Sidney Buchman - Writer

Writer and Producer. Nationality: American. Born: Duluth, Minnesota, 27 March 1902. Education: Attended the University of Minnesota, St. Paul; Oxford University. Career: 1929—assistant stage manager, Old Vic Theatre, London; 1930—play This One Man produced in New York (later play is Storm Song ); 1931–34—staff writer at Paramount; 1934–42—writer at Columbia, then Vice-President and Assistant Production Chief, 1942–51; 1951—questioned by the House Un-American Committee, admitted being a Communist Party member, 1938–45, and blacklisted from 1953; moved to Europe; 1961—hired by 20th Century-Fox as writer-producer, and worked in Europe for the rest of his career; lived in Cannes after 1965. Awards: Academy Award for Here Comes Mr. Jordan , 1941; Writers Guild Laurel Award, 1965. Died: Of cancer in Cannes, 23 August 1975.

Films as Writer:


Matinee Ladies (Haskin) (co)


Daughter of the Dragon (Corrigan) (dialogue)


No One Man (Corrigan); Thunder Below (Wallace); If I Had a Million (Lubitsch and others); The Sign of the Cross (DeMille)


From Hell to Heaven (Kenton); Right to Romance (Santell)


All of Me (Flood); Whom the Gods Destroy (W. Lang); His Greatest Gamble (Robertson); Broadway Bill ( Strictly Confidential ) (Capra)


I'll Love You Always (Bulgakov); Love Me Forever (Schertzinger); She Married Her Boss (La Cava)


The Music Goes 'Round (Schertzinger); The King Steps Out (von Sternberg); Adventure in Manhattan ( Manhattan Madness ) (Ludwig); Theodora Goes Wild (Boleslawsky)


Holiday (Cukor)


Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Capra)


The Howards of Virginia ( The Tree of Liberty ) (Lloyd)


Here Comes Mr. Jordan (Hall)


The Talk of the Town (Stevens)


A Song to Remember (C. Vidor) (+ pr)


Over 21 (C. Vidor) (+ pr)


Jolson Sings Again (Levin) (+ pr)


Saturday's Heroes ( Idols in the Dust ) (Miller)


The Mark (Green) (+ co-pr)


Cleopatra (Mankiewicz)


The Group (Lumet) (+ pr)


La Maison sous les arbres ( The Deadly Trap ) (Clément) (+ co-pr)

Films as Producer:


She Married an Artist (Gering)


To the Ends of the Earth (Stevenson)


By BUCHMAN: scripts—

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Here Comes Mr. Jordan in Twenty Best Film Plays , edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, New York, 1943.

Over 21 in The Best Film Plays of 1945 , edited by John Gassner and Dudley Nichols, New York, 1946.

On BUCHMAN: articles—

Kael, Pauline, "The Making of The Group ," in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang , New York, 1968.

Positif (Paris), June 1969

Film Comment (New York), Winter 1970–71.

Film Comment (New York), September-October 1972.

Corliss, Richard, in Talking Pictures , New York, 1974.

Film Guia , October-November 1975.

* * *

Sidney Buchman wrote, alone or in collaboration, some of the best socially oriented screenplays in the American cinema, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Talk of the Town , managing to make his messages palatable to audiences in the guise of entertainment. In this, he was aided by such arbiters of public taste as the directors Frank Capra and George Stevens and the enticing screen stars Jean Arthur, James Stewart, and Cary Grant. Ironically, Buchman was ultimately a victim of the Hollywood blacklist in the 1950s, and although he was involved in other film projects he never regained the momentum he had built up in 15 years of inspired screenwriting.

After serving as an assistant stage manager in London at the Old Vic Theatre, Buchman tried his hand at playwrighting, with no success. He joined Paramount in the early 1930s as a junior writer; his most notable credits there—DeMille's The Sign of the Cross , and the omnibus If I Had a Million —were cowritten with a multitude of scenarists, and Buchman did not flourish until he joined Harry Cohn's Columbia Pictures in 1934. The year is significant; it saw Columbia legitimized as a major studio with the Oscar-winning success of Capra's It Happened One Night . Buchman became Cohn's favorite writer, and he had a hand in most of the studio's important productions. He would frequently be asked to polish scripts, and he toiled without screen credit on Capra's Broadway Bill and Lost Horizon ,

Sidney Buchman (left) with Irene Dunne and Charles Vidor
Sidney Buchman (left) with Irene Dunne and Charles Vidor
McCarey's The Awful Truth , Zoltan Korda's Sahara , and Alfred Green's The Jolson Story . In 1942 Cohn appointed Buchman to the position of production supervisor, and he eventually became a vice-president of production. His Sidney Buchman Productions produced the comedy Over 21 , from the Ruth Gordon play, and the Jolson sequel, Jolson Sings Again , before the blacklist took effect. He admitted to the House Un-American Activities Committee that he had been a member of the Communist party in his youth, but refused to name names, and was subsequently fined, given a suspended sentence, and unofficially blacklisted. The producer who had benefited most from his skills, Harry Cohn, did not come to his aid, and Buchman became a European exile. The story is all the more ironic when one considers that Buchman's scripts for She Married Her Boss , Theodora Goes Wild , Holiday , Mr. Smith Goes to Washington , The Howards of Virginia , Here Comes Mr. Jordan , and The Talk of the Town were among Columbia's biggest moneymakers.

Gregory LaCava's She Married Her Boss was a domestic comedy, a warm farce with telling situations. Buchman's script for Richard Boleslawsky's Theodora Goes Wild was based on a Mary McCarthy story, with Irene Dunne in the title role as a small-town novelist whose juicy book causes a scandal. The premise of the rural idealist in the big city was later adapted for Capra's Mr. Smith Goes to Washington . While Mr. Smith was officially based on the story "The Gentleman from Montana" by Lewis R. Foster, it clearly has a partial inspiration in Theodora . James Stewart excels as the naive Senator who tackles the corrupt political machine in Washington. A courageous paean to democracy, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington boasted carefully drawn characters, thoughtful and at times humorous dialogue, and a narrative that builds to a monumental filibuster by Stewart in the U.S. Senate.

George Stevens's The Talk of the Town also couched its ideology in mass entertainment, using a comedic situation to say some important things about justice. Jean Arthur harbors fugitive Cary Grant in her house, while Ronald Colman, a dedicated professor of law, rents a room from her. The Colman character is forced to rethink his rigid application of law in a humanistic comedy of social manners. Buchman could also write straight farcical material, as witness Here Comes Mr. Jordan , as well as epic drama, such as The Howards of Virginia , a Revolutionary War film about America's founding fathers.

Buchman lived in Europe after the blacklist, and returned to motion pictures with a contract from 20th Century-Fox in the early 1960s. The Mark , directed by Guy Green, is a thinly disguised allegory about a convict released from prison and forced to adapt to a new society, a metaphor for Buchman's situation at the time. The multimillion dollar turkey Cleopatra followed, but he had more success with his adaptation of Mary McCarthy's novel The Group , which he also produced.

In Talking Pictures , Richard Corliss pointed out the similarity between Buchman and Robert Riskin, another writer who was favored at Columbia. Both Buchman and Riskin wrote lengthy scripts, both wrote uncommonly fast, both used the dramatic device of opposing characters from rural and urban backgrounds, and both were "easy-going populists" who had Frank Capra as their ideal director. Corliss maintains that Buchman's writing was much richer than Riskin's; the record tends to bear him out. Unfortunately, Buchman's populism was eventually undermined by the real life tyranny of Senator McCarthy.

—John A. Gallagher

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