Nationality: American. Born: The Bronx, New York, 23 August 1925. Education: Attended theological seminary; studied radio communications, Fordham University, New York. Military Service: Marine radio operator, World War II. Career: Worked in editorial department of the New York Times , late 1940s; began working in TV as messenger for CBS, then TV director on Suspense, TV Playhouse, Playhouse 90 , and others, mid-1950s; directed first feature film, Fear Strikes Out , 1957; founded Pakula-Mulligan Productions with Alan J. Pakula, 1962 (dissolved 1969). Awards: Academy Award nomination for Best Director, for To Kill a Mockingbird , 1962. Agent: Robert Stein, United Talent Agency, 9560 Wilshire Boulevard, 5th Floor, Beverly Hills, California 90210, U.S.A. Address: c/o J. V.
Films as Director:
Fear Strikes Out
The Rat Race
The Great Imposter ; Come September
The Spiral Road ; To Kill a Mockingbird
Love with the Proper Stranger
Baby the Rain Must Fall
Inside Daisy Clover
Up the down Staircase
The Stalking Moon
The Pursuit of Happiness ; Summer of '42
The Other (+ pr)
The Nickel Ride (+ pr)
Same Time, Next Year (+ co-pr)
Kiss Me Goodbye (+ co-pr)
Clara's Heart (+ co-pr)
Man in the Moon
By MULLIGAN: articles—
Interview with Michel Ciment, in Positif (Paris), January 1973.
Interview with J. A. Gili, in Ecran (Paris), October 1974.
"Time for Thought," an interview with R. Appelbaum, in Films and Filming (London), January 1975.
"Je n'ai pas peur du silence," an interview with M. Henry and A. Garsault, in Positif (Paris), December 1991.
"Entretien avec Robert Mulligan," with H. Merrick, in Revue du Cinéma , January 1992.
On MULLIGAN: book—
Belton, John, Cinema Stylists , Metuchen, New Jersey, 1983.
On MULLIGAN: articles—
Godfrey, Lionel, "Flawed Genius: The Work of Robert Mulligan," in Films and Filming (London), January 1967.
Taylor, John, "Inside Robert Mulligan," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1971.
Falonga, M., "Mysterious Islands: Summer of '42 ," in Film Heritage (New York), Fall 1972.
"TV to Film: A History, a Map, and a Family Tree," in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), February 1983.
Barra, Allen, "Distant Replay," in Village Voice (New York), 17 May 1988.
Walker, M., "Robert Mulligan," in Film Dope , March 1991.
Edinger, Catarina, "Dona Flor in Two Cultures," in Literature/Film Quarterly , vol. 4, 1991.
Kelleher, E., "Mulligan Addresses the Heart via MGM's Man in the Moon ," in Film Journal , October/November 1991.
Garsault, A., "L'amer paradis de l'enfance," in Positif (Paris), December 1991.
Piazzo, P., "Un artisan sensible," in Jeune Cinema , February/March 1992.
Strick, Philip, " The Man in the Moon ," in Sight and Sound (London), March 1992.
Kimmel, Daniel M., "Boxed," in Variety (New York), 13 October 1997.
* * *
In an era in which consistent visual style seems perhaps too uniformly held as the prerequisite of the valorized auteur, one can all too easily understand why Robert Mulligan's work has failed to evince any passionate critical interest. His films all look so different; for instance, To Kill a Mockingbird , with its black-and-white measured pictorialism; Up the down Staircase , photographed on location with a documentary graininess; The Other , with its heightened Gothic expressionism rather conventional to the horror genre, if not to Mulligan's previous work; and The Summer of '42 , with a pastel prettiness that suffuses each image with the nostalgia of memory. If some would claim this visual eclecticism reflects the lack of a strong personality, others could claim that Mulligan has too much respect for his material to impose arbitrarily upon it some monolithic consistency and instead brings to his subjects the sensibility of a somewhat self-effacing Hollywood craftsman. Yet there are certainly some sequences in Mulligan's work that spring vividly to mind: the silent, final seduction in The Summer of '42 ; the almost surreal walk home by a child dressed as a ham in To Kill a Mockingbird ; the high school dance in Up the down Staircase ; the climactic camera movement in The Other , from Niles to that empty space where Holland, were he not imaginary, would be sitting.
Even Mulligan's two biggest critical successes, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Summer of '42 , both examples of the kind of respectable Hollywood filmmaking which garners Academy Award nominations, have not yet been greeted by any significant critical cult. And yet, if Mulligan's good taste has been steadfastly held against him, it must be noted that his films, albeit generally ignored, hold up remarkably well. Mulligan has a strong sense of narrative; and all his films are imbued with human values and a profound compassion which make for compelling audience identification with Mulligan's characteristic protagonists. Mulligan's tendency is to work in less familiar movie genres (such as Hollywood exposé, the family drama, the teacher film, the cinematic Bildungsroman ), but to avoid—through sincerity and human insight—that emphasis on the purely formal which sometimes makes genre works "go dead" for their audiences upon repeated viewings. Perhaps it is American mistrust of male emotional expression which contributes to Mulligan's facile dismissal by many; certainly it appears that those critics who attacked as sentimental The Summer of '42 , Mulligan's tasteful and bittersweet paean to lost virginity, failed to assess negatively those same qualities in so many of the French New Wave films, especially, for instance, the Antoine Doinel cycle by François Truffaut, which were instead praised for their lyrical and compassionate exploration of human interaction. Is nostalgia somehow more acceptable when it is French?
Certainly Mulligan seems especially interested in the deviant, the outsider, the loner: the mentally unbalanced Jimmy Peirsall in Fear Strikes Out ; the enlightened attorney whose values put him in conflict with a bigoted community in To Kill a Mockingbird ; the ex-convict trying to accustom himself to life outside the penitentiary in Baby the Rain Must Fall ; the character of Ferdinand Demara, based on real life, who, in The Great Imposter , succeeds by the sheer force of his skillful impersonations in insinuating himself into a variety of environments in which he would otherwise never be accepted; the students in Up the down Staircase who, psychologically stunted and economically deprived, may—even with a committed teacher's help—never fit into mainstream society. Like Truffaut, Mulligan has an extraordinary insight into the world of the child or adolescent and the secret rituals of that world.
Mulligan's children never display that innocence conventionally associated with children, instead participating in often traumatic ceremonies of passage. One thinks of the child through whose eyes the innate racism of small-town America is seen in To Kill a Mockingbird ; the precocious child-star in Inside Daisy Clover ; the lost and often already jaded students in Up the down Staircase ; the pubescent adolescents who learn about sex and morality in The Summer of '42 ; and the irrevocably evil child, Niles, and his twin, Holland, in The Other. Unfortunately, despite the high quality of Robert Mulligan's films, there has been not even a minor re-evaluation of the director as a significant artist who has a consistency of themes (such as his association of puberty with violence)—this neglect despite the fact that To Kill a Mockingbird remains one of the most well-respected and emotionally engaging films in the American cinema, a movie which continues to please audiences whether they remember it from their past or whether they see it today for the first time. Not even the consistently fine performances elicited by Mulligan from his players (Anthony Perkins in Fear Strikes Out , Gregory Peck and Mary Badham in To Kill a Mockingbird , Sandy Dennis in Up the down Staircase , Jennifer O'Neil in The Summer of '42 , Richard Gere in Blood Brothers , Neil Patrick Harris in Clara's Heart , and indeed, all the children and adolescents who populate Mulligan's world) have served to summon ongoing critical attention. Ultimately, Mulligan's taste may be too fine and his feelings too sentimental to attract contemporary regard in a culture which thrives on the sexy, profane conflicts of a Pulp Fiction. And certainly, even at Mulligan's best or near-best, one sensed a subtlety or indirection when he dealt with things sexual: such as the homosexual orientation of Robert Redford's character in the underrated and fascinating Hollywood exposé Inside Daisy Clover. One suspects that if Mulligan may have never really had the gusto to publicize himself in the Sammy Glick-style, he neither had the opportunism or hypocrisy to jump on any passing bandwagon.
In any case, his recent films, though laudable and interesting, are hardly the works that would attract critical or popular attention. In 1982's curiously unengaging Kiss Me Goodbye , a reworking of the Brazilian film Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands , Mulligan does not seem to be especially inspired by the romantic comedy form, despite the film dealing with typical Mulligan themes of loss and grief. Clara's Heart , in 1988, reprised Mulligan's coming-of-age theme and, like To Kill a Mockingbird , dealt with personal relationships between whites and blacks, in this case, the friendship of a young white boy and the black woman who becomes his nanny. Although the narrative develops with surprising turns, the film was unjustly ignored, with Whoopi Goldberg giving a sensitive, often surprising, performance. Ultimately, Clara's Heart had too much heart and not enough cynicism to be successful; even though it dealt (if gently) with violence, divorce, rape, and incest, Clara's Heart faded in the glare of more trendy and explicit contemporary films like Do the Right Thing. Mulligan's final film to date, Man in the Moon , which had a few ardent critical supporters in 1991, is once again a coming-of-age story imbued with feelings of hopefulness and loss, nostalgia and regret. Although beautifully photographed in an older, Hollywood style by Freddie Francis, Man in the Moon —though a period piece—seems almost purposely set in a cultural vacuum so that Mulligan can avoid dealing with a contemporary America from which he seems rather alienated. The result is a film which, despite good performances from everyone, particularly the adolescent leads, seems somewhat dead and unconnected, certainly not the film to ignite a critical reevaluation of Mulligan's work.