John Sturges

John Sturges

director, producer, editor

John Sturges was an American film director, mostly remembered for his outstanding Western films. In 1992, Sturges was awarded a Golden Boot Award for his lifelong contribution to the Western genre.Sturges was born in the village of Oak Park, Illinois, within the Chicago metropolitan area. By 1930, the village had a population of 64,000 people.Sturges started his film career in 1932, as a film editor. During World War II, he started directing documentaries and training films for the United States Army Air Forces.Sturges made his directing debut in 1946, in the drama film "The Man Who Dared" (1946) by the studio Columbia Pictures. The film's protagonist frames himself for murder, in order to prove that innocent people may be convicted by circumstantial evidence. His next film project was the film noir "Shadowed" (1946), about a corpse being found in a golf club, and how an innocent man finds his life threatened by a gang leader. Sturges' last film of the year was the crime drama "Alias Mr. Twilight" (1946), about an elderly con-artist who uses his earnings to provide for his beloved granddaughter.Sturges was entrusted with directing the third film in the then -popular Rusty film series, about the adventures of a German shepherd. The film was called "For the Love of Rusty" (1947), and introduced the new dog actor Flame. Flame portrayed Rusty in four of the eight Rusty films.Sturges' next film project was "Keeper of the Bees" (1947), the third film adaptation of the 1925 novel by Gene Stratton-Porter (1863-1924). The film involved aging beekeeper Michael Worthington (played by Harry Davenport ) who recruits a nomadic painter and an orphan girl as his new employees. Despite a high-profile cast, the film is considered a lost film.Sturges' last film of the year was the war documentary "Thunderbolt" (1947), concerning Operation Strangle (March 19-May 11, 1944). The aerial operation had American aircraft attacking German supply routes in Central Italy, in order to force the Germans to withdraw. The documentary included actual combat footage from the operation, and part of its profits was used to finance the Army Air Force Relief Society.Sturges returned to the film noir genre with the film "The Sign of the Ram" (1948). The film's villain protagonist Leah St. Aubyn (played by Susan Peters) was depicted as an invalid woman with an obsessive desire to control and dominate the life of her family and friends, and going to extremes in order to achieve her goal.Sturges next directed the historical drama "Best Man Wins", an adaptation of the short story "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" (1865) by Mark Twain (1835-1910). The film depicts professional gambler Jim Smiley (played by Edgar Buchanan) trying to use his jumping frog Daniel Webster to win bets. He hopes to use his earnings to win back the love of his ex-wife, and to buy the love of his estranged son.Sturges' first Western was "The Walking Hills" (1949), which used film noir tropes in a new setting. The film involves treasure hunters searching for a lost wagon train carrying gold bars. But many of the characters are hiding secrets, and a there is a manhunt for a wanted fugitive in the area.Sturges had a critically successful film with the biographical film "The Magnificent Yankee", which dramatized the life of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (1841-1935), Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932. The film was nominated for two Academy Awards, but won neither.Sturges next projects included the film noir "The Capture" (1950), the film noir "Mystery Street" (1950), and the sports drama "Right Cross" (1950). His crime drama "Kind Lady" (1951) was a remake of a 1935 film with the same title, directed by George B. Seitz. In the film, wealthy art collector Mary Herries (played by Ethel Barrymore) allows painter Henry Springer Elcott (played by Maurice Evans) to move into her London house. But her new house-guest is planning to rob her.Sturges' film noir "The People Against O'Hara" (1951) was a film noir with elements from courtroom drama. It was a box office hit, and had Sturges working with lead actor Spencer Tracy. Sturges was one of seven film directors who co-directed the anthology film "It's a Big Country", concerning life in the United States.Sturges' biographical film "The Girl in White" (1952) dramatized the life of female surgeon Emily Dunning Barringer (1876-1961). The real-life Barringer was "the world's first female ambulance surgeon and the first woman to secure a surgical residency". Sturges returned to the film noir genre with "Jeopardy" (1953), an adaptation of a radio play by Maurice Zimm.Sturges directed the sports comedy "Fast Company" (1953), about an exceptional race horse, and a struggle over its ownership. He returned to the Western genre with the American Civil War-themed film "Escape from Fort Bravo" (1953). In the film the prisoners confined in a Union prison camp attempt to escape. This color film used the Anscocolor process.Sturges had a career highlight with the thriller film "Bad Day at Black Rock" (1955), which combined elements from both film noir and the Western. It involves a town hiding a secret, and mysterious stranger John J. Macreedy (played by Spencer Tracy) trying to uncover the elusive truth. Sturges was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director, but the award was won instead by rival director Delbert Mann (1920-2007).Sturges' next film project was the treasure-hunting themed adventure "Underwater!" (1955). His historical drama "The Scarlet Coat" (1955) dramatized the plot of military officer Benedict Arnold (1741-1801) to surrender West Point to the British Army during the American Revolutionary War. The film also dramatized the life of British spy John André (1750-1780).The film's American counterspy John Bolton was loosely based on historical spymaster Benjamin Tallmadge (1754-1835).Sturges returned to the Western genre with popular films such as "Backlash" (1956), "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (1957), "The Law and Jake Wade" (1958), "Last Train from Gun Hill" (1959). He also directed the adventure drama "The Old Man and the Sea" (1958), an adaptation of the 1952 novella by Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961). For this film, Sturges once again worked with leading actor Spencer Tracy.Sturges' World War II-themed war film "Never So Few" (1959), featured a cast of rising actors, such as Frank Sinatra, Gina Lollobrigida, and Steve McQueen,. Sturges had another career highlight with a film remake, the Western "The Magnificent Seven" (1960). It was a loose adaptation of the Japanese film "Seven Samurai" (1954) by Akira Kurosawa. The film under-performed in the United States, but was a smash hit in Europe, and very profitable for the film studio United Artists. It sold 89,118,696 tickets sold in overseas territories, and broke box office records in the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union. Kurosawa himself liked this adaptation, and the film received three sequels, two remakes of its own, and a television series adaptation.Sturges' next film project included the law-firm drama "By Love Possessed" (1961), which included controversial themes such as rape, suicide, and embezzlement. Sturges next Western film was "Sergeants 3", loosely based on the poem "Gunga Din" (1890) by Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936). This film is mostly remembered as the " last film to feature all five members of the Rat Pack".Sturges' next film was more sexually explicit: "A Girl Named Tamiko" (1962). Lead character Ivan Balin (played by Laurence Harvey) is a man who desperately wants to emigrate to the United States, and uses his sex-appeal to seduce women who may help him achieve his goal. His next war film was "The Great Escape" (1963) about prisoners of war trying to escape from Stalag Luft III. It was one of the highest-grossing films of its year of release.Sturges directed his first science fiction film at age 55, and that film was "The Satan Bug" (1965). The film depicted the manufacture of bio-weapons, and their potential release against American major cities. Sturges also directed the Western comedy "The Hallelujah Trail" (1965), about a predicted harsh winter threatening the whiskey supply of a frontier town. He next directed a more serious Western, "Hour of the Gun" (1967). It was his second film about the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral (1881), but attempted to be more historically accurate than previous film depictions of the events.Sturges' next film project was the Cold War thriller "Ice Station Zebra" (1968), loosely based on the missing experimental Corona satellite capsule (Discoverer II) which fell to Norway in 1959, and the efforts to recover it before it fell on Soviet hands. The film was mildly controversial, since it dramatized events that were still classified secret at the time of production. Sturges used former American agents as technical advisers.Sturges' second science fiction film was Marooned (1969), depicting a potentially deadly accident affecting the Apollo program. Released at a time of high public interest on the Apollo program, it attracted an audience but was a box office flop. The film's visual effects expert won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.Sturges partially directed the auto racing film "Le Mans" (1971), but quit before the film was completed. He was replaced by fellow director Lee H. Katzin (1935-2002). Sturges returned to the Western genre with the peasant-revolt themed "Joe Kidd" (1972). It featured bounty hunter Joe Kidd (played by Clint Eastwood) hunting down a Mexican revolutionary who is campaigning for land reform. The film is considered an example of the Revisionist Western, a more cynical take on the genre.Sturges last Western was the Italian-produced "Chino" (1973). He returned to the film noir genre with the neo-noir "McQ" (1974), with lead character Lon "McQ" McHugh (played by John Wayne) being an aging police detective who is trying find out who was behind a failed attempt on his life. Sturges' last film was the war film "The Eagle Has Landed" (1976), depicting a German plot by Abwehr leader Wilhelm Canaris (1887-1945) to kidnap Winston Churchill. His last film was a box office hit in its own right.Sturges retired from film directing at the age of 66. He continued living in retirement until his death in 1992. He was 82-years-old, and several of his film were finding retrospective critical acclaim.

  • Birthday

    Jan 03, 1910
  • Place of Birth

    Oak Park, Illinois, USA

Known For

Awards

5 wins & 14 nominations

Golden Boot Awards
1992
Winner - Golden Boot
American Cinema Editors, USA
1970
Winner - Golden Eddie Filmmaker of the Year Award
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