Growing up, I paid little attention to the Director title card. Oh sure, Hitchcock, Spielberg, Ridley Scott, George Pal... there were some names I always knew, but on the majority of the older films I grew up watching, I couldn't have told you who directed them. (With the exception of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea because there were two versions of the movie poster on my wall so I read Richard Fleischer's name every day.) Even college film courses weren't enough to really make me start paying attention. I'd watch movies for who starred in them, but not for who made them. It wasn't until much more recently that things started clicking. And the director who got me thinking about diectors was John Frankenheimer.
I absolutely loved Ronin, and I loved Frankenheimer's commentary on the DVD. His commentary on The Train was also outstanding. I think I enjoy listening to him talk about filmmaking as much as I enjoy his films. But he was the first director whose films I actively sought out, without caring who was in them, just to revel in how he put a movie together. I did the same to some extent with Otto Preminger.
But what sent me off on this topic right now was realizing last night that three of my top ten favorite movies of all time are directed by one man. There are no other repeat directors on my list. What made me realize they were all directed by the same person was the fact that all three films are scored by Frank de Vol and, like many memorable pairings of director and composer, de Vol seems to have scored a large chunk of Robert Aldrich's movies.
The Dirty Dozen, The Flight of the Phoenix, and Kiss Me Deadly are all on my top ten film list. All scored by de Vol, all directed by Aldrich. But my love of Aldrich's films doesn't stop there. The Frisco Kid and Attack are also favorites a bit farther down the list... Emperor of the North and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I only saw once, but I still remember both quite well, they made a serious impression on me. I'm not sure there's an Aldrich movie I don't like, though there's quite a few I haven't seen yet. I'd like to say I love Twilight's Last Gleaming, but alas, I've never seen the movie, only listened to the score (which is by Jerry Goldsmith, not de Vol, and what a score it is).
I wouldn't say there's anything necessarily recognizable about Aldrich's direction or style. Honestly, I couldn't have even told you he directed Flight of the Phoenix, a movie I've seen bajillion times, until I watched it again last night and paid attention. (I don't know if it's good or bad that 9 times out of 10 I can tell you who scored a movie, but not who directed it!) But his films are smart and well-written, with memorable characters, cleanly directed, no fuss, no frills, and with no fancy-schmancy stuff. I think perhaps it's an even higher compliment to say I don't notice his direction, that his films suck me in, don't let go, and I never get thrown out of the moment because of some distinctive camera work or unusual editing or the like. It's just seamless entertainment. I have an extremely hard time turning off his films, even though I've seen my favorites so many times I can quote the whole film back to you. His films just don't get old no matter how times I see them. They also don't feel dated. And there's nothing I want to change about them. They're perfect as they are.
So, if asked to name my favorite director, I will name Robert Aldrich first and John Frankenheimer second. William Wyler, Billy Wilder, Richard Fleisher, and Jacques Tourneur would follow close behind.
(And how come there aren't more de Vol scores out on CD??)