Edward Dmytryk’s Warlock (1958) + Bluebeard (1972)

June 21, 2019 | By

I have to think hard to get the year right, but probably around 1987 the Toronto Film Society had booked a film screening of Edward Dmytryk’s The Caine Mutiny (1954). I don’t recall how I heard about it – perhaps in newspapers, or a flyer – but I went down to their office which, if I’m correct, may well have been in the old-time mall that existed on Yonge south of St. Clair, where Lichtman’s and later Book City occupied the ground space.

I went into the small office, bought a pair of tickets – I can’t recall who came with me – and ordered On Filmmaking, the new omibus edition that gathered 4 of Dmytryk’s books which had been published by the venerable Focal Press – On Screen Directing, On Film Editing, On Screen Writing, and On Screen Acting (co-written with his wife, Jean Porter Dmytryk). The staff discount at Book City helped offset the cost, given I was a broke film student at that time.

The screening took place (I think) at the Ontario Science Centre’s auditorium, and afterwards Dmytryk came to the front for a post-screening Q&A. Audience members were invited to meet & get a few things signed, and in the line-up I spotted a collector who had several soundtrack LPs, including Elmer Bernstein’s excellent jazz-styled score for the director’s classic Walk on the Wild Side (1963).

I’d brought the hardcover book, but decided to leave it in the car (why, I’ll never know) but Dmytryk signed the program pamphlet, and I went home feeling more than a little delighted in seeing one of his best films, and briefly meeting the director of my favourite WWII film, The Young Lions (1958).

The collected books were decent reads, being written from the angle of a filmmaker and how he addressed each of the key disciplines that helped create a motion picture. Neither tome was earth-shattering, but it was an iconic filmmaker reflecting on his substantive filmography, minus a particular controversy that remains tied to his name.

As I mention in both reviews of Warlock (1959), and from the KQEK.com archives, Bluebeard (1972), Dmytryk was part of the Hollywood Ten, artisans accused of injecting evil communist ideology into scripts, performances, direction, and the production of mainstream works that were deemed dangerous by the House Un-American Activities Committee, a witch hunt that was part ideological madness, and greedy tattle-talers and liars seeking to advance their careers by finking on supposed Red spies for their own advancement.

HUAC and its chief, disgraced Sen. Joseph McCarthy, represent a dark period in which political affiliations genuine or fleeting had talented men & women blacklisted from working. It was a career destroyer, and led to many tragic circumstances, including suicide, such as CBS reporter Don Hollenbeck, whose circumstances were part of the drama in George Clooney’s stirring drama Good Night, and Good Luck (2005). Clooney’s film is a dramatization of Edward R. Murrow’s lead up to his 1953 interview with McCarthy, and the fallout which ultimately diminished McCarthy’s standing, and punctured the senator’s cause and stature.

What led to the formation of HUAC, its reign of terror, blacklisted artists working under pseudonyms and / or in Europe, writers who fronted blacklisted scribes, and the duration of the blacklist are a massive, complicated series of chapters, and myriad individual struggles that spawned books, documentaries, and historical dramas, but Dmytryk’s position is unique because he ‘named names,’ and with his record cleaned, was able to work again for major studios, rapidly advancing to big budget productions with huge stars.

Some fellow “Ten” members expressed sympathy for Dmytryk in that while in jail he couldn’t earn a living, and his career was shriveling after becoming a rising star in dramas and film noirs, and some understood why he decided to aide the committee and save his career; it’s a controversial move which isn’t easy to peg as right or wrong.

Elia Kazan was one of the great independent-minded directors working for the studios, especially Warner Bros. and Fox, but when he was awarded an Honorary Oscar in 1999, many members remained silent and sitting, protesting their dismay & disgust at a filmmaker who named names, did damage to others, and kept on working.

Prior to being tossed in jail for contempt with the other 9, Dmytryk went to England and directed Christ in Concrete / Give Us This Day (1949), a grim drama which All Day released on DVD ages ago. It’s a unique film that should (must) return to disc, especially Blu-ray, with the mass of extras which contextualize one of several films shot in Europe by blacklisted directors, writers, actors, and composers – work that kept them sane, and allowed them to inject messages which today are more didactic than controversial.

In 1996, Dmytryk published Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten, which I’ll pick up one day, as well as Hollywood’s Golden Age As Told By One Who Lived It. Not unlike Otto Preminger, Dmytryk’s work spans the 1940s thru the 1970s, and when studio blockbusters were no longer an option, with his reputation for handling ego-driven stars, he moved onto what could be branded as hired gun gigs. (Preminger struggled to find relevant subjects to dramatize, but it is peculiar that both men ended their careers with feature films called The Human Factor, each based on entirely different materials.)

That’s why I’m pairing one of his best studio dramas, the western Warlock (1958), new on Blu from Twilight Time, with Bluebeard (1972), an oversexed black comedy which has appeared on DVD only in an old non-anamorphic transfer.

One is a western based on a shortlisted Pulitizer nominee, and the other has Bluebeard’s latest wife (Joey Heatherton) trying to use reason to save her life from murderous hubbie (Richard Burton).

Where one story illustrates how the fear of violence by thugs can subjugate a town and hire a gunslinger to do dirty deeds, the other features grisly, ridiculous kills of stunning and frequently naked women before there’s a comeuppance of sorts.

Warlock features one of Leigh Harline’s best scores, while Bluebeard offers one of Ennio Morricone’s weirdest – a cimbalom and a recurring male voice parroting ‘Wah Wah-Wah, Wah Wa-Wah, Wah Wa-Wa Wa-Wah Wa-Wah!’. (The Cerberus LP was one of the first Morricone albums I bought, and I love its demented, eerie mood.)

Burton, Brüste, und Blaue Grausamskeit !

Bluebeard is one of the strangest films in the director’s filmography, and maybe Burton’s trashiest, but it too deserves some love and needs the Arrow Video treatment – it’s a gorgeous production, and while long in the running time, Dmytryk’s is a modest entry in the eurosleaze genre, perhaps because of the pedigree (clothed and unclothed).

His last films before switching to teaching at the University of Texas and the University of Southern California are He Is My Brother (1975) starring former teen heartthrob Bobby Sherman, and The Human Factor (1975), a revenge thriller packed with another international cast. Dmytryk’s final credit is directing the short drama Not Only Strangers (1979) which marked Marcia Gay Harden’s film debut.

Coming next: Joan Micklin Silver’s Between the Lines (1977) from Cohen Media Group, and The Night Manager (2016), the addictive, beautifully produced BBC series which I’ve been plowing through this week.

Thanks for reading,



Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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