Richard O. Fleischer


Director
Richard O. Fleischer

About

Also Known As
Richard O Fleischer, Richard Fleischer
Birth Place
Brooklyn, New York, USA
Born
December 08, 1916
Died
March 26, 2006

Biography

The director of nearly 50 films, Richard Fleischer enjoyed an incredibly diverse career helming B-movie thrillers, effects-laden spectaculars, and star-studded epics. The son of animation innovator Max Fleischer, he began his filmmaking journey at RKO where his documentary short "Design for Death" (1947) earned him an Oscar as producer. He would be forever remembered for crafting one of ...

Family & Companions

Mary Dickson
Wife
Co-student at Yale; married in 1944.

Notes

"The old school had something going for it. If you made it through hit pictures, you were very nicely taken care of by the studio. If you didn't, you were nicely ushered out the door."---Richard Fleischer quoted in Los Angeles Magazine, November 2004.

Biography

The director of nearly 50 films, Richard Fleischer enjoyed an incredibly diverse career helming B-movie thrillers, effects-laden spectaculars, and star-studded epics. The son of animation innovator Max Fleischer, he began his filmmaking journey at RKO where his documentary short "Design for Death" (1947) earned him an Oscar as producer. He would be forever remembered for crafting one of cinema's greatest film noirs with "The Narrow Margin" (1952) and giving Walt Disney his first live-action hit with the big-budget adaptation of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954). He spent much of the following decade oscillating between true-crime stories and sweeping adventures with films like "The Girl on the Red Velvet Swing" (1955), "The Vikings" (1958), "Compulsion" (1959) and "Fantastic Voyage" (1966). Eventually, expensive disappoints like "Doctor Doolittle" (1967) and "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970) began to weaken his once unshakable stature with the studios of the day. Fleischer's later output consisted largely of a combination of cult-favorite genre films and outright embarrassments, "The New Centurions" (1972), "Soylent Green" (1973), "Mandingo" (1975) and "The Jazz Singer" (1980), among them. Well known in the industry for his ability to deal with such difficult personalities as Kirk Douglas, Orson Welles and Rex Harrison, Fleischer related some of the juiciest tales in his 1993 autobiography, Just Tell Me When to Cry. While never a household name, Fleischer nonetheless oversaw some of the most enjoyable cinematic offerings of the 20th Century.

Born Richard O. Fleischer on Dec. 8, 1915 in Brooklyn, NY, he was the son of Essie Goldstein and animation pioneer Max Fleischer. Fleischer's' father, who invented and patented the groundbreaking rotoscope technique - a means of combining live-action movement with cartoons - was also the man responsible for bringing the likes of Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman to theater screens in the 1930s and 1940s. Originally intending to pursue a career in psychology, Fleischer enrolled at Brown University after high school graduation, only to shift gears and enter the Yale School of Drama. There he met his future wife, Mary Dickenson, who appeared in several of the plays he directed. While traveling throughout New England with a theater troupe, Fleischer's work attracted the attention of a studio scout who offered him work as a newsreel script writer for RKO-Pathe in 1942. There, he wrote, edited and later directed shorts and documentaries, in addition to a series of silent-era comedy compilations called "Flicker Flashbacks" (RKO, 1943-48).

After a few years of service in the Army, Fleischer moved to Hollywood in 1946 and took up work at RKO studio. He won his first and only Oscar at the age of 31 as a producer on his final short-subject, the documentary "Design for Death" (1947) written by Ted "Dr. Seuss" Geisel and his wife, Helen Palmer. Despite this early critical acclaim, as a director, Fleischer was primarily relegated to lightweight family fare and comedies like the Henry Morgan vehicle "So This Is New York" (1948). Soon, he was churning out a steady stream of low-budget thrillers, including "The Clay Pigeon" (1949), "Trapped" (1949) and "Armored Car Robbery" (1950). But with each production, Fleischer learned valuable lessons about his craft, often making due with abbreviated schedules, meager budgets and difficult actors. He demonstrated his impressive mastery of his craft as a genre director with the efficient and suspenseful thriller "The Narrow Margin" (1952), a B-movie regarded by many critics as one of the most effective film noirs ever made.

In an ironic twist of fate, it was Walt Disney, his father's longtime rival in the world of feature animation throughout the 1930s, who gave Fleischer the biggest break of his career. Impressed with the director's work on the coming-of-age charmer, "The Happy Time" (1952), Disney offered Fleischer the job of helming an incredibly ambitious adventure, based on one of Jules Verne's' most famous novels. After receiving his father's blessing, Fleischer accepted the challenge of directing Disney's live-action fantasy epic, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (1954). Boasting an all-star cast that included Kirk Douglas, Peter Lorre and James Mason as the maniacal Capt. Nemo, the lavishly produced film went on to become a massive hit for Disney's Buena Vista Pictures - the second highest grossing film of the year - and won a pair of Academy Awards for Art Direction and Special Effects. For his part, Fleischer earned high marks from Disney and his contemporaries for handling several larger-than-life personalities and problematic effects (like the infamous giant rubber squid) with a combination of calm and aplomb.

With the success of "20,000 Leagues," Fleischer was now a top-flight director. Following the commercial disappointment of the underappreciated (at the time) southwestern noir, "Violent Saturday" (1955), he helmed the first of his films inspired by real-life crime stories "The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing" (1955). He showed his aptitude helming big-budget extravaganzas once more with the sweeping epic, "The Vikings" (1958), starring Douglas and Tony Curtis and gorgeously shot by legendary cinematographer Jack Cardiff. Returning to true-crime material, Fleischer dramatized the infamous Leopold and Loeb murder trial in "Compulsion" (1959), then helmed the religious epic "Barabbas" (1961), starring Anthony Quinn as the man sparred crucifixion after Pontius Pilate (Arthur Kennedy) maneuvered to have Christ take his place on the cross. While the groundbreaking sci-fi adventure "Fantastic Voyage" (1966) left audiences breathless, the colossal failure of the fantasy-musical "Doctor Dolittle" (1967) nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox and did little to help his professional reputation.

Fleischer reteamed with Curtis for another based-on-fact crime story, "The Boston Strangler" (1968), eliciting a performance from the star that many felt should have earned the pretty boy actor an Oscar nomination. As his career approached the next decade, Fleischer's commercial and critical disappointments began to outweigh the hits. He drew criticism over the subject matter and raised eyebrows over the casting of Omar Sharif as controversial Marxist revolutionary Ernesto Guevara in the biopic "Che!" (1969). Fleischer next directed the American half of the U.S.-Japanese co-production, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (1970), a recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor as told from both perspectives that left the majority of critics and audiences unimpressed, despite it awe-inspiring aerial shots. Another examination of an actual crime came with the British drama "10 Rillington Place" (1971), starring Sir Richard Attenborough as one of the U.K.'s most notorious serial killers, John Christie.

Based on the novel by Joseph Wambaugh, "The New Centurions" (1972) was a gritty examination of life as a cop in Los Angeles and starred George C. Scott and Stacey Keach and became one of Fleischer's last widely acclaimed films. A cautionary tale of unchecked pollution and overpopulation, the sci-fi thriller "Soylent Green" (1973) starred Charlton Heston and featured Edward G. Robinson in his final screen appearance. A by-the-numbers Charles Bronson actioner, "Mr. Majestyk" (1974), was followed by the almost universally-panned antebellum potboiler, "Mandingo" (1975), a film Quentin Tarantino later hailed as one of the greatest big-budget exploitation movies ever made. Star-studded efforts like the Musketeers knock-off "Crossed Swords" (1977), and the desert adventure "Ashanti" (1979) also failed to re-establish Fleischer's once formidable reputation. With the disastrous critical reception of the highly-publicized remake of "The Jazz Singer" (1980), starring Neil Diamond and Sir Laurence Olivier, Fleischer's return to the world of B-movies was all but assured.

Fleischer wound down his lengthy and diverse career as a hired gun, overseeing a string of forgettable pictures that included the lackluster horror movie "Amityville 3-D" (1983), the Arnold Schwarzenegger sword and sorcery sequel "Conan the Destroyer" (1984), and the Conan the Barbarian spin-off "Red Sonja" (1985). Almost completely ignored in theaters, the gimmicky caper comedy "Million Dollar Mystery" (1987) became Fleischer's final offering as a feature film director. Semi-retired, he kept busy as the licensor of his father's Betty Boop and Koko the Clown properties. In 1993, Fleischer published his autobiography, Just Tell Me When to Cry, the title of which was inspired by an actress' response to the director's long-winded explanation of her character's motivation near the beginning of his storied career. More than a decade later, he published another memoir, this time covering his father's groundbreaking career in animation, titled Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution. Having been in poor health for the better part of a year, Richard Fleischer died in his sleep at the age of 89 on March 25, 2006.

By Bryce Coleman

Filmography

 

Director (Feature Film)

Call From Space (1989)
Director
Million Dollar Mystery (1987)
Director
Red Sonja (1985)
Director
Conan The Destroyer (1984)
Director
Tough Enough (1983)
Director
Amityville 3: The Demon (1983)
Director
The Jazz Singer (1980)
Director
Ashanti (1979)
Director
Crossed Swords (1978)
Director
The Incredible Sarah (1976)
Director
Mandingo (1975)
Director
Mr. Majestyk (1974)
Director
The Spikes Gang (1974)
Director
The Don Is Dead (1973)
Director
Soylent Green (1973)
Director
The New Centurions (1972)
Director
The Last Run (1971)
Director
See No Evil (1971)
Director
10 Rillington Place (1971)
Director
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Director
Che! (1969)
Director
The Boston Strangler (1968)
Director
Doctor Dolittle (1967)
Director
Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Director
Barabbas (1962)
Director
The Big Gamble (1961)
Director
Crack in the Mirror (1960)
Director
Compulsion (1959)
Director
These Thousand Hills (1959)
Director
The Vikings (1958)
Director
Between Heaven and Hell (1956)
Director
Bandido (1956)
Director
The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955)
Director
Violent Saturday (1955)
Director
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
Director
Arena (1953)
Director
The Narrow Margin (1952)
Director
The Happy Time (1952)
Director
Armored Car Robbery (1950)
Director
Make Mine Laughs (1949)
Director
Follow Me Quietly (1949)
Director
Trapped (1949)
Director
The Clay Pigeon (1949)
Director
Bodyguard (1948)
Director
So This Is New York (1948)
Director
Variety Time (1948)
Jack Paar seq Director
Banjo (1947)
Director
Child of Divorce (1946)
Director

Cast (Feature Film)

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Do Not Use) (2011)
Himself

Producer (Feature Film)

Design for Death (1948)
Producer

Production Companies (Feature Film)

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
Company

Misc. Crew (Feature Film)

Cameraman: The Life and Work of Jack Cardiff (Do Not Use) (2011)
Other
Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)
Assistant

Cast (Special)

Murder By Numbers (2002)

Director (Short)

Make Mine Memories (1955)
Director

Cast (Short)

A Look at the World of "Soylent Green" (1973)
Himself
Portrait of an Actor (1971)
Himself

Writer (Short)

Make Mine Memories (1955)
Writer

Producer (Short)

Make Mine Memories (1955)
Producer

Life Events

1937

Formed stage troupe The Arena Players, directing and producing all their shows

1940

Joined RKO as production assistant

1942

Became newsreel editor

1942

Made editor, co-writer and director on RKO's Pathe Newsreel series, "This Is America" (from 1942) and director-producer on "Flickers Flashback" silent film compliations

1943

First short as screenwriter, "Air Crew"

1943

Short film directing debut, "Memo For Joe"

1946

Feature film directing debut, "Child of Divorce"

1955

Founded Nautilus Productions

Videos

Movie Clip

20,000 Leagues Under The Sea (1954) - Whale Of A Tale Kirk Douglas (as harpoon expert Ned Land) offers a jaunty rendition of "Whale of a Tale" by Al Hoffman and Norm Gimbel, immediately followed by an emergency at sea, in Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, 1954.
Follow Me Quietly (1949) - They're Twins With Two Heads Discouraged cop Grant (William Lundigan) is moderately surprised to see Ann (Dorothy Patrick), reporter for a low-rent crime magazine, spicily dressed and awaiting him in his apartment, and decides to test her determination, in Follow Me Quietly, 1949, directed by Richard Fleischer, from a script originated by Anthony Mann.
Armored Car Robbery (1950) - At The Ballpark Little noted at the time but much praised in retrospect, director Richard Fleischer opens with cops Cordell and Phillips (Charles McGraw, James Flavin) racing to the old L-A Wrigley Field, where they don't realize crook Purvus (William Talman) is timing them, in Amored Car Robbery, 1951.
Follow Me Quietly (1949) - Editor Lives To Tell Taking a new call on their current case, we learn here that “The Judge” is a serial killer, as cops Grant and Collins (William Lundigan, Jeff Corey) arrive to interrogate newspaper editor McGill (Frank Ferguson), who recounts his attack, in Follow Me Quietly, 1949.
Mandingo (1975) - The New Mrs. Maxwell In pre-Civil War New Orleans, Perry King as plantation owner Hammond, Susan George his cousin and new bride Blanche, whom we understand to have been raped by her brother while a pre-teen, with unusually direct and explicit language, in the controversial box office hit Mandingo, 1975.
Mandingo (1975) - Slaves & Mules Impressive period staging, Richard Fleischer directing, the introduction of heavyweight ex-champ Ken Norton as slave Mede, prized as a specimen of the Mandinka ethnic group, noted in the title, nasty language as Hammond (Perry King) bids against a German (Rosemary Tichenor), in Mandingo, 1975.
Armored Car Robbery (1950) - When You Kill A Cop Cops Cordell (Charles McGraw) and Ryan (Don McGuire) are just settling in to watch the stripper and gang moll they plan to interview, when Mapes (Steve Brodie), from the heist gang shows up, bare knuckle interrogation following, in Richard Fleischer's Armored Car Robbery, 1950.
Armored Car Robbery (1950) - Some Guys Might Go For Her In just the second scene, director Richard Fleischer getting full exploitation value from Adele Jergens as stripper Yvonne, with master thief Dave (William Talman) looking to take advantage of her discarded husband Benny (Douglas Fowley), in Armored Car Robbery, 1950.
Armored Car Robbery (1950) - Awake For A Year L-A cops Cordell (Charles McGraw) and Ryan (Don McGuire) frustrated that their dragnet hasn't caught the perps, quite impervious to caffeine, have only scorn for the insurance rep (Max Mellinger), in Richard Fleischer's heist-Noir, Armored Car Robbery, 1950.
Clay Pigeon, The (1949) - They Should've Let Him Die That’s the old Long Beach Naval Hospital at East 7th St. and Bellflower (site of the VA Hospital now), as we meet Bill Williams as hospitalized Seaman Jim Fletcher, Harold Landon a blind comrade, Ann Doran the nurse and Frank Wilcox the doctor, opening The Clay Pigeon, 1949, from director Richard Fleischer and writer Carl Foreman.
Clay Pigeon, The (1949) - Only Man In The Navy As TCM’s Eddie Muller has noted, just about all viewers would have known that Bill Williams (as Jim, the partial-amnesiac hospital-escapee and suspected traitor sailor) and Barbara Hale (as Martha), who meet here, were husband and wife off screen; good thing and well-played by director Richard Fleischer, in The Clay Pigeon, 1949.
Clay Pigeon, The (1949) - A Shock Of Some Sort The two goons, motives unknown, have just run fugitive amnesiac sailor Jim (Bill Williams) and Martha (Barbara Hale), his hostage, and the widow of the fellow POW who’s death he’s suspected of causing, off the road, and ensuing events incline her to reconsider his story, in The Clay Pigeon, 1949.

Trailer

Red Sonja (1985) -- Original Trailer Theatrical trailer for the improbable Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle with somebody else (Brigitte Nielsen) in the title role, Red Sonja, 1985, directed by Richard Fleischer, who also made Arnold’s second “Conan” feature, Conan The Destroyer, 1984.
Happy Time, The - (Original Trailer) A Canadian patriarch (Charles Boyer) fights to keep his wayward brother (Louis Jordan) from leading his son astray in The Happy Time (1952).
Bandido - (Original Trailer) Robert Mitchum is an American adventurer in Mexico who joins a rebel band against a corrupt gun runner in Bandido (1956).
Barabbas -- (Original Trailer) Anthony Quinn plays Barabbas (1962), the thief given freedom while Jesus was crucified.
Doctor Dolittle (1967) - (Original Trailer) Rex Harrison is the doctor who can talk to the animals in the original musical Doctor Dolittle (1967).
Bodyguard (1948) - (Original Trailer) Lawrence Tierney (Resevoir Dogs) is a cop on suspension framed for murder in the film noir thriller Bodyguard (1948).
Soylent Green - (Original Trailer) Future cop Charlton Heston uncovers the deadly secret behind a mysterious synthetic food in Soylent Green (1973).
Compulsion - (Original Trailer) Two wealthy law-school students go on trial for murder in Compulsion (1959) based on the true story of the Leopold-Loeb case.
Vikings, The - (Original Trailer) Two Vikings (Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis) fight over a throne and a beautiful captive (Janet Leigh) in the epic adventure The Viking (1958).
Follow Me Quietly - (Original Trailer) Police track a mysterious killer nicknamed "The Judge" in Follow Me Quietly (1949), a film noir thriller directed by Richard Fleischer and starring William Lundigan and Jeff Corey.
See No Evil - (Original Trailer) Mia Farrow plays a blind woman who returns home not knowing that a madman has murdered her entire family in See No Evil (1971).
Narrow Margin, The -- (Original Trailer) A tough cop meets his match when he has to guard a gangster's moll on a tense train ride in one of the best film noirs The Narrow Margin (1952).

Family

Max Fleischer
Father
Animator. Headed Fleischer Studios; perhaps most famous creation was Betty Boop.
Essie Fleischer
Mother
Dave Fleischer
Uncle
Animator.
Charlie Fleischer
Uncle
Inventor.
Louis Fleischer
Uncle
At one time worked at Fleischer Studios.
Ruth Fleischer
Sister
Actor.

Companions

Mary Dickson
Wife
Co-student at Yale; married in 1944.

Bibliography

Notes

"The old school had something going for it. If you made it through hit pictures, you were very nicely taken care of by the studio. If you didn't, you were nicely ushered out the door."---Richard Fleischer quoted in Los Angeles Magazine, November 2004.