Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Other Robert Stevenson

This article is, as far as I know, the only article available online about the English director Robert Stevenson, who had an interesting career trajectory: after becoming a success in England with various action films, such as a version of King Solomon's Mines, he signed a contract with David O. Selznick and came to America. Selznick brought him over at the same time as another prominent English director, Alfred Hitchcock, but unlike Hitchcock, Stevenson pretty much bombed out in America; his one A-list picture from this period, 1944's Jane Eyre, is generally thought of as Orson Welles' movie (it starred Welles and was worked on by a lot of Welles's Mercury Theatre people, like John Houseman and Bernard Herrmann). His career finally turned around in the late '50s when, on the basis of a TV movie, "Johnny Tremain," Walt Disney hired Stevenson to be his number-one director of live-action movies. Stevenson spent the rest of his career working for the Disney company. He wasn't any kind of auteur -- the various participants on the commentary track for Mary Poppins hardly even mention Stevenson, which is not surprising given that they all knew that Disney was the one in charge of the film -- and his best movies, not coincidentally, are the ones that Disney himself was most closely involved with, like Mary Poppins and Darby O'Gill and the Little People. He was a good example of what might be called the producer's director: someone who can carry out the vision of a non-directing auteur producer. Other examples of this relationship include Michael Curtiz and Hal B. Wallis at Warner Brothers (Wallis, the producer, was the auteur of such films as Casablanca; Curtiz translated his vision into the actual filmed footage).

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