Lewis Milestone - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Family name Milstein; born in Chisinau, near Odessa, Russia, 30 September 1895, became U.S. citizen and changed name to Milestone, 1919. Education: Jewish schools in Kishinev, Russia; University of Ghent, Belgium; engineering college in Mitweide, Germany. Family: Married Kendall Lee Glaezner, 1935 (died 1978). Military Service: Served in U.S. Army Signal Corps photography section, 1917–19. Career: Immigrated to United States, 1913; photographer's assistant, 1915; after military service, became assistant to Henry King, Hollywood, 1919; worked at Ince and Sennett studios, 1920–21; assistant editor at Fox, 1922; editor at Warner Brothers, 1923; signed contract with Howard Hughes's Caddo Company, 1927; production head for United Artists, 1932; compiled documentary with Joris Ivens, Our Russian Front , 1942; appeared as unfriendly witness before House Un-American Activities Committee, 1946; directed series for television, 1957–58. Awards: Oscar for Best Comedy Direction, for Two Arabian Knights , 1927;

Lewis Milestone
Lewis Milestone
Oscar for Best Direction, for All Quiet on the Western Front , 1930. Died: In Los Angeles, 25 September 1980.

Films as Director:


Seven Sinners (+ co-sc)


The Caveman ; The New Klondike


Two Arabian Knights


The Garden of Eden ; The Racket


Betrayal ; New York Nights


All Quiet on the Western Front


The Front Page




Hallelujah, I'm a Bum


The Captain Hates the Sea


Paris in the Spring


Anything Goes ; The General Died at Dawn


The Night of Nights


Of Mice and Men (+ pr); Lucky Partners


My Life with Caroline


Our Russian Front (co-d, co-pr, ed)


Edge of Darkness ; The North Star


The Purple Heart


A Walk in the Sun (+ pr); The Strange Love of Martha Ivers


Arch of Triumph (+ co-sc); No Minor Vices (+ pr)


The Red Pony (+ pr)


Halls of Montezuma


Kangaroo ; Les Miserables


Melba ; They Who Dare


La Vedova ( The Widow )


Pork Chop Hill


Ocean's Eleven (+ pr)


Mutiny on the Bounty


By MILESTONE: articles—

Interview with Herbert Feinstein, in Film Culture (New York), September 1964.

Interview, in The Celluloid Muse: Hollywood Directors Speak , by Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, Chicago, 1969.

Interview with Digby Diehl, in Action (Los Angeles), July/August 1972.

"The Reign of the Director," in Hollywood Directors: 1914–1940 , edited by Richard Koszarski, New York, 1976.

"First Aid for a Sick Giant," in Hollywood Directors: 1941–1976 , edited by Richard Koszarski, New York, 1977.

On MILESTONE: books—

Denton, Clive, and others, The Hollywood Professionals—Vol. 2: Henry King, Lewis Milestone, Sam Wood , New York, 1974.

Parker, David, and Burton Shapiro, Close Up: The Contract Director , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1976.

Millichap, Joseph, Lewis Milestone , Boston, 1981.

On MILESTONE: articles—

Goodman, Ezra, "Directed by Lewis Milestone," in Theater Arts (New York), February 1943.

Reisz, Karel, "Milestone and War," in Sequence (London), 1950.

Ferguson, Otis, "Lewis Milestone 'Action!'," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1974.

Everson, William, "Thoughts on a Great Adaptation," in The Modern American Novel and the Movies , edited by Gerald Peary and Roger Shatzkin, New York, 1978.

Jameson, R.T., "Style vs. 'Style'," in Film Comment (New York), March/April 1980.

Mitchell, G.J., "Making All Quiet on the Western Front ," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), September 1985.

"Lewis Milestone," in Film Dope (Nottingham), no. 43, January 1990.

Hanisch, Michael, "Sein Thema war der Krieg," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 48, no. 20, 26 September 1995.

* * *

Lewis Milestone is undoubtedly best remembered for his classic statement against the horrors of war, All Quiet on the Western Front , for which he won an Academy Award. The film, coming so early in his career, raised high hopes that subsequent efforts would expand upon the brilliant potential exhibited in his first effort. In the minds of many, his following work, with the exception of 1931's The Front Page , failed to live up to this early promise.

Through films like Rain, Of Mice and Men, Pork Chop Hill , and Mutiny on the Bounty , Milestone achieved a lesser reputation. He came to be known as a competent journeyman director and an excellent craftsman who, with good actors and a strong script, was capable of producing solid, entertaining films. The fundamental charge leveled against him by most critics was that he maintained a lackadaisical attitude toward run-of-the-mill projects.

Such assessments, however, overlook the outstanding achievement of at least one film, the much undervalued A Walk in the Sun. In this film the director's inspired use of sound, coupled with some shifts in perspective, turned a routine war drama into a small classic that compares favorably with his best work. Stylistically and thematically, it expands on the innovations of All Quiet on the Western Front and, at the same time, represents perhaps the most creative use of sound since it was introduced to films.

Milestone's experimentation with what the audience hears began with a unique approach to the film's narration; he added a brooding, recurring ballad as accompaniment. The ballad functions much like a chorus in a Greek play by introducing and commenting on the action. The sentiments of the song are then fleshed out through the audible thoughts and the dialogues and monologues of individual soldiers. The war is perceived through sound, allowing the audience to experience it as the fighting men do. Modern war is fought against an enemy that the average soldier rarely sees. Instead, bomb blasts, strafing from the air, and mortar fire are heard as soldiers crouch in foxholes, fearing to lift their eyes. A Walk in the Sun , by its very refusal to gratify the eye with images of battle and by its emphasis on the small talk of soldiers, creates a microcosm of war that effectively epitomizes the men who must fight all wars. Through Milestone's inspired use of previously overlooked audio techniques, he achieves the sensitivity of treatment in delineating his characters that many critics had found lacking in his work.

Milestone has yet to receive the critical reassessment that he undoubtedly deserves. Films as diverse as A Walk in the Sun and The Strange Love of Martha Ivers indicate that his later films contain moments of high achievement comparable to his two great early efforts. They also suggest a greater correlation between his technical innovations and his sensitively handled theme of men in groups than many scholars give him credit for.

—Stephen L. Hanson

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