Jacques Tourneur - Director

Nationality: American/French. Born: Paris, 12 November 1904, son of director Maurice Tourneur; became U.S. citizen, 1919. Education: Attended Hollywood High School. Family: Married actress Christianne (died). Career: Moved to United States with family, 1914; office boy at MGM, 1924, later actor; script clerk for father's last six American films; moved to Paris, edited father's films, 1928; directed first film, in France, 1931; 2nd unit director for MGM, Hollywood, 1935; directed shorts, then B features, from 1939; director for producer Val Lewton at RKO, from 1942; television director, from late 1950s. Died: In Bergerac, 19 December 1977.

Films as Director:


Un vieux garçon ; Tout ça ne vaut pas l'amour


La Fusée ; Toto ; Pour être aimée


Les Filles de la concierge


They All Came Out ; Nick Carter, Master Detective


Phantom Raiders


Doctors Don't Tell


Cat People


I Walked with a Zombie ; The Leopard Man


Days of Glory ; Experiment Perilous


Canyon Passage


Out of the Past ( Build My Gallows High )


Berlin Express


Easy Living


The Flame and the Arrow ; Stars in My Crown


Circle of Danger ; Anne of the Indies


Way of a Gaucho


Appointment in Honduras


Stranger on Horseback ; Wichita


Great Day in the Morning


Nightfall ; Night of the Demon ( Curse of the Demon )


The Fearmakers


Timbuktu ; La battaglia di Maratona ( The Battle of Marathon ); Frontier Rangers (originally for TV)


The Comedy of Terrors


War Gods of the Deep ( City under the Sea )

Other Films:


Scaramouche (Ingram) (role)


The Fair Co-ed (Wood) (role); Love (Goulding) (role)


The Trail of '98 (Brown) (role)


By TOURNEUR: articles—

"Taste without Clichés," in Films and Filming (London), November 1956.

Interview with Patrick Brion and Jean-Louis Comolli, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), August 1966.

Interview, in The Celluloid Muse , edited by Charles Higham and Joel Greenberg, London, 1969.

Jacques Tourneur and Patricia Roc on the set of Circle of Danger
Jacques Tourneur and Patricia Roc on the set of Circle of Danger

On TOURNEUR: books—

Siegel, Joel, Val Lewton: The Reality of Terror , London, 1972.

Henry, Michel, Jacques Tourneur, Dossiers du Cinéma , Paris, 1974.

Johnston, Claire, and Paul Willemen, editors, Jacques Tourneur , Edinburgh, 1975.

Selby, Spencer, Dark City: The Film Noir , London, 1990.

Fujiwara, Chris, Jacques Tourneur: The Cinema of Nightfall , Jefferson, N. C., 1998.

On TOURNEUR: articles—

Sarris, Andrew, "Esoterica," in Film Culture (New York), Spring 1963.

Noames, Jean-Louis, "Trois Tourneur," in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), May 1964.

Tavernier, Bertrand, "Propos de Tourneur," in Positif (Paris), November 1971.

Wood, Robin, "The Shadow Worlds of Jacques Tourneur," in Film Comment (New York), Summer 1972.

Henry, M., "Le Jardin aux sentiers qui bifurquent (Sur Jacques Tourneur)," in Positif (Paris), April 1973.

McCarty, John, "The Parallel Worlds of Jacques Tourneur," in Cinefantastique (Oak Park, Illinois), Summer 1973.

Passek, J.L., "Jacques Tourneur," in Cinéma (Paris), February 1978.

Turner, G., " Out of the Past ," in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), March 1984.

Möller, Olaf, "Meister der Schatten-Spiele," in Film-Dienst (Cologne), vol. 47, no. 24, 22 November 1994.

* * *

The first director Val Lewton hired for his RKO unit was Jacques Tourneur, and the first picture made by that unit was Cat People , an original screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen.

When Tourneur's father, Maurice, returned to Paris after a number of years in America, Jacques had gone with him, working as assistant director and editor for his father. In 1933, he made a few directorial solos in the French language and then returned to Hollywood, where he became an assistant director at MGM. It was at this time that he first met Val Lewton, and the two young men worked as special unit directors for Jack Conway on A Tale of Two Cities ; it was Lewton and Tourneur who staged the storming of the Bastille sequence for that film.

Tourneur remained at MGM, directing over 20 short subjects, and Lewton eventually went on to become David O. Selznick's story editor. When Lewton left Selznick to head his own production unit at RKO, he had already made up his mind that Tourneur would direct his first production. Tourneur came to RKO, where he served as director for Lewton's first three films— Cat People, I Walked with a Zombie , and The Leopard Man. The front office held his work in such esteem that he was given the "A" treatment—solo direction of a high-budget film called Days of Glory , which was Gregory Peck's first starring film. It was not held against him that Days of Glory bombed. Tourneur immediately turned to another high budget picture at RKO— Experiment Perilous , starring Hedy Lamarr with Paul Lukas and George Brent. Under Tourneur's skillful direction, it became a suspenseful mood period film, certainly one of his and Hedy Lamarr's best.

Tourneur stayed on at RKO to direct Robert Mitchum in one of his finest pictures, Out of the Past (aka Build My Gallows High ), as well as an excellent melodrama, Berlin Express , starring Merle Oberon and Robert Ryan with Paul Lukas. Filmed partially in Berlin, the work was the first Hollywood picture to be made in Germany since the end of the war.

Tourneur then directed three excellent westerns for his friend Joel McCrea— Stars in My Crown, Stranger on Horseback , and Wichita , which featured McCrea as Wyatt Earp. He also directed The Flame and the Arrow , starring Burt Lancaster, and Great Day in the Morning , another RKO western with Robert Stack and Virginia Mayo. He then went back to make another horror picture in England, Night of the Demon , with Dana Andrews. This film is rated as highly as those he made for Lewton.

Television direction occupied the greater part of Tourneur's time for the next decade, but he retired in 1966 and returned to his native country, where he died in Bergerac on December 19, 1977. The best pictures which he directed were those of suspense and genuine terror, though he also did well with those that had a great deal of action. He wisely resisted scenes with long patches of dialogue. When confronted with such scenes, he typically frowned and said, "It sounds so corny."

—DeWitt Bodeen

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