Here’s the conclusion of Dwayne Epstein’s two-part interview with director Edward Dmytryk:

Edward Dmytryk in the late 70s, moving on from directing and into teaching.

Edward Dmytryk in the late 70s, moving on from directing and into teaching.

DE: How do you tell actors that what they are doing you don’t think will work?

ED:  When you have your first rehearsal, all your actors are apt to make a mistake here or there. They don’t know exactly where they’re going and they’re feeling their way. Someone in the company will say, “Hey, he made a mistake. He didn’t say that line.” I’ll say, “Shut up,” because when I have the next rehearsal, they recognize that they made that mistake. Rather then getting bawled out like school children, they correct it themselves so you give them a little leeway. Three or four rehearsals, they’ve corrected all their mistakes. If they still have one, what you do is you take them into the dressing room and talk about it. I rarely, rarely bawled anybody out in front of anybody else.

JP: No, you never have.

ED: I wouldn’t do that. Except sometimes a guy would make a mistake for one reason or another. I didn’t have to…Tracy twice misread a line. He got a different take from that same line. I could mean one thing or it could mean another. He took one meaning, which was not very good. I let him go ahead and I printed the take with that thing. Then I called him aside and said, “Spence, there’s another thing you can do with it.” I would never read a line for him. I did that (laughs) with Monty Clift one time just by accident. It was a scene on Young Lions and he said to me, “Eddie, please don’t read lines to me. You do it so wonderfully (I laugh) that it will inhibit me.” I knew what he was talking about.

DE: He could have been a director himself. Quite a diplomat.

ED: I can’t remember an exact line from any one of my films practically because I made it a point when I read the script, no matter how many times, I went over the script not to remember the lines exactly.

DE: What do you consider somebody like Lee Marvin’s greatest strength was as an actor?

ED: Lee was a natural. We get those kinds of people and they’re easy to work with. Like kids, they’re easier to work with than theatrical actors. You get people who have never been in the theater and it’s amazing. Mary Astor is a perfect example. Wonderful actor and you never have to go through that period where you say, “Forget about the theater. Forgot about the audience and making an impression.” The one thing is people from the theater have a tendency to do is read a line. That’s where the writer, who’s always there, gets very mad and in Hollywood the writer has no say in changes. The main thing is that when we were working together on an acting book, I said this to other people and particularly to my school groups, one of the wonderful thing about Spencer Tracy, other actors, he’d play with good actors, like E.G. Marshall worked with him in one scene, top actors worked with him. They’d come to me after a scene and they’d say, “Spencer, he gives you something.” For a long time, I wondered, “What the hell does he give them?” I found out: Attention. He listens to them. He pays attention. They were somebody in that goddamned thing. It’s amazing how often you get actors who are just thinking about their own lines, they’re just another character and they’re thinking about they’re own lines and, “What am I going to say when she finishes?” He never did that. Every line from him was as spontaneous as possible…Spence had me crying more than anybody in the world and the crew. We did a scene in The Mountain (1956), at the finish there, where he brought the girl down. Did you ever see that picture?

DE: Yes I have.

With Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner on The Mountain (1956)

With Spencer Tracy and Robert Wagner on The Mountain (1956)

ED: He brought the girl down from up top and he’s trying to say it was his fault and not his brother’s. He was at fault. He stumbles through the damned thing trying to be very real. When I was working with Tracy particularly — but I would do this with other people too — I often would start with the costar if it were an important scene. I knew I was going to be in a close shot so I’d start with that. That with be spontaneous and I’d get the longer shots later if I needed them. I was starting with a close shot and E.G. Marshall had to read a line to him that got the scene started. He was right by the camera where I wanted him. He read the line and Tracy started. After the scene — which was probably a page long, long scene — when he finished it, I said, “cut,” and I looked over and E.G. was crying and the cameraman was crying and everybody was crying. I was crying because Tracy was so wonderful. E.G. looked at me and said, “Goddamit, I wish all these method actors could see these guy act just once!” E.G. was a great actor himself….All great actors, all great actors are creators….Monty himself would do that. He had a million ideas a day. He’d say, “Hey Eddie, how about doing this?” I’d say, “No, I don’t know..” He’d say, “Okay, forget about it.” I’d say, “Wait a minute. Let’s talk about it.” He’d say, “No, no, forget about it. I’ll have another one.” ….I used to welcome them as well as from any other members of my crew. I don’t think I ever followed a suggestion just exactly. A suggestion from an actor was an idea and I’d say, “Hey,” if it were a good one I’d think what else can I do with that idea? Sometimes I could take it or change it. Like I say, actors are creators.

DE: What do you if an actor has idea and another had a completely different take on it. Obviously you’ll have the final say but where do you go with that?

ED: That doesn’t happen very often.

JP: Remember, you have a script and they read it together.

ED: That’s the other thing…

DE: I’m thinking about an actor who says, “While I’m saying this line, I push my hat back,” and the other says “Yeah, but I won’t be able to do this big take…”

ED: Well, I say, “No, don’t do that take.” (All laugh) I had only one actor that ever stopped a rehearsal and say, “Is that way you’re going to do it in the take?”

JP: Who was that?

ED: (Under his breath) Kirk.

DE: (Laughs) Gee, I wonder which Kirk.

JP: You mentioned Caine Mutiny earlier, and that was one of the most difficult films Eddie ever did. It started in Honolulu. Started in Hawaii with all that stuff on the ship. Started on location and then for them to do all that stuff on the ship ….He had 3 weeks back home in the studio and [to Dmytryk] you were remarkable with that because you had all the actors commenting on that. You reminded them of the same base.

On the soundstage with main mutineer Van Johnson during The Caine Mutiny (1954)

On the soundstage with main mutineer Van Johnson during The Caine Mutiny (1954)

ED: Part of my skill, darling. When I tell my film classes don’t storyboard, they say, “Well how am I going to remember it?” I say, “The people you work with.”

JP: Remember the monsoon or hurricane?

DE: Typhoon.

JP: Typhoon. They were doing all this stuff on the set and the problems with that, and the lines to do, and that was tough.

DE: I think you got the best performance out of Humphrey Bogart as an actor.

J: He (Bogart) thought so too. He loved doing that.

DE: You could tell. He was amazing in it. That thing he did with his eyes!

ED: I saw where he was asked who were the best directors he ever worked with…

JP: Don’t pat yourself on the back.

ED: No, I was second. John Huston was first.

DE: There’s nothing wrong with that.

ED: Yeah, John Huston was first and I was second. John Huston made three great pictures with him. There’s no doubt about it and I don’t feel bad about it.

JP: You’re lucky to be among the few.

ED: I do think, that in spite of everything, that particular performance was his performance because it gave him the best opportunities.

JP: I think that was one of Eddie’s best films, too, because he held it together. He really took along time to do that. Not as long as Young Lions, but it was a long one.

ED: As a matter of fact, we made it in 54 days.

JP: Are you still counting? How do you remember?

ED: I remember because that was the one where Kramer was in Dutch with it being the last picture for Columbia. He made a deal where he made all these pictures, 20 pictures at a certain level. He was allowed to make one at 2 million dollars. If he didn’t come in exactly on the budget or under budget within 54 days, the studio would take over. So, he was worried every damned day. Every day he was worried about this picture. That’s why I remembered it because normally I wouldn’t remember it all.

DE: What was Stanley Kramer like to work with as producer, because he was such a good filmmaker?

ED: He was a fine.

DE: Was he a hands-on producer?

ED: No, he was a hands -off producer.

JP: Back up, back up. You said he became such a great filmmaker. Okay. He’s one of the greatest producers in this town. I don’t know if you’d call him a great filmmaker.

ED: He also made some bad ones. Did you ever see the one he made with Frank Sinatra?

DE: Which one?

ED: Where they pull the cannon over the mountain?

DE: Oh, The Pride and the Passion (1957) Well, like everyone, he’s made some really bad films.

JP: We don’t talk about bad ones. (All laugh) But he really was a wonderful producer.

DE: If it comes down to whether he was a better producer than a director, I won’t argue the fact that he was probably a better producer.

ED: That’s our only point. I remember Time Magazine, on one of his pictures saying, “Kramer the director fails Kramer the producer.” The point is, sure he made some very great pictures — The Man Who Came To Dinner (1942) — what was that thing called?

DE: Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner (1967).

ED: Very, very good film. I think if he had stayed a producer and got the best directors there possibly could be he would have made more good pictures. That was his skill. He was the only producer I ever worked with who would talk. Every picture I ever made with him you could talk methods and you could talk cutting and society, which is what he was into.

JP: Did he ever use Lee Marvin?

DE: As a director he used him in Ship of Fools and he was brilliant in that, especially that one monologue he had. Kramer referred to Marvin’s talent as being able to reduce the most difficult scene to “Utter simplicity.”

ED: Tracy could do that too. He could take any line, no matter how complex it was and make it simple. Any good actor should do that. Students used to ask me, they don’t any more, thank god: “How do you talk to an actor? How do you tell them what to do, besides this business about dialogue?” The actor reads the script. He knows the part as well as I do. I assume he’s just as smart as I am and can read it just as well as I can. He can understand the part even better because it’s the one part that he’s concerned with, where I’m concerned with all the parts.

DE: I’m glad you mentioned that. On Raintree County, how much input did the actors have on their appearance?

Left-right, the gargantuan cast of the gargantuan Raintree County (1957): Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, Dmytryk (standing), Elizabeth Taylor,  Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Abel.

Left-right, the gargantuan cast of the gargantuan Raintree County (1957): Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, Dmytryk (standing), Elizabeth Taylor,
Montgomery Clift, Eva Marie Saint, Lee Marvin, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Abel.

ED: I don’t remember. All I can say is that as a director in those days, I was in charge of everything. Nobody could do anything without my signature. They couldn’t build a set without my signature. They couldn’t sign a dress without my signature or outfits used in the picture. Who came up with the idea of the outfit, whether it was him or me, I can’t tell you. In many cases, it was other people, wardrobe, actors, or what have you. Any director who would say, “No, don’t do that,” would be pretty silly.

DE: Well done. How long have you been married, by the way?

JP: We’ve been together almost 50 years and we’ve been married 49. No 48, we’ve been married 48 years. Is it over 50, now?

ED: Yeah, 51 in October, darling.

DE: Usually it’s the woman who remembers. Very good. Hurray for our side.

ED: How can I forget the first time I saw? Ahhh, the first time I saw her!

Dmytryk and wife Jean Porter in the early 70s, who, at the time of the 1996 interview, had celebrated more than fifty years of matrimony.

Dmytryk and wife Jean Porter in the early 70s, who, at the time of the 1996 interview, had celebrated more than fifty years of matrimony.


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One Response to Edward Dmytryk: A Worthy Reexamination (Part II)

  1. Fascinating stuff, especially the comments on Tracy and Clift – two very different yet equally compelling actors.

    I always enjoyed Dmytryk’s work, although it did fall away towards the latter stages of his career. I’ve heard it said that some of the spark went after the HUAC business; I don’t know if that’s true or not but I did get the feeling that a film like Warlock was an attempt, maybe subconsciously, to address that episode.

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