Irving Pichel

Active - 1930 - 1991  |   Born - Jun 25, 1891   |   Died - Jul 13, 1954   |   Genres - Drama, Crime, Romance, Mystery

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Biography by Hal Erickson

Irving Pichel had wanted to be in the theater from childhood; one of his early buddies was future playwright George S. Kaufman. Pichel attended Harvard University and tried other lines of work, before acting finally won out. His pronounced Semitic features prevented Pichel from becoming a movie leading man in the white-bread 1930s, but he proved a valuable character player and villain in such Paramount films as Murder by the Clock (1931), An American Tragedy (1931), and The Cheat (1932). His deep, kindly voice tended to bely his bad guy characters, so Pichel had to become as proficient at vocal tricks as he was at character makeup. He was slated to star in the 1931 version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931), but director Rouben Mamoulien, complaining that Pichel would have been "Mr. Hyde and Mr. Hyde," chose Fredric March instead. Reviews were mixed on Pichel's subsequent portrayal of Fagin in the 1933 filmization of Oliver Twist, one critic bestowing upon him the "worst actor of the year" award (which he most certainly was not). Pichel began his directing career in collaboration with Ernst B. Schoedsack on The Most Dangerous Game (1932). His directorial efforts of the 1930s were largely potboilers, but the quality improved when he joined the Fox directing staff in the 1940s. His better efforts include Hudson's Bay (1940), The Pied Piper (1942), The Moon Is Down (1942), and, for Paramount, A Medal for Benny (1945). He also partnered with George Pal on the fanciful features The Great Rupert (1950) and Destination Moon (1950), and was producer of the 1941 Fox melodrama Swamp Water. By the mid-'40s, Pichel had all but abandoned film acting, though he played small parts in several of the films that he directed, performed on radio, and was the narrator of John Ford's She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). Irving Pichel's last films as a director were those sectarian church-basement favorites Martin Luther (1953) and Day of Triumph (1954).

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