Robert Aldrich


Director
Robert Aldrich

About

Also Known As
Robert Burgess Aldrich
Birth Place
Cranston, Rhode Island, USA
Born
August 09, 1918
Died
December 05, 1983
Cause of Death
Kidney Failure

Biography

Famed for his macho mise-en-scene and resonant reworkings of classic action genres, Robert Aldrich became a model for many younger directors in the 1960s and 70s. Along with such figures as Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff, he was also a symbol of the free-spirit of independent filmmaking (although Aldrich had more interest in quality, and became renowned for substantive content and the inter...

Photos & Videos

Autumn Leaves - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Kiss Me Deadly - Lobby Card
The Killing of Sister George - Movie Poster

Family & Companions

Harriet Foster
Wife
Divorced; mother of Aldrich's four children.
Sybille Siegfried
Wife
Model. Married in 1965; survived him.

Notes

He served as president of the Directors Guild of America from 1975 to 1979. A special award presented by the Guild was created posthumously.

While being interviewed for "Little Caesar: A Biography of Edward G Robinson" (New English Library, 1983), Aldrich said that he thought the only reason he had not been blacklisted along with many Hollywood notables was because he was only a low-level assistant director at the time of the red hunt.

Biography

Famed for his macho mise-en-scene and resonant reworkings of classic action genres, Robert Aldrich became a model for many younger directors in the 1960s and 70s. Along with such figures as Roger Corman and Sam Arkoff, he was also a symbol of the free-spirit of independent filmmaking (although Aldrich had more interest in quality, and became renowned for substantive content and the interior meanings of his works.) He is best recalled for such horror classics as "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962), and "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" (1964), both starring Bette Davis. But, the director also tried his hand at more literary works, such as "The Killing of Sister George" (1968), and even commercial comedies like "The Longest Yard" (1974), starring Burt Reynolds.

Dropping out of college and the career in banking or politics expected by his prominent Republican family (John D Rockefeller Jr was an uncle by marriage), Aldrich entered film as a clerk at RKO in 1941. He rose through the ranks as a second assistant director, first assistant (working with Chaplin and Renoir, among others), production manager, studio manager and screenwriter under contract to Enterprise Studios (1946-48).

In the early 1950s, Aldrich directed episodes of several TV series, including the syndicated "China Smith" and NBC's "The Doctor," before finally making his feature film debut in 1953 with "The Big Leaguer." This low-budget film starred Edward G Robinson in one of his first roles after being cleared of the "red" taint by the House Committee on un-American Activities. The actor was sorely miscast as the manager of a training camp for baseball players, not to mention, Aldrich would later recall, low on self-confidence after being away from the screen for nearly two years. The result was not stellar in Robinson's canon, but it did establish that Aldrich could direct a film under budget and ahead of schedule. The director soon formed his own company, Associates and Aldrich, to assume more control of his career; he then produced most of the films he directed and also contributed to their screenplays. Aldrich's work aggressively confronted controversial social and political issues. Taking uncompromising positions in familiar genres and revising genre conventions, he challenged both the studio system and audience expectations.

Aldrich's dominant theme was man's efforts to prevail against both impossible odds and institutional oppression. In "Apache" (1954), the only tribal leader left unconquered after the defeat of Geronimo refuses to be subjugated by the white man but is also, ultimately, alienated from his own people. Aldrich returned to the same subject 18 years later in "Ulzana's Raid" (1972), in which an Apache leader breaks the reservation's institutional constraints, vowing to recapture lost land. In depicting the brutal savagery of the white soldiers, who are oblivious to the hostility they cause, Aldrich refuses to allow his characters the traditional redemption offered by the Western genre.

In "The Big Knife" (1955), the Hollywood studio system was shown as nurturing dictatorial leaders who push individuals to compromise and suicide. (The film, which won the Silver Award at the Venice Film Festival, contains blatant allusions to real-life moguls Harry Cohn and Jack Warner). "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?" (1962) and "The Legend of Lylah Clare" (1968) continued to present a Hollywood breeding jealousy and empty myths rooted in egomania.

In "Attack!" (1956), the combination of cowardice and political compromise displayed by military officers destroys the common soldiers under their command. "Attack!" was criticized for Aldrich's violent, often frantic mise-en-scene: for example, a soldier's arm is slowly crushed under a tank in a shot that can be taken as a metaphor for the results of institutional military incompetence. "The Dirty Dozen" (1967) reiterated Aldrich's contemptuous view for a military machine which dehumanized its subjects in order to make them capable of killing. The violent "heroics" of Robert Jefferson (Jim Brown)--dropping grenades that engulf trapped German officers in flames--illustrated how vicious men become under adversity.

Cynicism and pessimism permeated Aldrich's work. In the fatalistic "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955), private detective Mike Hammer attempts to track down the "great whatsit," a suitcase-sized atomic device which has been stolen by a spy; but the spy's greedy mistress opens the case, unleashing the device's deadly power in an apocalyptic finale. The film is arguably the director's most aesthetically striking and original, a hyper-kinetic reworking of the film noir genre that has become something of a cult favorite.

The abuse of institutional power motivates a terrorist in the political thriller "Twilight's Last Gleaming" (1977). A rogue general captures a nuclear missile silo and demands that the President read on national TV a Joint Chiefs of Staff memo admitting that over 50,000 Americans and 100,000 Southeast Asians died in a war the government knew America could never win. He insists that the President restore public confidence by calling the Vietnam war a "theatrical holocaust perpetrated by the criminally negligent." In Aldrich's cynical world-view, the Joint Chiefs sacrifice the President in order to maintain the credibility of the military complex.

On a smaller scale, "Hustle" (1975) reflects Aldrich's bleak vision of institutional betrayal. Gus, a police detective, can't win justice for the parents of a girl who accidentally drowned after an orgy with a protected leader of organized crime. Gus breaks the law to effect vengeance for the girl's father, then is himself killed by a petty criminal holding up a convenience store.

"All The Marbles" (1981), Aldrich's last film, was largely neglected by critics and audiences. It depicted two women wrestlers who confront the greed, sexism and humiliation of the wrestling world. Aldrich explicitly equated the physical abuse suffered by the women in the ring with the social abuse they suffered struggling for success and respect in a male-dominated field.

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

. . . All the Marbles (1981)
Director
The Frisco Kid (1979)
Director
The Choirboys (1977)
Director
Twilight's Last Gleaming (1977)
Director
Hustle (1975)
Director
The Longest Yard (1974)
Director
Emperor of the North Pole (1973)
Director
Ulzana's Raid (1972)
Director
The Grissom Gang (1971)
Director
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Director
The Killing of Sister George (1968)
Director
The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
Director
The Dirty Dozen (1967)
Director
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
Director
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Director
Sodom and Gomorrah (1963)
Director
4 for Texas (1963)
Director
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Director
The Last Days of Sodom and Gomorrah (1962)
Director
The Last Sunset (1961)
Director
Ten Seconds to Hell (1959)
Director
The Angry Hills (1959)
Director
The Garment Jungle (1957)
Director
Attack (1956)
Director
Autumn Leaves (1956)
Director
The Big Knife (1955)
Director
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Director
World for Ransom (1954)
Director
Apache (1954)
Director
Vera Cruz (1954)
Director
Big Leaguer (1953)
Director
Limelight (1953)
Assistant Director
Abbott and Costello Meet Captain Kidd (1952)
Assistant Director
New Mexico (1951)
Assistant Director
Of Men and Music (1951)
Assistant Director
M (1951)
Assistant Director
The Prowler (1951)
Assistant Director
The White Tower (1950)
Assistant Director
Force of Evil (1949)
Assistant Director
A Kiss for Corliss (1949)
Assistant Director
The Red Pony (1949)
Assistant Director
Red Light (1949)
2d unit Assistant Director
No Minor Vices (1948)
Assistant Director
So This Is New York (1948)
Assistant Director
Arch of Triumph (1948)
Assistant Director
The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1947)
Assistant Director
Body and Soul (1947)
Assistant Director
The Southerner (1945)
Assistant Director
Pardon My Past (1945)
Assistant Director
The Story of G. I. Joe (1945)
Assistant Director

Writer (Feature Film)

Too Late the Hero (1970)
Story
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Screenwriter
4 for Texas (1963)
Screenwriter
4 for Texas (1963)
Story
Ten Seconds to Hell (1959)
Screenwriter

Producer (Feature Film)

Hustle (1975)
Producer
The Grissom Gang (1971)
Producer
Too Late the Hero (1970)
Producer
What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice? (1969)
Producer
The Killing of Sister George (1968)
Producer
The Legend of Lylah Clare (1968)
Producer
The Flight of the Phoenix (1965)
Producer
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)
Producer
4 for Texas (1963)
Producer
What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
Producer
Attack (1956)
Producer
The Big Knife (1955)
Producer
Kiss Me Deadly (1955)
Producer
World for Ransom (1954)
Producer

Film Production - Main (Feature Film)

The Steel Trap (1952)
Prod Supervisor
When I Grow Up (1951)
Prod Supervisor

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Terror in the Aisles (1984)
Other
Fathers of Pop (1979)
Other

Assistant Direction (Special)

Chaplin Today: Limelight (2003)
Assistant Director

Misc. Crew (Short)

LIONPOWER FROM MGM (1967)
Archival Footage

Life Events

1944

Worked as assistant director on films by directors such as Lewis Milestone, Abraham Polonsky, Joseph Losey and Charles Chaplin; first film as assistant director, Jean Renoir's "The Southerner"

1951

First film as producer (associate), "Ten Tall Men"; also had bit part in Joseph Losey's "The Big Night"

1953

Feature directing debut, "The Big Leaguer"

1954

Formed production company

1955

Co-wrote (uncredited) "The Gamma People"

1957

Directed most of "The Garment Jungle"; (film completed by, and credited to, Vincent Sherman)

1962

Produced and directed "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?"

1967

Scored immense financial success with "The Dirty Dozen"; subsequently bought studio facility

1973

Reverse in fortunes lead to sale of studio facility

1981

Directed final film, "The Angry Hills"

Photo Collections

Autumn Leaves - Behind-the-Scenes Photos
Here are a few photos taken behind-the-scenes during production of Columbia Pictures' Autumn Leaves (1956), starring Joan Crawford and Cliff Robertson.
Kiss Me Deadly - Lobby Card
Here is the Title Lobby Card from Kiss Me Deadly (1955). Lobby Cards were 11" x 14" posters that came in sets of 8. As the name implies, they were most often displayed in movie theater lobbies, to advertise current or coming attractions.
The Killing of Sister George - Movie Poster
Here is the American one-sheet movie poster for The Killing of Sister George (1968). One-sheets measured 27x41 inches, and were the poster style most commonly used in theaters.

Videos

Movie Clip

Bombardier (1943) - You Look Scared Stiff Part of a series of impressive technical sequences, Russell Wade as Army Air Force trainee Harris, leading man Pat O’Brien narrating, Charles Russell the instructor, Randolph Scott in the cockpit, Academy Award-nominated Special Effects by Vernon L. Walker, editing by Robert Wise (assisted by young Robert Aldrich), in RKO’s Bombardier, 1943.
4 For Texas (1963) - Open, We're The Good Guys All action opening, Robert Aldrich directing, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin are among the stagecoach passengers, Dean narrating, and Charles Bronson leading the pursuit, including Jack Elam, also Percy Helton fretting on board, in the partial-Rat Pack comic-Western 4 For Texas, 1964, co-starring Anita Ekberg and Ursula Andress.
4 For Texas (1963) - Blood Of Christopher Columbus About an hour into the picture, Dean Martin as would-be saloon operator Joe Jarrett, guided by his man Prince George (Edric Connor), who’s in league with Angel (Nick Dennis) on the riverboat, is sizing it up as a location when the owner (Ursula Andress as Max) finally appears, in 4 For Texas, 1964, also starring Frank Sinatra and Anita Ekberg.
4 For Texas (1963) - Nothing Like A Straight Answer Back in Galveston after misadventures including one in which Joe Jarrett (Dean Martin) relieved him of $100,000, relaxed but shady entrepreneur Zack Thomas (Frank Sinatra) trades jabs with friendly immigrant hostess Elya (Anita Ekberg, her first scene), in 4 For Texas, 1964, directed by Robert Aldrich.
4 For Texas (1963) - Easy Come, Easy Go Still part of the lengthy opening joust between buddies Frank Sinatra (as Zach Thomas) and Dean Martin (as Joe Jarrett), playing clever strangers who together saved their stagecoach from robbers, the money here changing hands a third time, then Dean visiting his beloved Miss Ermaline (Marjorie Bennett), in 4 For Texas, 1964.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) - Why'd You Let It Die? Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker), on a tip from a building super (Silvio Minciotti), pays a visit to spacey Lily (Gaby Rodgers), sometime roommate of the murdered girl, just off Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood, in Robert Aldrich's Kiss Me Deadly, 1955.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) - He's A Bedroom Dick Ralph Meeker as Mike Hammer leaves the hospital with gal-Friday Velda (Maxine Cooper), weeks after the non-accident that killed his hitcher, James Seay apprehending and Robert Cornthwaite interrogating for the FBI, Wesley Addy his cop pal Pat, in Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly, 1955.
Kiss Me Deadly (1955) - Something Big Classical music and skimpy workout gear for assistant Velda (Maxine Cooper) as Mike Hammer (Ralph Meeker) arrives at the office with ideas about the torture-murder of the girl he found on the highway, in Robert Aldrich's film of the Mickey Spillane novel, Kiss Me Deadly, 1955.
Frisco Kid, The (1979) - That's A Real Woman! Cowboy Tommy (Harrison Ford) has reluctantly joined rabbi Avram (Gene Wilder), come from Poland and trying to reach the San Francisco congregation that sent for him, together exploring some crude language and some unexpected action, Robert Aldrich directing, in The Frisco Kid, 1979.
Flight Of The Phoenix, The (1965) - Eat The Monkey Brit officer Harris (Peter Finch) organizes, pilot Towns (James Stewart) his ally, accountant Dan Duryea frets, Ernest Borgnine surrenders his radio, Hardy Kruger interferes, Richard Attenborough, Christian Marquand, George Kennedy, Ian Bannen in the mix, in The Flight Of The Phoenix, 1965.
Flight Of The Phoenix, The (1965) - Send Up Some Smoke Stranded in the Libyan desert, survivors George Kennedy and Ian Bannen try to dissuade Alex Montoya from joining Harris (Peter Finch) to seek water, pilot Towns (James Stewart) and Moran (Richard Attenborough) seeing them off, in Robert Aldrich's The Flight Of The Phoenix, 1965.
Legend Of Lylah Clare, The - Cameras Are Rolling All Hollywood turned out, director Zarcon (Peter Finch) unveils Elsa (Kim Novak), the dead-ringer for his dead wife, columnist Molly Luther (Coral Browne) commenting, in Robert Aldrich's The Legend Of Lylah Clare, 1968

Trailer

Longest Yard, The (1974) -- (Theatrical Trailer) The original trailer is a fair reflection of Robert Aldrich’s landmark football comic-drama, The Longest Yard, 1974, which received a decidedly mixed reception, but grossed better-than $22-million.
Garment Jungle, The - (Original Trailer) A dress manufacturer (Lee J. Cobb) brings in the mob to fight unionization in The Garment Jungle (1957).
Dirty Dozen, The - (Original Trailer) A renegade officer trains a group of misfits for a crucial mission behind enemy lines in The Dirty Dozen (1967) starring Lee Marvin, Ernest Borgnine, and Jim Brown.
Big Leaguer - (Original Trailer) Edward G. Robinson plays an aging ballplayer turned manager in Robert Aldrich's first movie Big Leaguer (1953).
Last Sunset, The - (Original Trailer) A sheriff (Rock Hudson) finds the outlaw (Kirk Douglas) he's hunting leading a cattle drive and decides to help him before arresting him in Robert Aldrich's The Last Sunset (1961).
Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte - (Academy Preview Trailer) Heads will roll as Bette Davis fights to keep her family's secrets in Robert Aldrich's Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964).
Angry Hills, The - (Original Trailer) A World War II correspondent fights to get strategic information out of occupied Greece. Starring Robert Mitchum.
Red Pony, The - (Original Trailer) A rancher's son learns a valuable lesson when he's given a pony in Lewis Milestone's film version of John Steinbeck's novel, The Red Pony (1949).
Flight of the Phoenix, The - (Original Trailer) The survivors of a desert plane crash fight to get back in the air in The Flight of the Phoenix (1965).
White Tower, The - (Original Trailer) Mountain climbers in the Swiss Alps mull over past problems while trying to conquer a perilous peak. Starring Glenn Ford and Claude Rains.
Vera Cruz - (Original Trailer) During the Mexican Revolution, rival mercenaries team up to steal a fortune in gold in Vera Cruz (1954) starring Gary Cooper.
Apache - (Textless Trailer) Burt Lancaster is one of Geronimo's chiefs who leads a one-man assault on the U.S. Cavalry in Robert Aldrich's Apache (1954).

Family

Nelson W Aldrich
Grandfather
Former US Senator.
Edward B Aldrich
Father
Newspaper publisher.
Lora Lawson
Mother
Mrs John D Rockefeller
Aunt
Adell Aldrich
Daughter
Filmmaker. Born in 1943; mother, Harriet Foster.
William Aldrich
Son
Producer. Born in 1944; produced 1991 TV remake of "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?"; mother, Harriet Foster.
Alida Aldrich
Daughter
Appeared as a child in "Hush Hush ... Sweet Charlotte"; mother, Harriet Foster.
Kelly Aldrich
Son
Film transportation driver. Appeared as a child in "Hush Hush ... Sweet Charlotte", later worked as a driver on his father's films; mother, Harriet Foster.

Companions

Harriet Foster
Wife
Divorced; mother of Aldrich's four children.
Sybille Siegfried
Wife
Model. Married in 1965; survived him.

Bibliography

Notes

He served as president of the Directors Guild of America from 1975 to 1979. A special award presented by the Guild was created posthumously.

While being interviewed for "Little Caesar: A Biography of Edward G Robinson" (New English Library, 1983), Aldrich said that he thought the only reason he had not been blacklisted along with many Hollywood notables was because he was only a low-level assistant director at the time of the red hunt.