Oscar Directors: Dassin, Jules–Background, Career, Awards, Filmography

August 26, 2020

Jules Dassin Career Summary:

Occupational Inheritance: No

Social Class: working class; parents immigrants

Nationality: US

Race/Ethnicity: Jewish

Education:

Training: Actor (Yiddish); assistant director;

First Film: Nazi Agent, 1942; age 31

Turning point: 1947 Brute Force, 1947; age 36;  The Naked City, 1948; aged 37

First Oscar Nomination: Never on Sunday (Greek film), 1960; aged 49

Other Nominations:

Genre (specialties): crime; noir

Collaborators: Melina Mercouri; 6 or 7 films

Masterpiece: Night and the City; Rififi, 1955; age 44

Last Film: 1980; aged 69

Contract:

Career Output: 24 features

Career Span: 4 decades, 1942-1980

Marriage: 2, violinist; actress (Melina Mercouri)

Politics: Liberal; blacklisted

Retirement:

Death: 2008; age 96

Julius “Jules” Dassin (December 18, 1911 – March 31, 2008) was an American film director, producer, writer and actor. He was a subject of the Hollywood blacklist as he was a member of the Communist Party USA, and subsequently moved to France, where he continued his career.

Dassin was born in Middletown, Connecticut, one of 8 children of Berthe Vogel and Samuel Dassin, a barber. His parents were both Jewish immigrants from Odessa, in modern-day Ukraine.

Dassin grew up in Harlem and went to Morris High School in the Bronx. During his youth he attended Camp Kinderland, the left-wing Yiddish youth camp. He joined the Communist Party USA in the 1930s and left it after the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939.

Dassin started as an actor with the ARTEF (Yiddish Proletarian Theater) company in New York. He collaborated on a film with Jack Skurnick that was uncompleted because of Skurnick’s early death.

In 1940 he moved to Hollywood and became an assistant director at RKO Pictures before moving to MGM where he made short films, “The Tell-Tale Heart” (1941) which led to him being promoted to direct feature films.

Dassin quickly became better known for his noir films Brute Force (1947), The Naked City (1948), and Thieves’ Highway (1949), which helped him to become regarded as “one of the leading American filmmakers of the postwar era.”

Dassin said Darryl F. Zanuck in 1948 called him into his office to inform him he would be blacklisted, but he still had enough time to make a movie for Fox. Dassin was blacklisted in Hollywood during the production of Night and the City (1950). He was not allowed on the studio property to edit or oversee the musical score for the film. He also had trouble finding work abroad, as U.S. distribution companies blacklisted the U.S. distribution of any European film associated with artists blacklisted in Hollywood. In 1952, after Dassin had been out of work for two years, actress Bette Davis hired him to direct her in the Broadway revue Two’s Company. The show closed early, however, and Dassin left for Europe.

Dassin did not work as a film director again until Rififi in 1955 (a French production), his most influential film and an early work in the “heist film” genre. He won the Best Director award for the film at the 1955 Cannes Film Festival. It inspired later heist films, such as Ocean’s Eleven (1960), and Dassin’s own heist film Topkapi (1964), filmed in France and Istanbul, Turkey with his future second wife, Melina Mercouri and Oscar winner Peter Ustinov.

Most of Dassin’s films in the decades following the blacklist are European productions. His prolific later career in Europe and the affiliation with Greece through his second wife, combined with a common pronunciation of his surname as “Da-SAN” in Europe, as opposed to “DASS-in” in the United States leads to a common misconception that he was a European director.

At the Cannes Film Fes in May 1955 he met Melina Mercouri, Greek actress and wife of Panos Harokopos.  He discovered the literary works of Nikos Kazantzakis; these two elements created a bond with Greece. Dassin next made He Who Must Die (1957) based on Kazantzakis’ Christ Recrucified and in which Mercouri appeared. She went on to star in his Never on Sunday (1960) for which she won best actress at the Cannes Film Festival. She then starred in his next 3 films: Phaedra (1962), Topkapi (1964) and 10:30 P.M. Summer (1966).

He divorced his first wife, Béatrice Launer, in 1962 and married Mercouri in 1966. She later starred in his Promise at Dawn (1970)—during the filming of which, Dassin broke both his legs and later A Dream of Passion (1978).

Dassin was considered a major Philhellene to the point of Greek officials describing him as a “first generation Greek”. Along with Mercouri, he opposed the Greek military junta.

The couple had to leave Greece after the colonels’ coup in 1967. In 1970 they were accused of having financed an attempt to overthrow the dictatorship, but the charges were quickly dropped. Dassin and Mercouri lived in New York City during the 1970s; then, when the military dictatorship in Greece fell in 1974, they returned to Greece and lived out their lives there. In 1974 he and Mercouri made The Rehearsal about the junta.

While Mercouri became involved with politics and won a parliamentary seat, Dassin stayed with movie-making in Europe. In 1982 he was a member of the jury at the 34th Berlin Film Fest.

Dassin died from complications of influenza at the age of 96; he was survived by his two daughters and his grandchildren. Upon his death, the Greek prime minister Costas Karamanlis released a statement: “Greece mourns the loss of a rare human being, a significant artist and true friend. His passion, his relentless creative energy, his fighting spirit and his nobility will remain unforgettable.”

A major supporter of the return of the Parthenon Marbles to Athens, for which he established the Melina Mercouri Institution in her memory after her death in 1994, he died a few months before the opening ceremony of the New Acropolis Museum

Dassin married twice. Before his marriage to Mercouri, he married Béatrice Launer in 1937; she was a New York–born,  Jewish–American violinist (aka Beatrice Launer-Dassin; 1913–1994),[10] a graduate of the Juilliard School of Music. They divorced in 1962. Their children were Joseph Ira Dassin, better known as Joe Dassin (1938–80), a popular French singer in the 1970s; songwriter Richelle “Rickie” Dassin (born 1940); and actress–singer Julie Dassin (born 1944; also known as Julie D.).

Preservation
The Academy Film Archive has preserved Jules Dassin’s film Night and the City, including the British and pre-release versions.

In 2000, Rialto pictures restored and released Rififi theatrically, and then released on home video through The Criterion Collection and Arrow Films.

Filmography

Director Producer Writer Actor Role Notes
1941 The Tell-Tale Heart Yes
1942 Nazi Agent Yes
The Affairs of Martha Yes
Reunion in France Yes
1943 Young Ideas Yes
1944 The Canterville Ghost Yes
1946 Two Smart People Yes
A Letter for Evie Yes
1947 Brute Force Yes
1948 The Naked City Yes
1949 Thieves’ Highway Yes
1950 Night and the City Yes
1955 Rififi Yes Yes Yes César le Milanais
1957 He Who Must Die Yes Yes
1959 The Law Yes Yes
1960 Never on Sunday Yes Yes Yes Yes Homer Thrace
1962 Phaedra Yes Yes Yes Yes Christo Uncredited
1964 Topkapi Yes Yes Yes Turkish cop Uncredited
1966 10:30 P.M. Summer Yes Yes Yes
1968 Survival 1967 Yes Yes
1968 Uptight Yes Yes Yes
1970 Promise at Dawn Yes Yes Yes Yes Ivan Mosjukine
1974 The Rehearsal Yes Yes Yes Himself
1978 A Dream of Passion Yes Yes Yes
1980 Circle of Two Yes