HomeReviewsEdward Dmytryk: A Worthy Reexamination (Part II)

Edward Dmytryk: A Worthy Reexamination (Part II)

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

Edward Dmytryk was a prominent American film director known for his work during the Golden Age of Hollywood.

He gained recognition for his contributions to the film noir genre and is also notable for being one of the Hollywood Ten, a group of film industry professionals who were blacklisted for their alleged involvement with the Communist Party.

Dmytryk’s career spanned several decades, during which he directed several successful and influential films.

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Discussion on Edward Dmytryk Career and Working with Actors

DE: How do you communicate to actors that you don’t believe what they are doing will be effective?

ED: During the initial rehearsals, actors often make mistakes as they familiarize themselves with the material and their roles.

Instead of reprimanding them in front of others, I allow them to recognize and rectify their errors on their own.

If the issue persists after several rehearsals, I prefer a private discussion with the actor to address the matter. I seldom find it necessary to scold anyone publicly.

JP: No, you never have.

ED: I wouldn’t do that. However, there were instances where an actor made a mistake for various reasons.

Tracy misread a line twice, interpreting it in a way that didn’t work well. I allowed the take with the error to be used and then privately suggested an alternative approach to him.

I never recited lines for the actors, but there was a lighthearted incident with Monty Clift where he asked me not to read lines for him as he felt it could affect his performance.

DE: He had the potential to become a director himself. A very skilled communicator.

ED: I can hardly recall specific lines from my films because I intentionally avoided memorizing them when reading the script, regardless of how many times I reviewed it.

DE: What do you think was Lee Marvin’s most significant skill as an actor?

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.

ED: Lee had a natural talent, making him easy to work with, like working with children, and distinct from theatrical actors.

He highlighted the difference between actors from theater backgrounds and those without, emphasizing the tendency of theater actors to “read a line,” which often frustrated the present writers.

Eddie reflected on Spencer Tracy’s exceptional ability to engage with his co-stars, as they often felt that he contributed something unique to their performances, later realizing that it was his undivided attention and genuine listening that made them feel valued.

Tracy’s focus on the other actors in the scene, rather than just his lines, made his performances remarkably authentic. Eddie also shared a touching memory of working with Tracy on a scene from “The Mountain” (1956) that deeply moved him and the crew.

DE: Yes, I Have.

ED: In a particular scene with Tracy, he portrayed a character trying to take responsibility for an incident involving a girl.

I often started important scenes with my co-stars, opting for close-up shots initially, as they allowed for spontaneous and authentic performances.

During one such scene with E.G. Marshall reading a line to Tracy, the emotional impact was so intense that even the crew members were tearful.

E.G. Marshall wished for method actors to witness Tracy’s acting prowess. I emphasized that all great actors are creators, including Monty, who often contributed numerous creative ideas.

I welcomed suggestions from actors and crew members, considering them valuable ideas to further explore and potentially incorporate into the production.

DE: What do you do if one actor has an idea while another has a different perspective? Ultimately, you have the final say, but how do you handle such situations?

ED: That rarely happens.

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

ED: That’s another thing…

DE: I’m considering a scenario where one actor suggests a specific action while delivering a line, and another expresses concerns about accommodating that action within their performance.

ED: In such cases, I advise against incorporating that action. (Everyone laughs) There was only one instance where an actor halted a rehearsal to question the approach for the take.

JP: Who was that?

ED: (Under his breath) Kirk.

DE: (Laughs) I wonder which Kirk it was.

JP: You brought up “The Caine Mutiny” earlier, and that was one of Eddie’s most challenging films.

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.

It began in Honolulu, Hawaii, with all the scenes on the ship being shot on location. Then they had 3 weeks back home in the studio, and [addressing Dmytryk] you were exceptional in managing that, with all the actors acknowledging your support.

You kept them grounded in the same foundation.

ED: A part of my expertise, my dear. When I advise my film classes against storyboarding, they ask, “How will I remember it?” I tell them, “Rely on the people you work with.”

JP: Remember the intense weather conditions during the filming?

DE: The typhoon.

JP: Yes, the typhoon. They had to tackle all those challenges on set while dealing with their lines, which was tough.

DE: You brought out Humphrey Bogart’s best performance as an actor.

J: He (Bogart) thought so too. He thoroughly enjoyed it.

DE: You could sense that. He was outstanding in it. The way he used his eyes!

ED: I read that he was once asked about the best directors he has ever worked with.

JP: Don’t boast.

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

DE: There’s nothing wrong with that.

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

JP: You’re fortunate to be among the few.

ED: Despite everything, I believe that particular performance was his best because it provided him with the greatest opportunities.

JP: I think that was one of Eddie’s finest films too, as he held it together. It took quite a while to make, not as long as “Young Lions,” but it was a lengthy process.

ED: In fact, we completed it in 54 days.

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

ED: I remember because it was the last picture for Columbia, and Kramer was in a difficult position. He had a deal where if he didn’t stay within budget and complete it within 54 days, the studio would take over.

So, he was worried every single day. That’s why I remember it, as I wouldn’t usually recall such details.

DE: What was Stanley Kramer like to work with as a producer, considering his strong filmmaking reputation?

ED: He was excellent.

DE: Was he actively involved as a producer?

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

JP: Let’s step back a bit. You mentioned he became a great filmmaker. Well, he’s one of the greatest producers in town. I’m not sure if you’d call him a great filmmaker.

ED: He also had his share of failures. Have you seen the one he made with Frank Sinatra?

DE: Which one?

ED: Where did they haul the cannon over the mountain?

DE: “The Pride and the Passion” (1957). Well, like everyone, he’s had some terrible films.

JP: We don’t discuss the bad ones. (Everyone laughs) But he, indeed, was an exceptional producer.

DE: If we’re debating whether he was a better producer than a director, I won’t argue that he was probably a better producer.

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

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

ED: A very good film. I think if he had continued as a producer, collaborating with the best directors, he would have made more good pictures.

That was his strength. He was the only producer I ever worked with who was open to discussions about methods, editing, and societal themes, which he was passionate about.

JP: Did he ever work with Lee Marvin?

DE: As a director, he cast Marvin in “Ship of Fools,” and he delivered a brilliant performance, especially in a particular monologue. Kramer praised Marvin’s ability to simplify the most challenging scenes to “utter simplicity.”

ED: Tracy could do that too. He could take any complex line and make it simple. Any good actor should be able to do that.

Left-right, the gargantuan cast of the gargantuan Raintree County (1957) Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, Dmytryk (standing), Elizabeth Taylor,
Left-right, the gargantuan cast of the gargantuan Raintree County (1957) Rod Taylor, Nigel Patrick, Dmytryk (standing), Elizabeth Taylor,

Students used to ask me, not anymore, thank goodness: “How do you communicate with an actor? How do you direct them, aside from discussing dialogue?” The actor reads the script and understands the part as well as I do.

I assume they’re as intelligent as I am and can comprehend the role even better because it’s the one part they’re focused on, whereas I’m concerned with all the parts.

DE: Regarding Raintree County, to what extent did the actors have a say in how they looked on screen?

ED: In the past, as a director, I had control over everything. Nothing could be done without my approval, whether it was building a set or deciding on outfits for the film.

Sometimes, the idea for the outfits came from me and others, like the wardrobe department or the actors. Any director who would restrict the creative input from others would be quite foolish.

DE: How many years have you been married?

JP: We’ve been together for nearly 50 years and married for 48. Or is it over 50 now?

ED: Yes, it’ll be 51 in October, darling.

DE: Normally, it’s the woman who remembers. Well done. Hurray for our side.

ED: How could I ever forget the first time I saw her? Ahh, that first moment!

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Ashish Dahal
Ashish Dahal
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