Losey, Joseph: Centennial Celebration (1909-1984)

2009–This year marks the centennial of the brilliant director Joseph Losey, labeled by some critics as “the most European of American directors,” who spent the best years of his career in exile in London due to political problems.

Over the next several months, we will run long reviews of each of Losey’s pictures.

Losey was born January 14, l909, to a family whose American roots predated the American Revolution, as Joseph Walton Losey III, in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Losey was educated at Dartmouth College, where he studied medicine and then Harvard University, where he majored in English literature, in 1930.

Moving to New York City to work in the theater, he directed his first play, Little Ol’ Boy, three years later. Directing for both political theater groups and the WPA's “Living Newspaper” productions, Losey combined an anti-realist aesthetic with radical political views.

In l935, he studied under Sergei Eisenstein in Moscow, where he also met Brecht. He began to work in film in l938, making educational documentaries for the Rockefeller Foundation. In l947, he directed the world premiere of Brecht’s “Galileo Galilei,” a play he would film in l975.

Charles Laughton, who had worked with Brecht on the translation, played the lead role; Losey also made a half hour film based on Galileo’s life.

Losey directed his first feature, “The Boy With Green Hair,” with the then child actor Dean Stockwell, in l948. By l951 he had directed several films, including a remake of Fritz Lang’s classic “M.”

During the McCarthy Era, Losey was investigated for his alleged connection to the Communist Party and was blacklisted by the Hollywood, which forced him to go exile to London, where he continued working as a director.

His first British film, “The Sleeping Tiger,” in 1954, was a noir crime thriller, made under the pseudonym of Victor Hanbury, and starring Alexis Smith and Alexander Knox. After assigned to helm the Hammer Films production, “X the Unknown,” production stopped when actor Dean Jagger refused to work with a “Communist sympathizer.” As David Thomson pointed out, although none of Losey's Hollywood films expressed his personal radical views, they expressed recurrent themes such as paranoia and hysteria, offering relevant commentary on the political climate of the day.

In the 1960s, the best decade in his career, Losey established international fame with cerebral critics and sophisticated art film audiences, as a result of his creative collaboration with Britain’s best playwright at the time, Harold Pinter. The two artists teamed on three films: “The Servant” (1963), “Accident” (1967) and “The Go-Between” (1971). All three were highly acclaimed and were nominated for awards; “Go-Between” won the Golden Palm Award at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.

Each of the Pinter-Losey films examined the British class system in their reflection of the master-servant relationship (as in The Servant) and the illicit affair between the Julie Christie and Alan Bates in The Go-Between, while, in Accident, the world of Oxford dons and their extra marital relationships chronicles hypocrisy and decadence amongst the educated middle class. Losey's sharp and poignant imagery illuminated the ambiguous, often silent (or minimalist dialogue) nature of Pinter’s texts.

In 1975, Losey realized a long-planned adaptation of Galileo (aka Life of Galileo) by Brecht. Galileo was produced for TV and financed in part by the American Film Theatre.

In 1979, Losey filmed Mozart's opera Don Giovanni, shot in Villa La Rotonda and the Veneto region of Italy.

Losey was married to British actress Dorothy Bromiley for seven years; their son Joshua Losey is an actor. His second son, Gavrik Losey, with the fashion designer-author Elizabeth Hawes, worked on some of his productions. Losey's third and last marriage was to the former Patricia Mohan, who adapted Lorenzo Da Ponte’s libretto for “Don Giovanni,” and Nell Dunn’s play “Steaming,” which became his last picture (he died June 22, l984), released posthumously after world-premiering at the 1985 Cannes Film Festival.