The son of popular Irish actress Lillian O'Brien (who later proved her versatility by becoming a leading light in America's Yiddish theatre), Phil Karlson studied painting at Chicago's Art Institute. He went on to study law at California's Loyola Marymount college (at his father's behest) before attaining his first movie job as a University Studios prop man. He worked his way up the cinematic chain as a cutter, editor and short-subjects director. He graduated to feature-film directing at the Columbia Pictures "B" unit, then turned out several low-budget thrillers at Monogram; he also helmed Marilyn Monroe's first starring picture, 1949's Ladies of the Chorus. By virtue of such economical tension exercises as 99 River Street (1949), Tight Spot (1955), and the superb The Phenix City Story (1955), Karlson was embraced by the cognoscenti as a master purveyor of the "film noir" genre. In 1959, he directed the two-part pilot for the Untouchables TV series, which was later released theatrically as The Scarface Mob (1962). The "auteur" side of Karlson took a back seat to commercialism with his handling of the Dean Martin "Matt Helm" spy spoofs of the 1960s. In 1974, Phil Karlson regained his cult following with the action-packed surprise hit Walking Tall (1974), which made Karlson a millionaire many times over thanks to his farsighted financial investment in the project.