Robert Aldrich

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Robert Burgess Aldrich (born August 9, 1918 in Cranston , Rhode Island , † December 5, 1983 in Los Angeles , California ) was an American director.


Robert was born in Cranston on August 9, 1918 to Edward Burgess Aldrich and Lora Elsie, née Lawson. His grandfather was the US Senator Nelson Wilmarth Aldrich (1841-1915) and his uncle John D. Rockefeller, Jr. (1874-1960). His education was at the Moses Brown School in Providence, Rhode Island. It was his parents' wish that Robert embark on a career in banking or politics. Robert Aldrich studied law and economics at the University of Virginia . He ended his studies prematurely without graduation. After completing his training, he went to Hollywood in 1941, where he worked for the production company RKO Picturesbegan as a legal clerk and secretary. In 1946 he became a production manager, later studio manager and screenwriter at The Enterprise Studios Los Angeles. He literally worked his way up from picking to assistant director to associate producer. He collected money from well-known filmmakers such as Edward Dmytryk , Jean Renoir (1894–1979) with the film “The Man from the South” in 1945, William Wellman (1896–1975) with the film “Schlachtgewitter am Monte Casino” 1945, Joseph Losey ( 1909–1984) with the film “M” 1950, Charlie Chaplin (1889–1977) with the film “Rampenlicht” 1952, Lewis Milestone (1895–1950) with the film “Triumphal Arch” 1948, Abraham Polonsky (1910–1999) with the film “The Power of Evil” 1949 and Richard Fleischer (1916–2006) gained important experience for his further professional development and became known in the industry. For a short time he also worked for television and staged individual episodes of television series there.

The Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios (MGM) in Los Angelos enabled Aldrichs to work as a director for the first time in 1953, with the baseball drama Big Leaguer and the actor Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973). During this time he founded his own film production company to take pictures "that the audience wants to see". In doing so, he primarily selected political and social topics that were particularly close to his heart. His breakthrough came with two top-class westerns distributed by United Artists : Massai (1954), the story of an Apache warrior is told with anti-racist engagement, played by Burt Lancaster (1913-1994), who becomes a farmer and the whites of a merciless persecution is exposed. The story is presented from the perspective of the Indian, who hurls all his hatred at his oppressors. Aldrich thus presents the bitter outcry of a people doomed to end. The second Vera Cruz film was produced in 1954, with Gary Cooper (1901–1961) and Burt Lancaster. It depicts the friendship of two unequal men who, during the Mexican Empire in 1866, got caught between the fronts of rival powers while hunting for a pot of gold.

Robert Aldrich stepped out more and more with films that dealt critically with current socio-political issues and that he staged for his own production company. The Mickey Spillane adaptation Rattennest (1955), a soberly staged crime film in the style of Film Noir with private detective Mike Hammer as protagonist, is about unscrupulous gangsters who try to steal radioactive material. Aldrich spoke out unmistakably against the communist hunt by US Senator McCarty. The pessimistic drama Hollywood-Story (1955) with Jack Palance (1919-2006) and Ida Lupino (1918-1995) in the leading roles tells the story of an actor who is blackmailed and driven into suicide by his producer. This is an unusually critical look behind the scenes of the “Hollywood dream factory”. The following year this film received the “Silver Lion” at the Venice Film Festival. In 1959 Robert Aldrich took over the chairmanship of the jury at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Aldrich reached the commercial highpoint of his career with What Really Happened to Baby Jane? (1962), an effectively staged and excellently played psychological thriller about two hostile sisters, played by Bette Davis (1908–1989) and Joan Crawford (1905–1977). Both are long-forgotten stars in an old-fashioned plush mansion in Hollywood who eat each other in hatred. This also includes the classic adventure film The Flight of the Phoenix (1965). This film tells of the emergency landing of an oil company transport machine in the Sahara. A young, ambitious technician builds an airworthy machine out of the old box before the group dies of thirst. And that includes the film Das dreckige Dutzend (1967), a war film made with a star ensemble, which attracted attention due to its bluntly depicted scenes of violence and the lack of ostensible moral positioning. 12 imprisoned felons are released from prison to fight against the Germans in France during the Second World War. Aldrich showed the war as a playground for psychopaths and killer machines. This film was released in 1967 and grossed $ 15 million.

In general, Robert Aldrich made no secret of his criticism of the Hollywood system, convinced and won his audience through his critical and direct treatment of explosive social problems, which is unusual for Hollywood conditions. So he had to strip The Killing of Sister George (The Killing of Sister George) happened in 1968 that by censoring all Sapphic scenes were cut before the film was released in theaters. A tragic comedy about lesbians is told here. In order to be able to work more independently in the future, without the repeated censorship and the arrogant interventions by the powerful in the industry, Robert Aldrich founded his own studio in 1968. This allows him to turn more clearly to the "heretical" issues. The melodrama Big Lie Lylah Clare (1968, with Kim Novak) again delivered a bitter reckoning with the power cynicisms of the film business. The film distribution system rigorously suppressed this film. Other outstanding examples of his oeuvre are the tragic comedy Das Doppelleben der Sister George (1968), the tough gangster film The Grissom Gang (1971), the Late Western No Mercy for Ulzana (1972). In this film, Robert Aldrich creates a critical parable on the US Vietnam War. From 1975 to 1979 he was President of the Directors Guild of America , the US directors' union organization. In the film Die Chorknaben (The Choirboys), which he produced in 1977, he drew a de-glorified picture of the everyday life of police officers and caricatured them as a rude, sexually horny, drinking and beating gang. His last film and a debunking comedy was Kesse Bees on the Mat (1981). It's about the show business deal. A duo of catchers who roam the country, spend the night in lousy hotels and have the feeling of constantly turning in circles is set in scene. Peter Falk (1927–2011) played its manager .

Robert Aldrich died on December 5, 1983 of kidney failure in Los Angeles. He was buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Hollywood Hills.



Hochi Film Awards

  • 1982: Hochi Film Award for the best (foreign) film for Kesse Bees on the Mat (alternative title: Harry lets the puppets dance, 1981)

Venice Film Festival



  • Marcus Stiglegger: [Article] Robert Aldrich. In: Thomas Koebner (Ed.): Film directors. Biographies, descriptions of works, filmographies. 3rd, updated and expanded edition. Reclam, Stuttgart 2008 [1. Edition 1999], ISBN 978-3-15-010662-4 , pp. 7-10 [with references].

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Dusty Boren, Biography Robert Aldrich from June 29, 2018 in: