Vienna-born Fred Zinnemann (1907-1997) was a multi-Oscar-winning director whose most popular film is the celebrated "anti-western" High Noon. But Zinnemann was responsible for several other interesting films during his long career.
As a teenager, Zinnemann studied law, but was lured to cinema by the films of Eisenstein and others. After receiving his master's degree from the University of Vienna, he abandoned his legal career and took a camera course in Paris, proceeding to roles as a camera assistant in various German studios. He moved to Hollywood in 1929, but was refused entry to the cameraman's union. He found some extra work, became a personal assistant, and worked his way into the industry via work for the documentary pioneer Robert Flaherty (Nanook of the North).
After directing a slew of short films during the Second World War (the IMDb lists 18 titles between 1938 and 1942), Zinnemann made his feature film directorial debut with Kid Glove Killer, a 1942 b-movie. He'd already secured an Oscar by then, winning the 1939 "Best Short Subject, One Reel" award for That Mothers May Live, a biographical short. His first hit feature came with his third film, the concentration camp escape story The Seventh Cross (1944), starring Spencer Tracy. Three films later, Zinnemann received his first "Best Director" nomination for The Search (1948), a sentimental but effective post-war reconciliation drama that introduced Montgomery Clift. Another screen legend debuted under Zinnemann in 1950, as Marlon Brando took the lead role in The Men.
In 1951, Zinnemann won his second Oscar - in the "Best Documentary, Short Subjects" category - for Benjy, a hospital fund-raising short. One year later, High Noon (1952) was released, securing seven Oscar nominations and winning four. Zinnemann received a "Best Director" nomination, but lost to the other Western master John Ford (for The Quiet Man). But Oscar triumph was not far away, for a year after High Noon Zinnemann's From Here To Eternity (1953) swept the awards, winning 8 of 13 nominations, including "Best Picture" and, for Zinnemann, "Best Director".
In 1955, Zinnemann directed Oklahoma!, and followed that with the heroin addiction drama A Hatful of Rain, for which he received two awards at the Venice Film Festival. Another "Best Director" nomination followed for The Nun's Story (1959) with Audrey Hepburn (the film received a total of 8 nominations, including "Best Picture"). Best Picture and Director nominations were gained again for The Sundowners (1960).
In 1966, Zinnemann released what is generally considered his magnum opus, A Man For All Seasons. This study of principles and corruption featuring Paul Scofield as Sir Thomas More won 6 of 8 Oscar nominations, including "Best Picture" and, again, "Best Director" for Zinnemann. It also earned Zinnemann the Directors Guild "Outstanding Directorial Achievement" award, a Golden Globe, and categories in several other ceremonies.
Though A Man For All Seasons is regarded as the climax of Zinnemann's career, he went on to direct three more well-received features, including The Day of the Jackal (1973) and a return to the theme of Nazi Germany with Julia (1977). His final film was Five Days One Summer (1982), a love story featuring one of Zinnemann's passions, mountaineering.
Zinnemann received the first John Huston Award for Artists Rights in 1994 and died in March 1997. His son Tim Zinnemann is a producer/director (he was the assistant director on Bullitt (1968)).
Zinnemann's autobiography, Fred Zinnemann on Cinema was published in 1992. This has also been published as A Life in the Movies, but is not currently in print under either title.
Zinnemann's work is often referred to as "emotionally distant" and rather humourless, but he is remembered as a hard-working and conscientious craftsman whose achievements and awards reflect a career dedicated to high standards and the development of American cinema.
- Katz, Ephraim, The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia, London, Pan Macmillan, 1994