Oscar Profile #462: Philip Dunne

Born February 11, 1908, Philip Ives Dunne was the son of syndicated columnist and humorist Finley Peter Dunne and champion golfer Margaret Ives Abbott Dunne who had been the first ever female gold medalist at the 1900 Olympics when golf was an Olympic sport. Her mother was novelist Mary Ives Abbott.

Both Dunne and his older brother, Finley Peter Dunne, Jr. followed the family tradition and became writers. Both went to Hollywood, but Philip was by far the more successful. His first credited screenplay was 1934’s The Count of Monte Cristo. Other early works included 1935’s Magnificent Obsession and 1936’s The Last of the Mohicans after which he went to work for 20th Century-Fox where he remained for the next 35 years.

Having been one of the co-founders of the Screen Writers Guild, he served as Vice President of its successor, the Writers Guild of America from 1938 to1940. His films during this period included Suez, Stanley and Livingstone and The Rains Came. In 1939 he married actress Amanda Duff with whom he had three children and would remain married to for the rest of his life.

Oscar nominated for his screenplay for the 1941 Oscar winner, How Green Was My Valley, Dunne served on the Academy’s Board of Director from 1946-1948 after four years of war service. In 1947 he co-founded the Committee for the First Amendment (HUAC) with John Huston and William Wyler in protest against the House Un-American Activities Committee. Although he worked with many actors, writers and directors who would be called before HUAC, including Dalton Trumbo on whose behalf he testified, he himself was never accused of being a Communist.

Dunne’s late 1940s successes included The Late George Apley, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, Forever Amber, The Luck of the Irish and Pinky. His story and screenplay for 1951’s David and Bathsheba earned him a second Oscar nomination.

The success of David and Bathsheba led to Dunne’s assignment on three more sword and sandal epics as they were then called, The Robe, Demetrius and the Gladiators and The Egyptian. Turning to direction at the request of Fox chief Darryl F. Zanuck, Dunne directed nine films for Fox between 1955 and 1962 including Prince of Players, Hilda Crane, Ten North Frederick, In Love and War, Blue Denim and Lisa. His last film for the studio was 1965’s The Agony and the Ecstasy for which he wrote the screenplay.

Dunne’ solo post-Fox film was 1966’s Blindfold for Universal, which he both wrote and directed. Michael Mann’s 1992 film, The Last of the Mohicans was based on his 1936 screenplay for the previous version of John Fennimore Cooper’s classic.

Philip Dunne died June 2, 1992 at 84. A week before his death he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Writers’ Guild.

ESSENTIAL FILMS

HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941), directed by John Ford

Although Ford’s favorite film won five out of the ten Oscars it was nominated for, Dunne’s terrific screenplay was not one of them. It lost to Here Comes Mr. Jordan. When Sara Allgood complained that a certain scene wouldn’t play, Ford called Dunne to the set and relayed her opinion to him. Knowing how Ford worked, Dunne ripped the scene out of the script and said, “Now it plays!” Ford turned to Allgood and said, “The son of a bitching writer won’t do anything to help us, so we’ll have to shoot it the way he wrote it.” I don’t know which scene it was, but Allgood, like the rest of the cast, was perfect in all of them.

PINKY (1949), directed by Elia Kazan

The acting was the thing in this one, with Jeanne Crain and the Ethels, Barrymore and Waters, nominated for their performances. The script, originally written by Dudley Nichols under, John Ford’s direction was revised by Dunne when Kazan was brought in to replace Ford who Fox’s Darryl F. Zanuck felt wasn’t connecting with the material. Both Nichols and Dunne receive screenplay credit but only Kazan is credited with the film’s direction, such is the difference in rules between the two disciplines. Dunne would receive his second Oscar nomination for his next screenplay for 1951’s David and Bathsheba.

THE ROBE (1953), directed by Henry Koster

Although Dunne enjoyed working on the Old Testament biblical epic, David and Bathsheba, he did not enjoy working on this New Testament sword and sandal epic which he did purely as a favor to Zanuck. Unbeknownst to Dunne, blacklisted writer Albert Maltz also worked on the film. Maltz’s name was not added to the credits until its release on DVD after Dunne’s death. His widow said he would have been happy to share credit with Maltz. Despite his dislike in working on the screenplay, Dunne nevertheless next wrote the screenplay for the film’s equally successful sequel, Demetrius and the Gladiators.

TEN NORTH FREDERICK (1958), directed by Philip Dunne

One of the nine films Dunne directed for Fox between 1955 and 1962, he also adapted John O’Hara’s best-seller for the screen. Spencer Tracy had originally been cast in the lead ut withdrew to star in The Last Hurrah for John Ford. Gary Cooper was then cast against type as the failed politician unhappily married to Geraldine Fitzgerald who finds late-in- life love with daughter Diane Varsi’s roommate, Suzy Parker. Cooper, who felt uncomfortable in the role, would soon return to form in Man of the West and The Hanging Tree and Dunne would soon direct Elvis Presley in Wild in the Country.

BLINDFOLD (1966), directed by Philip Dunne

Dunne’s only post-Fox film was sadly not one of his best, either as writer or director. Following in the footsteps of several Universal films pairing older actors with younger actresses such as Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn in Charade and Gregory Peck and Diane Baker in Mirage, Dunne directs Rock Hudson and Claudia Cardinale in this strained comedy-drama in which the comedy overwhelms the dramatic tension at the most inopportune moments. Hudson fared much better in the same year’s Seconds as did Cardinale in the same year’s The Professionals.

PHILIP DUNNE AND OSCAR

  • How Green Was My Valley (1941) – nominated – Best Writing, Screenplay
  • David and Bathsheba (1951) – nominated – Best Story and Screenplay

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