Lewis Milestone Profile
Director Lewis Milestone, known for his careful craftsmanship, ability with actors and concise editing, seemed at his most confident directing war films. Born Lewis Milstein in the Ukraine in 1895 and educated in Belgium and Germany, he came to the U.S. when he was 19. He already had gained some theater experience and, while serving in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War I, made short educational films for soldiers. After the war he settled in Hollywood, where director William A. Seiter hired him at Ince Studios as an assistant film cutter. He worked his way through the ranks as editor, assistant director and screenwriter, and directed his first movie, Howard Hughes' Seven Sinners, in 1925.
Milestone won the first of his two Academy Awards as Best Director of a Comedy Picture (the only time that award was presented) for Two Arabian Nights (1927), starring William Boyd and Mary Astor. He won the second Oscar®, and hit his dramatic stride, with the anti-war film All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), a devastating version of the Erich Maria Remarque novel about young German recruits during World War I. The film was also named as Best Picture. Yet another nomination came for Milestone's direction of The Front Page (1931), his screen treatment of the rowdy newspaper comedy by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur.
Among Milestone's signature touches was his innovative use of the tracking camera. Throughout the 1930s he distinguished himself as a versatile director of musicals (Hallelujah, I'm a Bum, 1933), comedy (Paris in Spring, 1935), espionage thrillers (The General Died at Dawn, 1936) and literary adaptations (Of Mice and Men, 1939, based on the John Steinbeck novel).
In the '40s Milestone turned out a series of taut war movies including Edge of Darkness (1943), The Purple Heart (1944) and A Walk in the Sun (1945). The latter film, starring Dana Andrews and set in Italy, is considered by many to be one of the best combat films of the World War II era. Other Milestone highlights of the decade include the gripping film noir The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), starring Barbara Stanwyck; Arch of Triumph (1948), another Remarque story, starring Ingrid Bergman; and The Red Pony (1949), another Steinbeck adaptation, with Robert Mitchum.
In the 1950s Milestone returned to war films with Halls of Montezuma (1950), a WWII Marine adventure set on a Pacific island, with an ensemble cast headed by Richard Widmark; and Pork Chop Hill (1959), a particularly powerful study of a key battle in the Korean War, with Gregory Peck in a strong performance as a U.S. Army lieutenant. Milestone had a hit in the Rat Pack heist caper Ocean's Eleven (1960) and a box office failure in the Marlon Brando remake of Mutiny on the Bounty (1962), a troubled production whose box-office failure almost bankrupted MGM. Milestone, who had begun directing episodic television toward the end of the 1950s, finished out his career in that medium.
Milestone had only one wife, actress Kendall Lee Glaezner, to whom he was married from 1936 until her death in 1978. He died in 1980.
by Roger Fristoe