Leo McCAREY - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, 3 October 1898. Education: Los Angeles High School; University of Southern California Law School. Family: Married Stella Martin, 1920, one daughter.

Leo McCarey
Leo McCarey
Career: Lawyer in San Francisco and Los Angeles, 1916–17; third assistant to Tod Browning, then script supervisor, at Universal, 1918–19; supervisor and director of about 300 comedy shorts for Hal Roach studios, 1923–28; gagman for Our Gang series, 1923–24; teamed Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy, 1927; signed with Fox Studios, 1930; signed with Paramount, 1933; formed Rainbow Productions with Bing Crosby and others, 1946. Awards: Oscar for Best Direction for The Awful Truth , 1937; Oscars for Best Direction and Best Original Story for Going My Way , 1944. Died: 5 July 1969.

Films as Director:


Society Secrets (+ pr)


Publicity Pays (+ co-sc); Young Oldfield (+ co-sc); Stolen Goods (+ co-sc); Jeffries Jr. (+ co-sc); Why Husbands Go Mad (+ co-sc); A Ten-Minutes Egg (+ co-sc); Seeing Nellie Home (+ co-sc); Sweet Daddy (+ co-sc); Why Men Work (+ co-sc); Outdoor Pajamas (+ co-sc); Sittin' Pretty (+ co-sc); Too Many Mamas (+ co-sc); Bungalow Boobs (+ co-sc); Accidental Accidents (+ co-sc); All Wet (+ co-sc); The Poor Fish (+ co-sc); The Royal Razz (+ co-sc)


Hello Baby (+ co-sc); Fighting Fluid (+ co-sc); The Family Entrance (+ co-sc); Plain and Fancy Girls (+ co-sc); Should Husbands Be Watched? (+ co-sc); Hard Boiled (+ co-sc); Is Marriage the Bunk? (+ co-sc); Bad Boy (+ co-sc); Big Red Riding Hood (+ co-sc); Looking for Sally (+ co-sc); What Price Goofy? (+ co-sc); Isn't Life Terrible (+ co-sc); Innocent Husbands (+ co-sc); No Father to Guide Him (+ co-sc); The Caretaker's Daughter (+ co-sc); The Uneasy Three (+ co-sc); His Wooden Wedding (+ co-sc)


Charley My Boy (+ co-sc); Mama Behave (+ co-sc); Dog Shy (+ co-sc); Mum's the Word (+ co-sc); Long Live the King (+ co-sc); Mighty like a Moose (+ co-sc); Crazy like a Fox (+ co-sc); Bromo and Juliet (+ co-sc); Tell 'em Nothing (+ co-sc); Be Your Age (+ co-sc)


We Faw Down ( We Slip Up ); Should Married Men Go Home? (+ co-sc, supervisor); Two Tars (+ story, supervisor); Should Women Drive? (+ co-sc); A Pair of Tights (+ co-sc); Blow By Blow (+ co-sc); The Boy Friend (+ co-sc); Came the Dawn (+ co-sc); Do Gentlemen Snore? (+ co-sc); Dumb Daddies (+ co-sc); Going Ga-ga (+ co-sc); Pass the Gravy (+ co-sc); Tell It to the Judge (+ co-sc); That Night (+ co-sc)


Liberty (+ co-sc); Wrong Again (+ co-sc); Dad's Day (+ co-sc); Freed 'em and Weep (+ co-sc); Hurdy Gurdy (+ co-sc); Madame Q (+ co-sc); Sky Boy (+ co-sc); The Unkissed Man (+ co-sc); When Money Comes (+ co-sc); Why Is Plumber (+ co-sc)


The Sophomore (+ co-sc); Red Hot Rhythm (+ co-sc)


Wild Company ; Part Time Wife (+ co-sc)




The Kid from Spain


Duck Soup


Six of a Kind ; Belle of the Nineties ( It Ain't No Sin ); Ruggles of Red Gap


The Milky Way


Make Way for Tomorrow ( The Years Are So Long ; When the Wind Blows ) (+ pr); The Awful Truth


Love Affair


My Favorite Wife (+ co-sc)


Once upon a Honeymoon (+ pr)


Going My Way (+ pr, story)


The Bells of Saint Mary's (+ pr, story)


Good Sam (+ pr, co-story)


My Son John (+ pr, story, co-sc)


An Affair to Remember (+ co-sc)


Rally 'round the Flag, Boys! (+ pr, co-sc)


Satan Never Sleeps ( China Story ) (+ pr, co-sc)

Other Films:


Second Hundred Years (story)


The Cowboy and the Lady (co-story)


By McCAREY: articles—

"What Makes a Box Office Hit?," in Cinema (Los Angeles), June 1947.

On McCAREY: books—

Poague, Leland, The Hollywood Professionals, Volume 7: Wilder and McCarey , New York, 1979.

Gehring, Wes, Leo McCarey and the Comic Anti-Hero in American Film , New York, 1980.

On McCAREY: articles—

Carroll, Sidney, "Everything Happens to McCarey," in Esquire (New York), May 1943.

"Leo McCarey Section" of Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1965.

Crosby, Bing, and David Butler, "Remembering Leo McCarey," in Action (Los Angeles), September/October 1969.

Smith, H. Allen, "A Session with McCarey," in Variety (New York), January 1970.

Lloyd, P., "Some Affairs to Remember: The Style of Leo McCarey," in Monogram (London), no. 4, 1972.

Lourcelles, Jacques, "Leo McCarey," in Anthologie du Cinéma , vol. 7, Paris, 1973.

Richards, Jeffrey, "Great Moments: Leo McCarey," in Focus on Film (London), Spring 1973.

Silver, C., "Leo McCarey: From Marx to McCarthy," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1973.

Morris, George, "McCarey and McCarthy," in Film Comment (New York), January/February 1976.

Gehring, Wes, "Leo McCarey: The Man behind Laurel and Hardy," in Films in Review (New York), November 1979.

Everson, William K., and others (letters), "McCarey/Laurel and Hardy," in Films in Review (New York), February 1980; also letter from Wes Gehring, April 1980.

Shipman, David, "Directors of the Decade," in Films and Filming (London), April 1983.

Bourget, J.L., "Rally Once Again: Leo McCarey à la télévision," in Positif (Paris), April 1985.

"Leo McCarey," in Film Dope (London), June 1987.

Messias, H., "Erinnerungen an einen leichtsinnigen Iren," in Film- Dienst (Cologne), vol. 45, no. 6, 17 March 1992.

* * *

Leo McCarey has always presented auteur criticism with one of its greatest challenges and one that has never been convincingly met. The failure to do so should be seen as casting doubt on the validity of auteurism (in its cruder and simpler forms) rather than on the value of the McCarey oeuvre. He worked consistently (and apparently quite uncomplainingly) within the dominant codes of shooting and editing that comprise the anonymous "classical Hollywood" style; the films that bear his name as director, ranging from Duck Soup to The Bells of St. Mary's , from Laurel and Hardy shorts to My Son John , from The Awful Truth to Make Way for Tomorrow (made the same year!), resist reduction to a coherent thematic interpretation. Yet his name is on some of the best—and best-loved—Hollywood films (as well as on some that embarrass many of even his most fervent defenders).

In fact, it might be argued that McCarey's work validates a more sophisticated and circumspect auteur approach: not the author as divinely inspired individual creative genius, but the author as the animating presence in a project within which multiple determinants—collaborative, generic, ideological—complexly interact. The only adequate approach to a McCarey film would involve the systematic analysis of that interaction. A few notes can be offered, however, towards defining the "animating presence."

McCarey's formative years as an artist were spent working with the great clowns of the late silent/early sound period: Harold Lloyd, Mae West, W.C. Fields, the Marx Brothers and (especially) Laurel and Hardy, for whom he was "supervising manager" for many years, personally directing two of their greatest shorts ( Liberty and Wrong Again ). His subsequent career spans (with equal success) the entire range of American comedy from screwball ( The Awful Truth ) to romantic ( An Affair to Remember ). The director's congenial characteristic seems to have been a commitment to a spontaneous, individualist anarchy which he never entirely abandoned, accompanied by a consistent skepticism about institutions and restrictive forms of social organization, a skepticism which produces friction and contradiction even within the most seemingly innocuous, conservative projects. Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary's are usually rejected outright by the intelligentsia as merely pious and sentimental, but their presentation of Catholicism is neither simple, straightforward, nor uncritical, and it is easy to mistake for sentimentality, in contexts where you expect to find it anyway (such as Hollywood movies about singing priests), qualities such as tenderness and generosity. The celebration of individualism is of course a mainspring of American ideology, yet, pushed far enough in certain directions, it can expose contradictions within that ideology: its oppressive response to many forms of individuality, for example.

Make Way for Tomorrow (which, understandably, remained McCarey's favorite among his own films) is exemplary in this respect. Taking as its starting point an apparently reformable social problem (with Lee Grant's Tell Me a Riddle it is one of the only important Hollywood films about the aged), and opening with an unassailably respectable Biblical text ("Honor thy father and thy mother"), it proceeds to elaborate what amounts to a systematic radical analysis of the constraints, oppression, and divisiveness produced by capitalist culture, lending itself to a thoroughgoing Marxist reading that would certainly have surprised its director. Typically, the film (merely very good for its first three-quarters) suddenly takes off into greatness at the moment when Victor Moore asks the ultimate anarchic question "Why not?," and proceeds to repudiate his family in favour of rediscovering the original relationship with his wife before they become absorbed into the norms of democratic-capitalist domesticity. The process is only completed when, in one of the Hollywood cinema's most poignant and subversive moments, he "unmarries" them as they say their last farewell at the train station: "It's been a pleasure knowing you, Miss Breckenridge."

—Robin Wood

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