bogdanovich what she did, Miss Lynley laughed and said, “I went and had a long talk with myself and I got over it before lunch ended.”
Alan Rode is a film historian, writer, and board member of the Film Noir Foundation. His book about Charles McGraw, film noir and Hollywood is due out next year.
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