Otto Preminger - Director

Nationality: American. Born: Vienna, 5 December 1905, became U.S. citizen, 1943. Education: University of Vienna, LL.D, 1926. Family: Married 1) Marion Deutsch (stage name Marion Mill), 1932 (divorced); 2) Mary Gardner, 1951 (divorced 1959); 3) Hope (Preminger), 1960, two children; also one son by Gypsy Rose Lee.

Otto Preminger
Otto Preminger

Career: Actor with Max Reinhardt company, 1924; joined theater in der Josefstadt, 1928 (succeeding Reinhardt as director, 1933); invited to Hollywood by Joseph Schenck, 1935; contract with Fox broken, moved to New York, 1937; director on Broadway, 1938–41 (and later); returned to Hollywood as actor, 1942; signed seven-year contract with Fox, 1945; independent producer, from early 1950s. Died: Of cancer, in New York City, 23 April 1986.

Films as Director:


Die grosse Liebe


Under Your Spell


Danger, Love at Work


Margin for Error (+ role as Nazi consul Rudolf Forster)


In the Meantime, Darling (+ pr); Laura (+ pr)


Royal Scandal ; Fallen Angel (+ pr)


Centennial Summer (+ pr)


Forever Amber ; Daisy Kenyon (+ pr)


That Lady in Ermine


The Fan ( Lady Windermere's Fan ) (+ pr); Whirlpool (+ pr)


Where the Sidewalk Ends (+ pr); The Thirteenth Letter (+ pr)


Angel Face


The Moon Is Blue (+ co-pr)


River of No Return ; Carmen Jones (+ pr)


The Man with the Golden Arm (+ pr); The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell ( One-Man Mutiny )


Saint Joan (+ pr); Bonjour Tristesse (+ pr)


Porgy and Bess ; Anatomy of a Murder (+ pr)


Exodus (+ pr)


Advise and Consent (+ pr)


The Cardinal (+ pr)


In Harm's Way (+ pr)


Bunny Lake Is Missing (+ pr)


Hurry Sundown (+ pr)


Skidoo (+ pr)


Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (+ pr)


Such Good Friends (+ pr)


Rosebud (+ pr)


The Human Factor (+ pr)

Other Films:


The Pied Piper (role); They Got Me Covered (role)


Where Do We Go from Here (role)


Stalag 17 (Wilder) (role as camp commandant)


Unsere Leichen Leben Noch (Von Prauheim) (role)



Preminger: An Autobiography , Garden City, New York, 1977.

By PREMINGER: articles—

"Recontre avec Otto Preminger," with Jacques Rivette, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), December 1953.

"Movie Critic versus Movie Director," with Bosley Crowther, in Esquire (New York), October 1958.

"Your Taste, My Taste . . . and the Censors," in Films and Filming (London), November 1959.

Interview with Jacques Doniol-Valcroze and Eric Rohmer, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), July 1961.

"Sex and Censorship in Literature and the Arts," with Norman Mailer and others, in Playboy (Chicago), July 1961.

" The Cardinal and I," in Films and Filming (London), November 1963.

Interview with Ian Cameron and others, in Movie (London), Summer 1965.

Interview in Interviews with Film Directors , edited by Andrew Sarris, New York, 1967.

"Otto Preminger auteur de force," an interview with D. Lyons, in Inter/View (New York), July 1972.

Interview with Gene Phillips, in Focus on Film (London), August 1979.

"Cult and Controversy," an interview with Gordon Gow, in Films and Filming (London), November 1979.

On PREMINGER: books—

Preminger, Marion Mill, All I Want Is Everything , New York, 1957.

Lourcelles, Jacques, Otto Preminger , Paris, 1965.

Pratley, Gerald, The Cinema of Otto Preminger , New York, 1971.

Frischauer, Willi, Behind the Scenes of Otto Preminger , London, 1973.

On PREMINGER: articles—

Gehman, Richard, "Otto Preminger," in Theater Arts (New York), January 1961.

"Preminger Issue" of Présence du Cinéma (Paris), February 1962.

"Preminger Issue" of Movie (London), September 1962.

"Preminger Issues" of Interciné (Toulouse), no. 1, and no. 2, 1963.

"Preminger Issue" of Movie (London), no. 4, 1963.

Sarris, Andrew, "Preminger's Two Periods—Studio and Solo," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1965.

Ross, Lillian, "Profiles: Anatomy of a Commercial Interruption," in the New Yorker , 19 February 1966.

Bogdanovich, Peter, "Otto Preminger," in On Film , 1970.

Borok, B., " Laura : The Story behind the Picture," in Thousand Eyes (New York), November 1976.

Lacourcelles, J., " Laura Issue" of Avant-Scène du Cinéma (Paris), July/September 1978.

Wegner, H., "From Expressionism to Film Noir: Otto Preminger's Where the Sidewalk Ends ," in Journal of Popular Film (Washington, D.C.), Summer 1983.

McCarthy, T., obituary, in Variety (New York), 30 April 1986.

Hodsdon, Barrett, "Otto Preminger: Found or Lost?" in Filmnews , vol. 14, June 1986.

Obituary, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), no. 418, July-August 1986.

Luft, H.G., in Films in Review (New York), August/September 1986.

Lippe, Richard, "At the Margins of Film Noir : Preminger's Angel Face ," in CineAction ! (Toronto), no. 13–14, 1988.

Sarris, Andrew, "Otto Preminger," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1989.

Castoro Cinema (Milan), special section, no. 145, January-February 1990.

Kurowski, U., "Die Imago. Schauspieler bei Otto Preminger," in EPD Film (Frankfurt), vol. 7, May 1990.

Rauger, J.-F., "L'homme qui en savait trop," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), April 1993.

Mensuel du Cinéma (Paris), special section, no. 5, April 1993.

Everschor, Franz, 'Rebell in den eigenen Reihen," in Film-Dienst (Köln), vol. 49, 3 December 1996.

* * *

The public persona of Austrian-born Otto Preminger has epitomized for many the typical Hollywood movie director: an accented, autocratic, European-born disciplinarian who terrorized his actors, bullied his subordinates, and spent millions of dollars to ensure that his films be produced properly, although economically. Before the Cahiers du Cinéma critics began to praise Preminger, it may have been this public persona, more than anything else, which impeded an appreciation of Preminger's extraordinarily subtle style or thematic consistencies.

Preminger's career can be divided into two periods. Throughout the first period, Preminger worked as a studio director for Twentieth Century-Fox, where he had several well-publicized conflicts with Darryl F. Zanuck and found it difficult to conform to studio demands or to collaborate without retaining overall artistic control. His evocative and romantic mystery Laura , his breakthrough film, was produced during this period. Among the other eclectic assignments he directed at Fox, the most interesting include a series of film noir features in the late 1940s: Whirlpool, Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Thirteenth Letter , and Angel Face. Throughout the second and far more interesting period of Preminger's career, he worked as one of the first notable independent producer-directors, in the process successfully undermining the studio system in various ways. He fought against institutional censorship by releasing several films without the Motion Picture Association seal (for example, The Moon is Blue ) and he explored controversial subjects the studios might have been hesitant to touch (such as criticism of the War Department in The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell or homosexuality in Advise and Consent ). Preminger also championed the independent producers movement by exploiting the Paramount Divorcement Decree and aggressively marketing and arranging exhibition for his films

Preminger incorporated fresh and authentic backgrounds by promoting location shooting away from Hollywood. He worked diligently to discover new performers (such as Jean Seberg) and to develop properties (such as Carmen Jones and Hurry Sundown ) which would allow the casting of Hollywood's under-used black performers. Finally, he even helped to break the studio blacklist by hiring and publicly crediting Dalton Trumbo as screenwriter on Exodus. Preminger's tastes have always been as eclectic as the disparate sources from which his films have been adapted. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, however, Preminger's films grew in pretention, displaying considerable interest in monolithic institutions (the military in The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell and In Harms's Way ; the Senate in Advise and Consent ; the Catholic Church in The Cardinal ; the medical profession in Such Good Friends ) as well as the examination of social and political problems (drug addiction in The Man with the Golden Arm ; Jewish repatriation in Exodus ; racial prejudice in Hurry, Sundown ; political terrorism in Rosebud ). A consistent archetype in Preminger's films is the quest for truth; indeed, the director's recurring image is the courtroom.

What has especially fascinated Preminger's admirers is the subtlety of his mise-en-scène; his most typical effort is a widescreen film with long takes, no pyrotechnical montage, few reaction shots, fluid and simple camera movements, and careful yet unselfconscious compositions. Preminger's style, though apparently invisible, is one which forces the audience to examine, to discern, to arrive at some ultimate position. Several critics have written persuasively on the ambiguity associated with Preminger's apparent objectivity, including Andrew Sarris, who has characterized Preminger as a "director who sees all problems and issues as a single-take two-shot, the stylistic expression of the eternal conflict, not between right and wrong, but between the right-wrong on one side and the right-wrong on the other, a representation of the right-wrong in all of us as our share of the human condition."

If Preminger's formula floundered in the 1970s and 1980s, an era in which the American cinema seemed dominated by mainstream genre works and overt escapism, one cannot help but feel nostalgia and profound respect for Preminger's serious subjects and artistry. Indeed, his series of films beginning with Bonjour, Tristesse in 1957 and continuing through Porgy and Bess, Anatomy of a Murder, Exodus, Advise and Consent, The Cardinal, In Harm's Way, Bunny Lake Is Missing , and Hurry, Sundown in 1966, constitute one of the longest strings of ambitious, provocative films in American cinema.

—Charles Derry

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