Arthur Penn

Birthday: Sep 27, 1922
Birthplace: Not Available
Once the vanguard of 1960s-1970s Hollywood New Wave, director Arthur Penn saw his cinematic fortunes decline with the mid-'70s rise of more straightforward blockbuster entertainment. Even as he struggled through the '80s and '90s, however, Penn's legacy was assured by such films as Little Big Man (1970), Night Moves (1975), and the pivotal masterwork Bonnie and Clyde (1967).Born in Philadelphia, Penn was trained to follow in his father's footsteps as a watchmaker, but by high school, he knew he preferred theater. While stationed at Fort Jackson, SC, during World War II, Penn formed a small drama circle with his fellow infantrymen, and continued his education as an actor at school in North Carolina and Italy after the war. Though Penn acted in Joshua Logan's theater company and studied with Michael Chekhov at the Actors Studio's Los Angeles branch, he opted for a career behind the scenes when he got a job at NBC TV in 1951. By 1953, Penn was writing and directing live TV productions for the Philco Playhouse and Playhouse 90. Earning a shot at feature films, Penn combined the Method acting concentration on character psychology with the story of legendary Western outlaw Billy the Kid in The Left-Handed Gun (1958). Starring Paul Newman as Billy and shot in crisp black-and-white, The Left-Handed Gun emphasized '50s rebel neuroses over pastoral spectacle, becoming more of a character study of youthful revolt spiked with dramatic violence than a typical good vs. bad oater. Though European audiences loved it, Americans were unimpressed. Having directed the Broadway success Two for the Seesaw that same year, Penn stuck with theater and quickly established a sterling reputation with consecutive Broadway hits: The Miracle Worker, Toys in the Attic, and All the Way Home.Penn returned to movies with the film adaptation of The Miracle Worker (1962). Resisting pressure to cast Elizabeth Taylor, Penn insisted that Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke reprise their stage roles as intrepid tutor Annie Sullivan and her blind and deaf charge Helen Keller. Saccharine-free and masterfully acted, The Miracle Worker became a hit, earning an Oscar nomination for Penn and Oscar wins for Bancroft and Duke. Penn's Hollywood glow quickly diminished, however, when star Burt Lancaster abruptly fired Penn two days into shooting on The Train (1964). Angry and undaunted, Penn proceeded to make the underrated and little seen Mickey One (1965). Shot with French New Wave aplomb and starring Warren Beatty, Mickey One eschewed all narrative certainty in its highly personal exploration of a nameless man's paranoid flight from the Mob, presaging the enormous influence New Wave technical freedom, genre revision, and ambiguity would have on Hollywood a few years later. Penn left filmmaking again in disgust after producer Sam Spiegel fired him from The Chase (1966) and recut the film. After a year off, however, Penn was coaxed back into movies by Beatty to helm Bonnie and Clyde. Though they clashed during production, Beatty saw to it that he and Penn could cast the film with unknowns from New York theater and TV, shoot with no studio interference on location in Texas, and edit the film in New York. With his producer-star's full support, Penn aimed to make the violence as brutal as possible, culminating with the incendiary quick-cut, slow-motion climax showing the eponymous glamour outlaws riddled by bullets. Though critics were repulsed by the bloodshed and the notion of criminals as beautiful doomed heroes, Beatty, armed with a rave by Pauline Kael and reports of audience enthusiasm, fought Warner Bros. for a re-release and Penn's combination of French New Wave style with an American genre finally made an impact. Hailed as a visionary work and embraced by the youthful Vietnam-era audience, Bonnie and Clyde became a pop-culture phenomenon, inspiring a cycle of revisionist gangster movies that included Thieves Like Us (1974) and Badlands (1973), making stars out of Faye Dunaway

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No Score Yet Law & Order
Executive Producer
  • 2006


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