Dudley Nichols

Active - 1930 - 1986  |   Born - Apr 6, 1895   |   Died - Jan 4, 1960   |   Genres - Drama, Western, Romance, Comedy, Adventure

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Biography by Bruce Eder

An Oscar-winning screenwriter and sometime director, Dudley Nichols started out as a reporter for the New York World and ventured to Hollywood in 1929 when the film capital began drawing in writers to work with the new medium of talking pictures. He began an early association with John Ford in Men Without Women (1930), and subsequently wrote or co-authored the screenplays for some of Ford's best-known films, including The Lost Patrol, Judge Priest, The Informer (which earned Oscars for writer and director), Stagecoach, The Long Voyage Home, and The Fugitive. Nichols' other screenwriting credits include Howard Hawks' Bringing Up Baby and Air Force; the scripts for Jean Renoir's two best English-language films, Swamp Water and This Land Is Mine; Fritz Lang's Man Hunt and Scarlet Street; and Leo McCarey's The Bells of St. Mary's. At its best, Nichols' screenwriting displays startling elements of lyricism and poetry -- Swamp Water, for example, has long, haunting passages amid its complex character development that sings of the mystery and wonder of its rural, swampland setting, and was so effective as a script that it was remade a decade later as Lure of the Wilderness. Conversely, The Bells of St. Mary's, despite its relatively light touch and gentle humor, raises serious philosophical and spiritual questions that give the movie much more substance than meets the eye. And Air Force, despite the restrictions of its wartime setting, manages to avoid most wartime cliches (although it did create a few) and is highlighted by a scene in which a dying pilot takes his plane up one last time, completely in his imagination. Man Hunt is a wartime thriller of extraordinary menace and unease, completely unlike the heroic vehicle that one would have expected. And Nichols could also delve into the dark side of the human spirit with equal effectiveness -- The Informer does just that, while wrestling with decidedly Christian themes of betrayal and morality. And Scarlet Street is so utterly bleak and amoral, that it is scary to watch, even 50 years later. Nichols also directed a handful of features: Government Girl, Sister Kenny, and Morning Becomes Electra, all of which received favorable critical notices but failed financially.

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