Edward Dmytryk (1908-1999)

Edward Dmytryk
Edward Dmytryk

Edward Dmytryk was one of Hollywood's most brilliant directors but the story of his career always has to be told against the backdrop of his dispute with the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), and his subsequent blacklisting and imprisonment. After beginning work as a film studio messenger, Dmytryk made his way through the studios first as editor, and then as director. By the 1940's,he was a fast rising directorial star, specializing in tough dramas such as 'Murder, My Sweet' in 1944, 'Cornered' in 1945, and 'Crossfire' in 1947 for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. In all he made 53 movies.

And then came HUAC, keen to root out all subversive Communist elements from Hollywood. Dmytryk resisted HUAC's unconstitutional questioning of his political beliefs, and was blacklisted, part of the "Hollywood Ten" and eventually jailed for six months. He won his freedom by opting to "name names" but it left a lasting stigma that haunted him to the grave.

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Edward Dmytryk was born on September 4, 1908, in Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, the second oldest of four sons of Ukranian immigrant parents. His mother died when he was five and the family moved to California where Edward spent his youth with his abusive father. After running away from home several times Edward finally left school aged 14 in 1922 and began working in the fast-growing movie business, as a messenger boy at the Famous-Lasky Players studio.

Dmytryk was a highly intelligent young man and continued studying physics and mathematics at home, gaining a scholarship to the California Institute of Technology. The lure of movies proved too strong and he dropped out after one year to return to work at his old studio - now renamed Paramount Pictures. He was soon promoted to film editor and worked on such early quality Talkies as 'The Royal Family of Broadway' in 1930, Mae West's 'Belle of the Nineties' in 1934, 'Ruggles of Red Gap' in 1935, starring Charles Laughton and 'Bulldog Drummond's Peril' in 1938. During this learning period he also began his directing career making the Western 'The Hawk' in 1935, which he did as a favor for his friend, producer Herman Wohl.

In 1939 Dmytryk made the transition to full time film director, making 'Million Dollar Legs', although uncredited, and following with a number of good quality 'B' films including 'Emergency Squad' and 'Golden Gloves' in 1940. When he left Paramount to join Columbia Pictures in 1940 he continued making highly regarded 'B' Pictures such as 'The Devil Commands' in 1941 and 'Counter-Espionage' and 'Seven Miles from Alcatraz' the following year.

By the end of the decade Dmytryk was regarded as one of Hollywood's hottest young directors after making some major box office hits such as 'Hitler's Children' and 'Behind the Rising Sun', both made in 1943 as wartime propaganda about atrocities in Japan and Nazi Germany. Now working for RKO and entrusted with 'A' pictures he made a number of top class thrillers, beginning with the film noir 'Murder, My Sweet', in 1943 starring Dick Powell and continuing with 'Cornered' in 1945 and 'Crossfire' in 1947, another classic film noir which earned Dmytryk his only Best Director Oscar nomination.


His rise to success was brought to an end in October, 1947 when he was named by fellow director, Sam Wood, as a Communist before Congress' infamous House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). Dmytryk had in fact joined the Communist Party in the years leadiing up to World War II as it appeared to be a sensible antidote to Naziism. He refused on a matter of principle to answer HUAC's unconstitutional questioning of his political beliefs and as a result he became one of the so-called "Hollywood Ten" who had their careers ruined or disrupted because of their refusal to cooperate.

In 1949 Dmytryk directed a production in England, 'Give Us This Day', using other blacklisted actors and technicians. working under their real names. It was a brave move and the movie won him many friends across Europe but it backfired on him badly. On his return to America he had to pay a $1,000 fine and served six months at a Federal prison camp. His time in jail changed his outlook and he opted to name names.

And so, in 1951 he reappeared before HUAC, and admitted that he had been a Communist Party member for one year from 1944 and he confirmed the party membership of twenty-six other witnesses. The move successfuly won him back his place in Hollywood but his testimony damaged the court cases of several other members of the "Hollywood Ten" and his apparent back down in the face of pressure was never forgotten and would haunt him for the rest of his life.

In the second period of his career, post HUAC, Dmytryk lacked the brash energy of his youth but still made some magnificent movies. He was taken on by producer Stanley Kramer to make the noir thriller, 'The Sniper' in 1952, and also the well-received 'The Caine Mutiny' in 1954. Dmytryk continued making movies until his retirement in 1976 including, among others, 'Soldier of Fortune' and 'The Left Hand of God' in 1955, 'The Young Lions' in 1958, with Marlon Brando and Montgomery Clift, the hit 'The Carpetbaggers' in 1964 and ' The Battle for Anzio' and 'Shalako' in 1968.

His career slowed down in the 1970's when he directed Richard Burton in the thriller 'Bluebeard' in 1972 and made his final film, the violent 'The Human Factor' in 1975, after which he retired.

During his long retirement he taught film studies at the University of Texas and the University of Southern California. He also appeared numerous times as a seasoned commentator in Hollywood documentaries and in television documentaries such as 'Hollywood: The Golden Years' in 1988. He kept busy also with his writing and wrote several books on the business and art of film making including 'On Directing' in 1984 and 'Cinema: Concept and Practice' in 1988. His biography, entitled 'It's a Hell of a Life, But Not a Bad Living' came out in 1978.

Dzmytryk was married twice, firstly to Madeline Robinson from 1932 to 1947 with whom he had a son, and then to actress Jean Porter in 1948 until his death. The couple had a son and two daughters.

Edward Dmytryk died on 1 July, 1999 in Encino, California, from heart and kidney failure. He was 90 years old.

Edward Dmytryk Academy Awards

No Wins:

One Unsuccessful Nomination:
Best Director ... Crossfire (1947)

Edward Dmytryk Filmography
(as editor and director)

Only Saps Work (as editor)
The Royal Family of Broadway (as editor) (uncredited)
Make Me a Star (as editor)(uncredited)
College Rhythm(as editor)
Ruggles of Red Gap (as editor)(uncredited)
The Hawk (as Moe Miller)(as editor) (as Edward Dymtryk)(as director)
Too Many Parents (as editor)
Three Cheers for Love(as editor)
Three Married Men (as editor)
Easy to Take
Murder Goes to College (as editor)
Turn Off the Moon(as editor)
Double or Nothing(as editor)
That Navy Spirit(as editor)
Bulldog Drummond's Peril (as editor)
Prison Farm (as editor)
Love Affair (as editor)
Million Dollar Legs (uncredited)
Television Spy
Some Like It Hot (as editor)
Emergency Squad
Golden Gloves
Mystery Sea Raider
Her First Romance
The Devil Commands
Under Age
Broadway Ahead
Hot Pearls
Secrets of the Lone Wolf
Confessions of Boston Blackie
Seven Miles from Alcatraz
Hitler's Children
The Falcon Strikes Back
Captive Wild Woman
Behind the Rising Sun
Tender Comrade
Farewell My Lovely
Back to Bataan
Till the End of Time
So Well Remembered
Give Us This Day