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Fred Zinnemann (Vienna, April 29, 1907 – London, March 14, 1997) was a famous Austrian film director who won four Oscars. Like other European directors, Zinnemann decided to travel to the United States, but with the intention of learning cinema.
Zinnemann was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria. During his childhood in Austria he wanted to become a musician, although later he studied Law. While studying at the University of Vienna he worked as a camera operator. He later worked in Germany with Billy Wilder and Robert Siodmak, also beginners; the three intervened in The Men of Sunday (1929). Later he emigrated to the United States to study cinema.
Beginnings of the American stage
One of his first works in Hollywood would be as an extra in No novelty on the front (1930), although he would be fired from production for criticizing the director of the film, Lewis Milestone. Zinnemann relied on realism to make his first fiction short, Redes (1935), shot in Mexico and played by non-professional actors. This would be one of the first examples of realism that would triumph in Italy after the war.
After a certain success with different short films, he graduated in 1942, directing two horror films series B Eyes in the Night and Kid Glove Killer before making his first success with The Seventh Cross (1944), starring by Spencer Tracy. The film showed an anti-Nazi message, developing the story of seven men trying to escape from a German concentration camp and being harassed by the Gestapo.
After being fired from the shooting of El Reloj (1945) for differences with the actress Judy Garland, -the film would be completed by Vincente Minnelli- made the melodrama Little Mister Jim (1946) and the comedy My brother talk to horses (1947) , which were the prelude to the title that made him the first line director, LOS ANGELES LOSTES (1948), a warlike drama with almost documentary tone that served to discover Montgomery Clift. The director again chose authentic locations and extras from the Berlin of the immediate postwar period, instead of Hollywood sets.
In Hombres (1950), the director coincided for the first time with screenwriter Carl Foreman and producer Stanley Kramer, always interested in giving their works a perspective and social reflection. The film unveiled one of the best actors of his generation, Marlon Brando, who played a paraplegic hero of World War II. With this title, for which Foreman was nominated for an Oscar, Zinnemann exhibited his excellent touch to define feelings and psychologies. True to his custom, he would film many scenes in a hospital in California, with real patients as extras.
In 1951, Teresa (1951) shot a drama with Pier Angeli and John Ericson, the director would win his first Oscar with the documentary Benjy (1951), a short narrated by Henry Fonda about a child with serious physical problems from his birth.
The golden age
But in 1952, he would perhaps do his best known work Solo ante el peligro (1952). With a psychological and moral examination of a man of the law, starring Gary Cooper, the political allegory recalls the witch hunt of McCarthyism. It also highlights its innovative chronology in which the film lasts 80 minutes, exactly what lasts the countdown before the final duel.
The following year, Zinnemann would again be on everyone’s lips with From Here to Eternity (1953), located in the days before the Japanese aviation attack on Pearl Harbor. It would be one of the first major roles of, until then, crooner Frank Sinatra, in addition to having an excellent cast with Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Ernest Borgnine and Deborah Kerr. From here to eternity it would be a blockbuster, critical and also at the Oscar ceremony, with the film being the big winner of the night, Fred Zinnemann achieving his first statuette as best director.
After this, other hits would come like the musical Oklahoma (1955), with Gloria Grahame, Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones in his film debut, A hat full of rain (1957), great drama about an addicted to the drugs played by Don Murray, and Story of a Nun (1959), adaptation of the novel by Kathryn C. Hulme starring Audrey Hepburn.
In 1966, he had a resounding success with A Man for All Seasons, a historical film written by Robert Bolt and starring Paul Scofield in the role of Tomás Moro. The film managed to win the Oscar for the best film of the year and Zinnemann would reach his second Oscar for the best director.
Zinnemann goes to production
In the 1960s, he joined the film production. His first feature film as a producer was Three Lives Wanted, a drama set in Australia starring Deborah Kerr, Robert Mitchum and Peter Ustinov and, later, And it was the day of revenge (1964), with Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, which recounts the life of the maquis exiled in France after the Spanish Civil War.
In the decade of 1970 it would release the political thriller Chacal (1973), based on the novel of Frederick Forsyth and carried out by Edward Fox, that centered its plot in a plot to end the life of Charles de Gaulle; and Julia (1977), in the context of World War II, recounted the experiences of the writer Lillian Hellman with her friend Julia, excellently played by Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave, who would achieve the Oscar as best supporting actress, like Jason Robards in the male category. The Austrian director would be nominated in the category of best director, although the award would be taken by Woody Allen by Annie Hall.
The director would say goodbye to the cinema with Cinco dias, un verano (1982), one of his less prominent films, based in a love triangle set in the Alps in the 1930s. The film was played by Sean Connery, Betsy Brantley and Lambert Wilson. Away from the big screen, he would die at the age of 89 on March 14, 1997 of a heart attack in London, Great Britain.
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