Oscar Directors: Litvak, Anatole (The Snake Pit)

Born on May 10, 1902, in Kiev, Russia, Michael Anatol Litwak was the son of a Jewish bank manager.

He began working at age 14 as a stagehand at an avant-garde theater in St. Petersburg. Later, he studied philosophy at the University of St. Petersburg, attended a state dramatic school, and joined a Leningrad stage troupe as an actor and assistant director.

He entered films in 1923 as an assistant director and set decorator at the Nordkino studios, and the following year collaborated on some scripts and directed his first film, Tatiana.

In 1925 he left Russia for Western Europe, and for the next 10 years he worked in Germany, Eng­land, and France. In Germany he was an editor on G. W. Pabst’s Die freudlose Gasse/Street of Sorrow/Joyless Street (1925) and assistant director on several productions before beginning to direct for UFA in 1930. During this period he was known as Anatol Lutwak.

A Jew, Litvak left Germany with the advent of the Nazism.  After directing one film in England, he joined Pathe in Paris, for which he directed several films, such as L’Equipage/Flight Into Darkness (1935) and a successful version of Mayerling (1936), starring Charles Boyer and Danielle Dar­rieux.

Litvak was invited to Hollywood in 1937, and for the next 20 years enjoyed commercial success with many productions at Warn­ers, Fox, and other studios.

During WW II, Litvak served with the U.S. armed forces, rising to the rank of colonel by the end of the war. He collaborated with Frank Capra on the Army’s “Why We Fight” series and was put in charge of combat photography and motion picture operations during the Normandy invasion.

He was awarded the Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre and other decorations. After the war, he returned to Hol­lywood, where he was established as a proficient, if not always inspired, director.

Critical acclaim for his work was less consistent. He was praised for two films of the late 1940s, Sorry Wrong Number (1948), starring Barbara Stanwyck and Burt Lancaster, a tense melodrama adapted from a radio thriller about a woman over­hearing a murder scheme on the telephone.

The other film, The Snake Pit (1948), a gripping account of conditions at a mental institution, in which Litvak effectively combined elements of drama and documentary. It was nominated for Academy Award as Best Picture and for Best Director, and won an International Prize at the 1949 Venice Festival “for a daring inquiry into a clinical case dramatically performed.”

Litvak was also praised for the WWII drama, Decision Before Dawn (1951), which received a Best Picture nomination.

In the 1950s, he began working intermittently in Europe and in the early 1960s he adopted Paris as his home, where he made Goodbey Again (aks Aimez Vous Brahms), starring Ingrid Bergman, Yves Montand, and Anthony Perkins.

Litvak was married to actress Miriam Hopkins from 1937 to 1939.

Oscar Record:

Litvak received one Best Director nomination in 1948