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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.

Strange Illusion (1945)

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

Click here, or on the image above, to see the entire film, uncut.

Here’s a very interesting modern-day adaptation of Hamlet, although William Shakespeare gets absolutely no credit whatsoever for his input into the project. Directed by Edgar G. Ulmer for a pittance at PRC Studios in 1945, Strange Illusion was one of the studio’s prestige efforts, starring Jimmy Lydon, Sally Eilers, and most importantly, Warren William, as the nefarious Claude Barrington, an unscrupulous criminal, who masquerades as Brett Curtis, a wealthy man about town, who in reality is in inpatient at the asylum of Professor Muhlbach (Charles Arnt).

As Barry Meyer summarizes the film’s plot, “Paul Cartwright (Jimmy Lydon), a sensitive young man still shaken by his father’s death a couple years previously, has a dream in which he witnesses the violent car crash that took his father’s life, not as an accident, but as murder.  In the dream, he also sees his mother (Sally Eilers) and sister Dorothy (Jayne Hazard) being seduced by a shadowy stranger, who Paul fears may be his father’s murderer.  After returning to school, Paul still cannot shake the awful dream, and when Brett Curtis (Warren William) comes to court his mother, Paul realizes that the occurrences in his dream are beginning to come true.  He enlists his friends and the family doctor to help him uncover the secrets hidden in his nightmares before his mother gets tangled in the web of deceit spun by Curtis.”

An interesting and perceptive essay on the film is Stephen Buhler’s “The Psychology of Teen Hamlets: Edgar G. Ulmer’s Strange Illusion,” in Quarterly Review of Film and Video 28.4 (2011), which sharply deconstructs this transgressive film’s unique approach to the source material. Ulmer was always able to make something out of nearly nothing; here, with a solid cast and an excellent script, the results are quite remarkable.

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 numerous books and more than 70 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.

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