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The Most Prolific Director in American Film History

Thursday, September 18th, 2014

This unassuming man made more films during the classical Hollywood era than any other director.

As I wrote about Sam Newfield a number of years ago in Senses of Cinema, “Sam Newfield is, in all probability, the most prolific director in American sound-film history, but very little archival material survives on his career. The director of more than 250 feature films, as well as numerous shorts and television series episodes, in a career that spanned four decades, from 1923 to 1958, Newfield leaves behind him only his work on the set; next to nothing is known of his personal life. However, using conversations with Sigmund Neufeld, Jr., and Stanley Neufeld, the sons of Sam Newfield (born Neufeld)’s brother Sigmund Neufeld (all quotes from them in this essay are from these interviews), as well as materials from the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles, I was able to piece together a rough sketch of the man behind such a torrential output of work.

Comedies, musicals, westerns, horror films, jungle pictures, crime dramas, espionage thrillers – Sam Newfield did them all, often on budgets of less than $20,000 per feature, and shooting schedules of as little as three days. But, as Martin Scorsese notes, watching Newfield’s work is hard, because he often seems absolutely detached from the images that appear on the screen, as if he is an observer rather than a participant. Then, too, the conditions of extreme economy that Newfield labored under created a pressure-cooker environment in which the ultimate goal of all his films was simply to get them done on time and under budget. Nevertheless, as arguably the most prolific auteur in American motion-picture history, Newfield deserves mention and brief examination as one of the key ’second-rung’ directors of 1940s Hollywood, Newfield’s most productive era.”

Since then, Neil Roughley has compiled a staggeringly complete filmography; check it out here.

Neil Roughley’s Sam Newfield Filmography

Tuesday, June 19th, 2012

Sam Newfield made a helluva lot of feature films!

Film historian Neil Roughley has been doing research into the incredibly prolific career of film director Sam Newfield, who is, as Roughley says on his impeccably researched website, “the most prolific feature film director of the American sound era.”

As he adds in his prefatory remarks, “because of his amazing output, no Newfield filmography will ever be complete. The following is an attempt to accurately catalog all of his known features and shorts. Originally online in 1998 and last updated in 2001, I have finally revised the filmography with more accurate information and notes, plus the addition of images. The entire filmography has been revamped from the ground up, and is still a work in progress to some degree.

Although somewhat unorthodox, order is now based on the Production Code Administration (PCA) certificate number instead of the earliest release date. This method generally adheres to the release order anyway, and provides a more accurate and indisputable chronology as the films became available for general distribution. A film could be certified and held back, of course, which was not uncommon; or, rarer, a film could be completed but not submitted for certification until later. Some films were previewed before certification, too. This method, however flawed, provides a balance between production order and release, although exceptions do exist.”

This is an amazingly detailed work of scholarship; check it out by clicking here, or on the image of Sam Newfield above.

About the Author

Wheeler Winston Dixon

Wheeler Winston Dixon, Ryan Professor of Film Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is an internationally recognized scholar and writer of film history, theory and criticism. He is the author of thirty books and more than 100 articles on film, and appears regularly in national media outlets discussing film and culture trends. Frame by Frame is a collection of his thoughts on a number of those topics. To contact Prof. Dixon for an interview, reach him at 402.472.6064 or wdixon1@unl.edu. Visit him at his website wheelerwinstondixon.com.

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