Mamoulian, Rouben: Director’s Career, Vision, Filmography

“In directing, I used the principle of integration, taking all the elements into one stylized rhythmic pattern”–Mamoulian

Mamoulian opted for a stylized look, with stronger interest in creating a poetic look than in ordinary realism. Becky Sharp and Blood and Sand demonstrated in their heightened use of Technicolor his sense of aesthetics.

Rouben Zachary Mamoulian born on October 8, 1897; he died December 4, 1987 at age 90.

Mamoulian was born in Tbilisi, Georgia (then part of imperial Russia), to an Armenian family. His mother Virginia was a director of the Armenian theatre, and his father Zachary Mamoulian was a bank president.

Mamoulian began directing plays in London in 1922. He was brought to the U.S. the next year by Vladimir Rosing to teach at the Eastman School of Music and was involved in directing opera and theatre.

In 1925, Mamoulian was head of the School of Drama, where he produced a short, two-color film, The Flute of Krishna, with Eastman students.

Mamoulian began his Broadway director career with a production of DuBose Heyward’s Porgy, which opened on October 10, 1927. He directed Wings Over Europe from late 1928 to 1929. He directed the revival of Porgy in 1929 along with George Gershwin’s operatic treatment Porgy and Bess, which opened on October 10, 1935. Mamoulian was also the first to stage such notable Broadway works as Oklahoma! (1943), Carousel (1945), and Lost in the Stars (1949).

In 1929, he directed his first feature, Applause, a landmark sound film due t0 the innovative use of camera movement and sound.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in 1931, was a bold film, made before the Production Code; it’s considered the best version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s tale.

Queen Christina (1933) was the last Garbo film with John Gilbert.

The musical film Love Me Tonight was released in 1932 to great acclaim.

In 1935, he directed the first three-strip Technicolor film Becky Sharp, based on Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, then the musical High, Wide, and Handsome in 1937.

The Mark of Zorro (1940) and Blood and Sand (1941), both remakes of silent films, were his most popular features, using color schemes based on the work of Spanish artists such as Diego Velázquez and El Greco.

His 1942 screwball comedy Rings on Her Fingers, starring Henry Fonda and Gene Tierney, was popular.

Mamoulian’s last completed musical film was MGM’s 1957 film version of the Cole Porter musical Silk Stockings, based on the 1939 Ninotchka, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse.

He was fired from two consecutive films: Porgy and Bess (1959) and Cleopatra (1963). He previously had been fired as director of Laura (1944).

After directing the highly successful stage productions of Oklahoma! and Carousel, he worked on St. Louis Woman, with Pearl Bailey.

In 1930, Mamoulian became a naturalized citizen of the U.S.  His allegiance to the DGA, and his general unwillingness to compromise, contributed to his being targeted in the Hollywood blacklisting of the 1950s.

He died of natural causes on December 4, 1987, at the age of 90, in Woodland Hills, California.

Critical Status:

In 1982 Mamoulian received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Directors Guild of America (DGA).

In 2019, Becky Sharp was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Filmography[edit]

1929: Applause
Paramount
Helen Morgan

1931: City Streets
Paramount
Gary Cooper / Sylvia Sidney

1931: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Paramount
Fredric March / Miriam Hopkins

1932: Love Me Tonight
Paramount
Maurice Chevalier / Jeanette MacDonald

1933
The Song of Songs
Paramount
Marlene Dietrich / Brian Aherne

1933
Queen Christina
MGM
Greta Garbo / John Gilbert

1934
We Live Again
Samuel Goldwyn Co.
Fredric March / Anna Sten

1935
Becky Sharp
Pioneer Pictures
Miriam Hopkins / Cedric Hardwicke
first three-strip Technicolor film
1936
The Gay Desperado
Pickford-Lasky
Nino Martini / Ida Lupino / Leo Carrillo

1937
High, Wide, and Handsome
Paramount
Irene Dunne / Randolph Scott / Charles Bickford

1939
Golden Boy
Columbia
Barbara Stanwyck / William Holden

1940
The Mark of Zorro
20th Century Fox
Tyrone Power / Linda Darnell

1941
Blood and Sand
20th Century Fox
Tyrone Power / Linda Darnell / Rita Hayworth
Technicolor film
1942
Rings on Her Fingers
20th Century Fox
Gene Tierney / Henry Fonda

1948: Summer Holiday
MGM
Mickey Rooney / Gloria de Haven / Walter Huston
Technicolor film

1957: Silk Stockings
MGM
Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse
Metrocolor film

Projects he worked on:

1944: Laura
20th Century Fox
Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb, Dana Andrews
fired, footage unused

1952: The Wild Heart
David O. Selznick
Jennifer Jones
shot extra scenes for the U.S. version of Gone to Earth

1959: Porgy and Bess
Samuel Goldwyn Co.
Sidney Poitier, Dorothy Dandridge
fired, one scene used

1963: Cleopatra
20th Century Fox
Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison
resigned, footage unused

Books

Luhrssen, David. Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen. University of Kentucky Press, 2013.