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Overview for Joseph H. Lewis
Joseph H. Lewis

Joseph H. Lewis


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Also Known As: Joseph Lewis,Joseph Lewis Died: August 30, 2000
Born: April 6, 1907 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Brooklyn, New York, USA Profession: Director ... director editor 2nd unit director camera assistant gofer


A former editor and B-movie director who was elevated to auteur status in the 1960s by such noted critics as Paul Schrader and Jay Cocks, Joseph H Lewis began his film career as a camera loader during the infancy of the medium in the 20s. He joined the Poverty Row studio Mascot and rose to head of its editing department, receiving credit on such efforts as "Adventures of Rex and Rinty," "Ladies Crave Excitement" and "One Frightened Night" (all 1935). When Mascot and three other studios were combined to form Republic, Lewis remained as a supervising editor. Within two years, he had segued to the director's chair, sharing credit on the now forgettable programmer "Navy Spy" (1937). Lewis handled several of the studios musical Westerns with such stars as Bob Baker and Fuzzy Knight (e.g., "Singing Outlaw" 1938), Charles Starrett (i.e., "Blazing Six Shooters" 1940) and Johnny Mack Brown (e.g., "The Silver Bullet" 1942). Many contemporary reviewers of his work praised his direction and faulted the scripts he was forced to handle by the studios. Lewis proved capable of working in several genres helming everything from the dreadful sci-fi film "The Mad Doctor of Market Street" (1942) to the underrated musical "Minstrel Man" (1944).

After service in the US Army Signal Corps during WWII, Lewis returned to Hollywood and the B-movie. He had a box-office success with the fast-paced, low-budget melodrama "My Name Is Julia Ross" (1945) in which Nina Foch plays a secretary who becomes the prisoner of her crazy employers. "So Dark the Night" (1946) offered strong production values and focused on the ill-fated romance between a Parisian detective and a country girl while the Technicolor "The Swordsman" (1947) was Lewis' version of the swashbuckling adventure. The Melvin Frank-Norman Panama script for "The Return of October" (1948) offered the director better than his usual material. A charming fantasy about a young woman (Terry Moore) who believes her uncle was reincarnated as horse, the film is not to everyone's taste but Lewis acquitted himself well. 1949, however, marked the debut of "Deadly Is the Female/Gun Crazy," loosely inspired by the story of Bonnie and Clyde, considered as one of Lewis' best with almost non-stop action that is stylishly handled. Marred only by a somewhat wooden performance by lead Peggy Cummins, the film has remained a favorite of critics. Better but forgotten efforts, though, include "Undercover Man" (1949), shot in a documentary-style and starring Glenn Ford in the title role, and "Retreat, Hell!" (1952), an above average war drama set in the early days of the Korean Conflict. "Cry of the Hunted" (1953) benefited from a superb performance by Vittorio Gassman as an escaped prisoner. The best of Lewis' noir dramas was "The Big Combo" (1955), about a love triangle among a cop (Cornel Wilde), a brutal mobster (Richard Conte) and the woman (Jean Wallace) to whom they are both attracted. Bolstered by John Alton's photography and a jazz score, the film has achieved a cult status. His final feature work was a return to Westerns (albeit with a different, more mature approach).

After turning to television in the late 50s and early 60s, Lewis retired. It was only during the 60s when the French put forth the auteur theory (which was co-opted by American critics) that Lewis' work began to formally attract notice. In addition to receiving various tributes from European film festivals, Lewis was one of the subjects of Peter Bogdanovich's acclaimed 1997 book "Who the Devil Made It," a series of essays and interviews with pioneering film directors.

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