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Classic Hollywood: Getty Research Institute honors Fred Zinnemann

The Oscar-winning director of 'From Here to Eternity' and 'A Man for All Seasons' gets a retrospective, 'Cinema of Resistance.'

April 02, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times

Fred Zinnemann, who won directing Oscars for 1953's World War II drama "From Here to Eternity" and 1966's historical epic "A Man for All Seasons," never played by the rules. He rankled under the studio system and fought to get the films he wanted to make, not the inconsequential pictures the studios chose for him.

"What he was interested in were characters who had to fight for what they believed in against all odds," said his son, Tim Zinnemann. "That is how he was in life."

So it's no wonder that the Getty Research Institute's retrospective on Zinnemann is called "Cinema of Resistance" because it reflects both the themes of his films and his personal philosophy.

"I think there are several strains that occur in Zinnemann's career and [the title] 'Cinema of Resistance' is able to capture some of the very deep interest that he had personally in making films," said Getty scholar Jennifer Smyth, the curator.

Zinnemann, who was born in Vienna in 1907 and moved to the U.S. in 1929, was concerned with World War II and its aftermath and anti-fascism, not only in Europe but also in the U.S., according to Smyth.

The four-film festival begins Tuesday at the Getty with 1944's "The Seventh Cross," Zinnemann's first major hit, starring Spencer Tracy as a German communist who escapes from a concentration camp in prewar Nazi Germany. Zinnemann scholars Jan-Christopher Horak, the head of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, Smyth and Marsha Hunt, who appeared in Zinnemann's first feature, 1942's "Kid Glove Killer," will discuss the film.

"The Seventh Cross" was a "completely unusual film because it was about German resistance prior to the beginning of the war," said Smyth. "Zinnemann thought just because somebody is German doesn't mean necessarily that someone is a monster. It was an unusual way of looking at a genre that came to demonize the enemy sometimes in a very overt manner."

The 1948 drama "The Search," which screens April 10, was shot in postwar Germany. It revolved around a young Czechoslovakian boy (Oscar-winning Ivan Jandl) trying to find his family after World War II. Montgomery Clift, who plays a U.S. soldier trying to help the boy, earned his first lead actor Oscar nomination for the film. Tim Zinnemann and Smyth will be at the screening.

With "The Search," Zinnemann became the first Hollywood filmmaker to go to Germany after the war. A meticulous researcher, he interviewed child Holocaust survivors to give him insight.

The film paralleled his own search for his parents, who had been in Auschwitz. "I don't know if it changed him, but I know it emotionally affected him," said his son. "He was the kind of person who never revealed how he felt to anyone — at least to me. But I am sure it was extremely traumatic for him because he had just found how his own parents had been killed as he was doing research in Germany."

Zinnemann's seminal 1952 allegorical western, "High Noon," for which Gary Cooper earned his second Academy Award as a sheriff who must face three killers alone, screens April 17. Tim Zinnemann, Smyth and Cooper's daughter, Maria Cooper Janis, will be at the screening.

The filmmaker had always loved westerns so he jumped at the chance to do "High Noon." But "High Noon" defied western conventions, becoming more a political allegory about the blacklist in Hollywood.

"A lot of people hated that movie with a passion, like Howard Hawks and John Wayne," Zinnemann said. "They thought it was un-American because it sort of defied the unusual genre tradition of the hero. You know he even cried in one scene."

The festival concludes on April 24 with 1977's "Julia," based on Lillian Hellman's memoir about her friendship with a wealthy girl who leaves her privileged life behind to resist the Nazis. Jane Fonda earned an Oscar nomination as Hellman and Vanessa Redgrave won supporting actress as Julia. Zinnemann was nominated for director. Editor Walter Murch, the film's Oscar-winning screenwriter Alvin Sargent and Smyth will discuss Zinnemann's penultimate film.

Smyth believes the film "started this resurgence of women in Hollywood. It is a magnificent and complex film and in spite of that, managed to reach audiences of all kinds."

The series is free, but reservations must be made at http://www.getty.edu or (310) 440-7300.

susan.king@latimes.com

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