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Fred Zinnemann.

Fred Zinnemann, the Oscar-winning director of "From Here to Eternity" and "A Man for All Seasons," died March 14 in London. He was 89.

The Austrian emigre director was known for his intelligent films and--like William Wyler, to whom he has sometimes been compared--was applauded for his handling of actors.

He introduced such talents as Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando, Meryl Streep and Rod Steiger to films and extracted noteworthy performances from them as well as Burt Lancaster, Gary Cooper, Julie Harris, Deborah Kerr, Audrey Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave.

His films, such as "Seasons," "Eternity" and "Julia," are intimate epics: wide in scope and theme, yet filled with small, personal details, reflecting Zinnemann's taste and his background as a documentarian. Zinnemann often dealt with characters' crises of conscience ("High Noon," "The Nun's Story") or their struggles with limitations imposed on them by themselves or by others ("The Men," "Member of the Wedding").

Pics are almost always tasteful, restrained and literate, which sometimes brought the criticism that they were slow or "intellectual"; and while the films achieved varying levels of success, all are thoughtful and impressive.

He directed a relatively sparse output of 20 films, making his first big impact with "High Noon," his ninth pie, in 1952; in the next 30 years, he completed only 11 more films.

Most work in '50s

The bulk of Zinnemann's feature work was done in the 1950s, when he progressed from gritty, realistic films such as "The Search" and "The Men" to high-budget, high-gloss studio projects like "Oklahoma!" and "The Sundowners." He claimed that his one goal in life was to please the masses and not himself. And what his films lacked in forward momentum was somewhat compensated for by a high-minded, if somewhat middle-brow appeal.

Zinnemann's entry into the ranks of major league directors came after almost two decades of paying dues, which again might explain why he embraced commercial filmmaking so fiercely.

He began his career as an assistant cameraman in Paris in 1927, where his parents, Dr. Oskar and Anna Zinnemann (later victims of the Holocaust) sent him to study. Before leaving for Hollywood in 1929 with a letter of introduction to Universal head Carl Laemmle, Zinnemann worked as assistant cameraman on Robert Siodmak's "Menschen Am Sonntag," on which Billy Wilder was co-writer.

Zinnemann drifted through Hollywood as an assistant to another Austrian, director Berthold Viertel, and documentarian Robert Flaherty. He spent the next several years directing docus such as "The Wave," which led to being hired in MGM's short subjects department, where he worked alongside other future feature directors like Jules Dassin, George Sidney and Jacques Tourneur.

Oscar for short

His third short, "That Mothers Might Live," about the pioneering use of antiseptics in obstetrics, brought him an Academy Award. He earned his feature directing stripes in 1941 and, after a couple of B films like "Kid Glove Killer" and "Eyes in the Night," MGM handed him a full-fledged A title production in 1944.

"The Seventh Cross" starred Spencer Tracy, Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. Tracy is said to have been so impressed by his director that he commented, "Watch this young Zinnemann, he's going places." But Zinnemann was yanked off his next project, "The Clock," when its star Judy Garland demanded Vincente Minnelli (who was about to become her husband).

"The Search," a 1949 gritty postwar drama,
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Title Annotation:film director
Author:Natale, Richard; Gray, Timothy M.
Article Type:Obituary
Date:Mar 17, 1997
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