John Cromwell

Active - 1929 - 2013  |   Born - Dec 23, 1888   |   Died - Sep 26, 1979   |   Genres - Drama, Romance

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Biography by Hal Erickson

American director John Cromwell spent the first phase of his career as a romantic stage leading man. As a theatrical director, he was spirited to Hollywood to "show" silent filmmakers how to do things right, but his cinematic flair in such early pictures as The Racket (1928), Close Harmony (1929) and Tom Sawyer (1931) indicate that Cromwell learned a lot from the Hollywood veterans. Film critic Andrew Sarris has summed up Cromwell's career as "cherchez la femme," meaning that he seemed to have a knack for drawing first-rate performances out of actresses. Directorial assignments like Ann Vickers (1933) starring Irene Dunne, Of Human Bondage (1934) starring Bette Davis, and I Dream Too Much (1935) starring Opera diva Lily Pons would appear to bear out Sarris' typecasting of Cromwell. Like most such auteurist theories, however, Sarris' assessment was limited: Cromwell was also capable of turning out male-dominated historical dramas like Prisoner of Zenda (1937) and Abe Lincoln in Illinois (1940). Cromwell was additionally one of the prime contributors to the film noir genre, as witnessed by Dead Reckoning (1947), Night Song (1947) and Caged (1950); he was among Dead Reckoning star Humphrey Bogart's favorite directors. Long out of films, Cromwell made a return as an actor in his eighties, becoming one of director Robert Altman's inner circle in the films Three Women (1977) and A Wedding (1978). Despite his many cinematic accomplishments, Cromwell wasn't very fond of any of his films, and was given to responding to the queries of movie buffs over this or that movie by turning his thumbs down or holding his nose!

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