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Joseph Losey

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Joseph Losey
Losey in 1965
Joseph Walton Losey III

(1909-01-14)January 14, 1909
DiedJune 22, 1984(1984-06-22) (aged 75)
London, England
Alma materDartmouth College
Harvard University
Years active1933–1984
(m. 1937; div. 1944)
Louise Stuart
(div. 1951)
(m. 1956; div. 1963)
Patricia Mohan
(m. 1970)
Awards1967 Accident Grand Prix Spécial du Jury
Palme d'Or
1971 The Go-Between César Awards for Best Film & Best Director
1977 Monsieur Klein

Joseph Walton Losey III (/ˈlsi/; January 14, 1909 – June 22, 1984) was an American theatre and film director, producer, and screenwriter. Born in Wisconsin, he studied in Germany with Bertolt Brecht and then returned to the United States. Blacklisted by Hollywood in the 1950s, he moved to Europe where he made the remainder of his films, mostly in the United Kingdom. Among the most critically and commercially successful were the films with screenplays by Harold Pinter: The Servant (1963) and The Go-Between (1971).

Losey's 1976 film Monsieur Klein won the César Awards for Best Film and Best Director. He was a four-time nominee for both the Palme d'Or (winning once) and the Golden Lion, and a two-time BAFTA nominee.

Early life and career[edit]

Losey Memorial Arch (1901) was erected by the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, in tribute to Losey's grandfather, a prominent attorney and civic leader[1]

Joseph Walton Losey III was born on January 14, 1909, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where he and Nicholas Ray were high-school classmates at La Crosse Central High School.[1][2][3] He attended Dartmouth College and Harvard University, beginning as a student of medicine and ending in drama.[4]

Losey became a major figure in New York City political theatre, first directing the controversial failure Little Old Boy in 1933.[5] He declined to direct a staged version of Dodsworth by Sinclair Lewis, which led Lewis to offer him his first work written for the stage, Jayhawker. Losey directed the show, which had a brief run.[4] Bosley Crowther in The New York Times noted that "The play, being increasingly wordy, presents staging problems that Joe Losey's direction does not always solve. It is hard to tell who is responsible for the obscure parts in the story."[6]

He visited the Soviet Union for several months in 1935, to study the Russian stage. In Moscow he participated in a seminar on film taught by Sergei Eisenstein.[7] He also met Bertolt Brecht and the composer Hanns Eisler, who were visiting Moscow at the time.[8]

In 1936, he directed Triple-A Plowed Under on Broadway, a production of the Works Progress Administration's Federal Theatre Project.[9] He then directed the second Living Newspaper presentation, Injunction Granted.[10]

Losey served in the U.S. military during World War II and was discharged in 1945.[11] From 1946 to 1947, Losey worked with Bertolt Brecht—who was living in exile in Los Angeles—and Charles Laughton on the preparations for the staging of Brecht's play Galileo (Life of Galileo) which he and Brecht eventually co-directed with Laughton in the title role, and with music by Eisler. The play premiered on July 30, 1947, at the Coronet Theatre in Beverly Hills.[12] On October 30, 1947, Losey accompanied Brecht to Washington D.C. for Brecht's appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC).[12] Brecht left the US the following day. Losey went on to stage Galileo, again with Laughton in the title role, in New York City where it opened on December 7, 1947, at the Maxine Elliott Theatre. More than 25 years later Losey, in exile in England, would direct a film version of Brecht's play Galileo (1975).

Losey's first feature film was a political allegory titled The Boy with Green Hair (1947), starring a young Dean Stockwell as Peter, a war orphan who is subject to ridicule after he awakens one morning to find his hair mysteriously turned green.

Seymour Nebenzal, the producer of Fritz Lang's classic M (1931), hired Losey to direct a remake set in Los Angeles rather than Berlin. In the new version, released in 1951, the killer's name was changed from Hans Beckert to Martin W. Harrow. Nebenzal's son Harold was associate producer of this version.

Politics and exile[edit]

During the 1930s and 1940s, Losey maintained extensive contacts with people on the political left, including radicals and communists or those who would eventually become such. He had collaborated with Bertolt Brecht and had a long association with Hanns Eisler, both targets of HUAC's interest.[13] Losey had written to the Immigration and Naturalization Service in support of a resident visa for Eisler, who had many radical associations. They had collaborated on a "political cabaret" from 1937 to 1939, and Losey had invited Eisler to compose music for a short public-relations film that he had been commissioned to produce for presentation at the 1939 New York World's Fair, Pete Roleum and His Cousins.[14]

Losey had also worked on the Federal Theatre Project, long a target of HUAC. Losey directed the play Triple-A Plowed Under, which been denounced by HUAC's antecedent, the Dies Committee, as communist propaganda.[13] His Hollywood collaborators included a long list of other HUAC targets, including Dalton Trumbo and Ring Lardner Jr.[13]

Losey's first wife Elizabeth Hawes worked with a wide range of communists and anticommunist liberals at the radical newspaper PM. After their divorce in 1944, she wrote about working as a union organizer just after World War II, where "one preferred the Communists to the Red-Baiters."[15] At some point, probably early in the 1940s, the FBI maintained dossiers on both Losey and Hawes, and that of Losey charged that he was a Stalinist agent as of 1945.[13]

In 1946, Losey joined the Communist Party USA. He later explained to a French interviewer:[13]

I had a feeling that I was being useless in Hollywood, that I'd been cut off from New York activity and I felt that my existence was unjustified. It was a kind of Hollywood guilt that led me into that kind of commitment. And I think that the work that I did on a much freer, more personal and independent basis for the political left in New York, before going to Hollywood, was much more valuable socially.

Losey was under a long-term contract with Dore Schary at RKO when Howard Hughes purchased the company in 1948 and began purging it of leftists. Losey later explained how Hughes tested employees to determine whether they had communist sympathies:[16]

I was offered a film called I Married a Communist, which I turned down categorically. I later learned that it was a touchstone for establishing who was a "red": you offered I Married a Communist to anybody you thought was a Communist, and if they turned it down, they were.

Hughes responded by holding Losey to his contract without assigning him any work.[13] In mid-1949, Schary persuaded Hughes to release Losey, who soon began working as an independent on The Lawless for Paramount Pictures.[13] Soon he was working on a three-picture contract with Stanley Kramer. His name was mentioned by two witnesses before HUAC in the spring of 1951. Losey's attorney suggested arranging a deal with the committee for testimony in secret. Instead, Losey abandoned his work editing The Big Night[17] and left for Europe while his ex-wife Louise departed for Mexico a few days later. HUAC took weeks to try unsuccessfully to serve them with a subpoena compelling their testimony.[13]

After more than a year working on Stranger on the Prowl in Italy, Losey returned to the U.S. on October 12, 1952. He found himself unemployable:[13]

I was [in the United States] for about a month and there was no work in theatre, no work in radio, no work in education or advertising, and none in films, in anything. For one brief moment, I was going to do the Arthur Miller play The Crucible. Then they got scared because I had been named. So after a month of finding that there was no possible way in which I could make a living in this country, I left. I didn't come back for twelve years.... I didn't stay away for reasons of fear, it was just that I didn't have any money. I didn't have any work.

He returned briefly to Rome and settled in London on January 4, 1953.[13]

Career in Europe[edit]

Losey settled in Britain and worked as a director of genre films. His first British film The Sleeping Tiger (1954), a noir crime thriller, was made under the pseudonym of Victor Hanbury, because the stars of the film, Alexis Smith and Alexander Knox, feared being blacklisted by Hollywood in turn if it became known they had worked with him. The Intimate Stranger (1956) carried a pseudonym as well.[4] His films covered a wide range from the Regency melodrama The Gypsy and the Gentleman (1958) to the gangster film The Criminal (1960).[18]

Losey was also originally slated to direct the Hammer Films production X the Unknown (1956), but after a few days' work the star Dean Jagger refused to work with a supposed Communist sympathiser and Losey was removed from the project. An alternative version is that Losey was replaced due to illness.[19][20] Losey was later hired by Hammer Films to direct The Damned, a 1963 British science fiction film based on H.L. Lawrence's novel "The Children of Light".

In the 1960s, Losey began working with playwright Harold Pinter, in what became a long friendship and initiated a successful screenwriting career for Pinter. Losey directed three enduring classics based on Pinter's screenplays: The Servant (1963), Accident (1967) and The Go-Between (1971). The Servant won three British Academy Film Awards. Accident won the Grand Prix Spécial du Jury award at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival.[21] The Go-Between won the Golden Palm Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival, four prizes at the 1972 BAFTA awards, and Best British Screenplay at the 1972 Writers' Guild of Great Britain awards.[22] Each of the three films examines the politics of class and sexuality in England at the end of the 19th century (The Go-Between) and in the 1960s. In The Servant, a manservant facilitates the moral and psychological degradation of his privileged and rich employer. Accident explores male lust, hypocrisy and ennui among the educated middle class as two Oxford University tutors competitively objectify a student against the backdrop of their seemingly idyllic lives. In The Go-Between, a young middle-class boy, the summer guest of an upper-class family, becomes the messenger for an affair between a working-class farmer and the daughter of his hosts.

Although Losey's films are generally naturalistic, The Servant's hybridisation of Losey's signature Baroque style, film noir, naturalism and expressionism, and both Accident's and The Go-Between's radical cinematography, use of montage, voice over and musical score, amount to a sophisticated construction of cinematic time and narrative perspective that edges this work in the direction of neorealist cinema. All three films are marked by Pinter's sparse, elliptical and enigmatically subtextual dialogue, something Losey often develops a visual correlate for (and occasionally even works against) by means of dense and cluttered mise-en-scène and peripatetic camera work.

In 1966, Losey directed Modesty Blaise, a comedy spy-fi film produced in the United Kingdom and released worldwide in 1966. Sometimes considered a James Bond parody, it was based loosely on the popular comic strip Modesty Blaise by Peter O'Donnell.'

Losey directed Robert Shaw and Malcolm McDowell in the British action film Figures in a Landscape (1970), adapted by Shaw from the novel by Barry England. The film was shot in various locations in Spain.

Losey also worked with Pinter on The Proust Screenplay (1972), an adaptation of A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. Losey died before the project's financing could be assembled.

In 1975, Losey realized a long-planned film adaptation of Brecht's Galileo released as Life of Galileo starring Chaim Topol. Galileo was produced as part of the subscription film series of the American Film Theatre, but shot in the UK. In the context of this production, Losey also made a half-hour film based on Galileo's life.[citation needed]

Losey's Monsieur Klein (1976) examined the day in Occupied France when Jews in and around Paris were arrested for deportation. He said he so completely rejected naturalism in film that in this case he divided his shooting schedule into three "visual categories": Unreality, Reality and Abstract.[3] He demonstrated a facility for working in the French language and Monsieur Klein (1976) gave Alain Delon as star and producer one of French cinema's earliest chances to highlight the background to the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup of French Jews in July 1942.

In 1979, Losey filmed Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, shot in Villa La Rotonda and the Veneto region of Italy; this film was nominated for several César Awards in 1980, including Best Director.

Personal life[edit]

In 1964, Losey told The New York Times: "I'd love to work in America again, but it would have to be just the right thing."[4] He told an interviewer the year before he died that he was not bitter about being blacklisted: "Without it I would have three Cadillacs, two swimming pools and millions of dollars, and I'd be dead. It was terrifying, it was disgusting, but you can get trapped by money and complacency. A good shaking up never did anyone any harm."[2]

Dartmouth College, his alma mater, awarded Losey an honorary degree in 1973.[2] In 1983, the University of Wisconsin–Madison did the same.[2]

Losey married four times and divorced thrice. He married Elizabeth Hawes on July 24, 1937.[23] They had a son, Gavrik Losey, in 1938, but divorced in November 1944.[24] Gavrik helped with the production on some of his father's films. Gavrik's two sons are film directors Marek Losey and Luke Losey.

From 1956 to 1963, Losey was married to British actress Dorothy Bromiley. They had a son, Joshua Losey, born on July 16, 1957, who became an actor. On September 29, 1970, Losey married Patricia Mohan in King's Lynn, Norfolk, shortly after finishing shooting The Go-Between.[25] Patricia Losey went on to adapt Lorenzo Da Ponte's opera libretto for Losey's Don Giovanni and Nell Dunn's play for Steaming.

He died at his home in London on June 22, 1984, following a brief illness, four weeks after completing his last film.[2]

In Guilty by Suspicion, Irwin Winkler's 1991 film about the Hollywood blacklist, McCarthyism, and the activities of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Martin Scorsese plays an American filmmaker named "Joe Lesser" who leaves Hollywood for England rather than face HUAC investigations. The fictional director played by Scorsese is based on Joseph Losey.


Year Title Functioned as Notes
Director Writer Producer
1939 Pete Roleum and His Cousins[26] Yes No No Short film
1941 Youth Gets a Break Yes No No
A Child Went Forth Yes Yes Yes
1945 A Gun in His Hand Yes No No
1947 Leben des Galilei Yes No No
1948 The Boy with Green Hair Yes No No
1950 The Lawless Yes No No
1951 M Yes No No
The Prowler Yes No No
The Big Night Yes Yes No
1952 Stranger on the Prowl Yes No No
1954 The Sleeping Tiger Yes No Yes Nominated- San Sebastián Golden Shell
1955 A Man on the Beach Yes No No Short film
1956 The Intimate Stranger Yes No No
1957 Time Without Pity Yes No No
1958 The Gypsy and the Gentleman Yes No No
1959 Blind Date Yes No No
First on the Road Yes No No Promotional short for the launch of the Ford Anglia 105E
1960 The Criminal Yes No No
1962 Eva Yes No No Nominated- Golden Venice Lion
1963 The Damned Yes No No
1963 The Servant Yes No Yes Cahiers du Cinéma's Top 10 Films of the Year 1964 (10th place)
Nastro d'Argento for Best Foreign Director
Nominated- Golden Venice Lion
Nominated- New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director
1964 King & Country Yes No Yes Nominated- Golden Venice Lion
Nominated- Nastro d'Argento for Best Foreign Director
1966 Modesty Blaise Yes No No Nominated- Palme d'Or
1967 Accident Yes No No Cannes Jury Grand Prize
Nominated- BAFTA Award for Outstanding British Film
Nominated- Palme d'Or
1968 Boom! Yes No No
Secret Ceremony Yes No No
1970 Figures in a Landscape Yes No No
1971 The Go-Between Yes No No Palme d'Or
Sant Jordi Award for Best Foreign Film
Nominated- BAFTA Award for Best Direction
Nominated- Nastro d'Argento for Best Foreign Director
1972 The Assassination of Trotsky Yes No Yes
1973 A Doll's House Yes No Yes
1975 The Romantic Englishwoman Yes No No
Galileo Yes Yes No
1976 Monsieur Klein Yes No No César Award for Best Film
César Award for Best Director
Nominated- Palme d'Or
1978 Roads to the South Yes No No Nominated- Taormina Golden Charybdis
1979 Don Giovanni Yes Yes No Nominated- César Award for Best Film
Nominated- César Award for Best Director
1982 La Truite Yes Yes No Nominated- Golden Venice Lion
1985 Steaming Yes No No

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Ceremony Category Work Result
1954 San Sebastián International Film Festival Golden Shell The Sleeping Tiger Nominated
1962 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Eva Nominated
1963 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion The Servant Nominated
1964 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion The Servant Nominated
Cahiers du Cinéma Top 10 Films of the Year The Servant 10th place
New York Film Critics Circle Best Director The Servant Nominated
1966 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Modesty Blaise Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director King & Country Nominated
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director The Servant Won
1967 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Accident Nominated
1968 BAFTA Awards Outstanding British Film Accident Nominated
1971 Cannes Film Festival Best Film The Go-Between Won
1972 BAFTA Awards Best Direction The Go-Between Nominated
1972 Sant Jordi Awards Best Foreign Film The Go-Between Won
Nastro d'Argento Best Foreign Director The Go-Between Nominated
1976 Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or Monsieur Klein Nominated
1977 César Awards Best Film Monsieur Klein Won
César Awards Best Director Monsieur Klein Won
1978 Taormina Film Fest Golden Charybdis Roads to the South Nominated
1980 César Awards Best Film Don Giovanni Nominated
César Awards Best Director Don Giovanni Nominated
1982 Venice Film Festival Golden Lion La Truite Nominated

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b Brouwer, Scott. "FilmFreaks: Nicholas Ray & Joseph Losey". La Crosse Public Library Archives. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e Apple, R.W. Jr. (June 23, 1984). "Joseph Losey, Film Director Blacklisted in 1950s, Dies at 75". The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  3. ^ a b Brody, Richard (November 8, 2012). "DVD of the Week: Joseph Losey's "Mr. Klein"". The New Yorker. Retrieved April 4, 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d Archer, Eugene (March 15, 1964). "Expatriate Retraces his Steps" (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  5. ^ "Little Ol' Boy". IBDB.com. Internet Broadway Database.
  6. ^ Crowther, Bosley (November 6, 1934). "Fred Stone as a Civil War Senator..." (PDF). The New York Times. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  7. ^ See Michel Ciment: Conversations with Losey. London New York: Methuen, 1985, p. 37.
  8. ^ See Robert Cohen: "Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Losey, and Brechtian Cinema", in "Escape to Life": German Intellectuals in New York: A Compendium on Exile after 1933. Eckart Goebel and Sigrid Weigel (eds.). De Gruyter, 2012. 142–161, here p. 144 ff.
  9. ^ McGilligan, Patrick (2011). Nicholas Ray: The Glorious Failure of an American Director. New York: HarperCollins. pp. 64–65. ISBN 9780062092342.
  10. ^ Atkinson, Brooks (July 25, 1936). "The Play: WPA Journalism". The New York Times.
  11. ^ Joseph Losey, American movie director, dies United Press International. Retrieved October 27, 2021.
  12. ^ a b See Cohen, "Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Losey", p. 149.
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Gardner, Colin (2004). Joseph Losey. Manchester University Press. pp. 8–11. ISBN 9780719067839.
  14. ^ Palmier, Jean-Michel (2006). Weimar in Exile: The Antifascist Emigration In Europe And America. NY: Verso. pp. 532, 802n131. ISBN 9781844670680.
  15. ^ Horowitz, Daniel (1998). Betty Friedan and the Making of the Feminine Mystique: The American Left, the Cold War and Modern Feminism. University of Massachusetts Press. p. 129. ISBN 9781558492769.
  16. ^ Milne, Tom, ed. (1968). Losey on Losey. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company. p. 73.
  17. ^ Hoberman, J. (2011). An Army of Phantoms: American Movies and the Making of the Cold War. NY: The New Press. p. 174. ISBN 9781595580054.
  18. ^ French, Philip (May 23, 2009). "Blacklisted but unbowed". The Guardian. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  19. ^ "R U Sitting Comfortably – Dean Jagger". RUSC.com. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  20. ^ Sanjek, David (March 18, 2016). "Cold, Cold Heart: Joseph Losey's The Damned and the Compensations of Genre". senses of cinema. Retrieved May 2, 2016.
  21. ^ "Accident". Festival Archives. Festival de Cannes. Archived from the original on January 18, 2012. Retrieved April 3, 2013.
  22. ^ "IMDb: Awards for The Go-Between" https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0067144/awards
  23. ^ "Elizabeth Jester Wed" (PDF). The New York Times. July 24, 1937. Retrieved March 31, 2013.
  24. ^ Berch, Bettina (1988). Radical by Design: The Life and Style of Elizabeth Hawes. NY: Dutton. p. 103.
  25. ^ See David Caute: Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life. London: Faber and Faber, 1994, p. 248.
  26. ^ While Losey has been credited as the director of Pete Roleum and his Cousins, Helen van Dongen wrote that he was its producer, and that she had directed and edited the film. See Durant, Helen; Orbanz, Eva (1998). Filming Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story: The Helen Van Dongen Diary. The Museum of Modern Art. p. 121. ISBN 9780870700811. A number of published sources list this as the first film directed by Joseph Losey; however, Helen van Dongen recalls 'Joseph Losey was the producer ... It was I who made all the breakdowns and sketches for the changes in facial expressions and movement frame by frame'.

Further reading[edit]

  • Caute, David (1994). Joseph Losey: A Revenge on Life. Faber and Faber. ISBN 978-0-571-16449-3.
  • Ciment, Michel, Conversations with Losey (New York: Methuen, 1985); originally published as (in French) Ciment, Michel, Le Livre de Losey. Entretiens avec le cinéaste (Paris: Stock/Cinéma, 1979)
  • (in French) Ciment, Michel, Joseph Losey: l'oeil du Maître (Institut Lumière/Actes Sud, 1994)
  • Cohen, Robert, "Bertolt Brecht, Joseph Losey, and Brechtian Cinema". "Escape to Life": German Intellectuals in New York: A Compendium on Exile after 1933. Eckart Goebel and Sigrid Weigel (eds.). De Gruyter, 2012. 142–161. ISBN 978-3112204160
  • DeRahm, Edith, Joseph Losey: An American Director in Exile (Pharos, 1995)
  • Hirsch, Foster, Joseph Losey (Twayne, 1980)
  • Houston, Penelope, "Losey's Paper Handkerchief", Sight and Sound, Summer 1966
  • Jacob, Gilles, "Joseph Losey, or The Camera Calls", Sight and Sound, Spring 1966
  • Leahy, James, The Cinema of Joseph Losey (A. S. Barnes, 1967)
  • (in French) Ledieu, Christian, Joseph Losey (Seghers, 1963)
  • Palmer, Palmer and Michael Riley, The Films of Joseph Losey (Cambridge University Press, 1993)
  • (in Spanish) Vallet, Joaquín, Joseph Losey (Cátedra, 2010)

External links[edit]