Stanley Kramer (1913-2001)

Stanley Kramer
Stanley Kramer

Stanley Kramer was a producer and director who specialized in message pictures that often failed to live up to their initial promise. He began his cinema career in the 1930's, working in a variety of capacities, including editor, writer, and researcher, before achieving the status of associate producer by the 1940's. After military service in World War II, Kramer began his own company, Screen Plays, before joining Columbia Pictures in 1951 to gain greater distribution and economic backing for his projects.

As a director, he was probably better off as a producer, as seen by such classics as Fred Zinnemann's politically-conscious Western 'High Noon' in 1952, and Laszlo Benedek's motorcycle drama 'The Wild One' in 1953, which propelled the young Marlon Brando to overnight stardom. But when directing his own movies, Kramer too often fell into the trap of transparent moralizing.

And yet in his finest films, such as the racial drama 'The Defiant Ones' in 1958, in which two escaped convicts, played by Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier, run for their lives in the segregated U.S. South, or 'It's A Mad Mad Mad Mad World' in 1963, surely the most spectacular and vicious comedy ever filmed, Kramer displays a deft hand at unmasking the greed and prejudice underlying U.S.society.

His most famous movie is probably 'Judgment at Nuremberg' in 1961, and features a memorable and shattering performance by Montgomery Clift as a survivor of Nazi Brutality. Kramer's movies all share a desire for engagement with the major political and social issues of their era, and although with his later movies he seemed more out of touch with what those issues were, he was a genuine original: he made movies that he believed in, and straddled the fence between art and commerce for more than 30 years in the industry.