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            Anatole Litvak


            The distinguished film director Anatole Litvak was born in the Ukrainian city of Kiev, the son of Jewish parents. His very first job was as a stage hand, then as an actor in 1915, performing at a little-known experimental theatre in St.Petersburg. Still a teenager, he witnessed the Russian Revolution and the consequent nationalisation of all theaters and drama schools. At this time, Litvak decided to quit the stage and join the burgeoning Soviet Cinema. He was given a job at the Leningrad Nordkino studio, starting as a set designer, but before long working his way up to directing short features, notably 'Tatiana', 'a film about children', in 1925. That same year, he left for Berlin, first editing the Georg Wilhelm Pabst-directed Greta Garbo classic Die freudlose Gasse (1925) ('The Joyless Street'), then directing short features, and, finally, motion pictures. The most important of these was the romantic comedy Dolly macht Karriere (1930).

            His stay in Germany was cut short by Hitler's rise to power and Litvak moved on to France, where he directed a filming of the Mayerling (1936) tragedy, starring Charles Boyerand Danielle Darrieux. This production was the turning point in Litvak's career, being a major international hit on both sides of the Atlantic. He received abundant praise from Frank S. Nugent of the New York Times, who commented on the director's 'superb assembling of scenes' and the 'matchless performances' of the stars (September 14,1937). Hollywood soon beckoned, and, from 1937 to 1941, Anatole Litvak became a contract director for Warner Brothers. His first film was The Woman I Love (1937), which starred his future wife Miriam Hopkins. His experience with diverse aspects of stagecraft, as well as speaking four languages (Russian, German, French and English), enabled him to competently tackle a wide variety of subjects, from sophisticated continental comedy (Tovarich (1937) to historical drama (Anastasia (1956) and romance (All This, and Heaven Too (1940).

            Litvak was at his best directing taut, suspenseful crime dramas, such as The Amazing Dr. Clitterhouse (1938) with Edward G. Robinson and Humphrey Bogart, praised by Variety as 'an unquestionable winner'; and two tough actioners starring John Garfield, Castle on the Hudson (1940) and Out of the Fog (1941). Having become an American citizen in 1940, Litvak enlisted in the army and collaborated with Frank Capra on the wartime 'Why we Fight' series of documentaries. Finishing the war with the rank of colonel, he returned to Hollywood to direct the famous thriller Sorry, Wrong Number (1948) with Barbara Stanwyck. Possibly his best film was the superb psychological drama The Snake Pit (1948), the first instance of seriously dealing with the treatment of mental illness in a motion picture. Litvak was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Director, but lost out to John Huston for Comoara din Sierra Madre (1948).

            In 1949, the director, who had once described Hollywood as a 'Mecca', returned to Europe and settled in Paris, working only infrequently. Notable among his later efforts are two contrasting films with Ingrid Bergman: the lavishly produced Anastasia (1956), about a woman claiming to be the Romanoff Dynasty's last living direct descendant), and the sad, introspective romantic drama Goodbye Again (1961), shot on location in Paris. In stark thematic contrast to these, he also directed the suspenseful war/crime drama Noaptea generalilor (1967) (with Peter O'Toole). Anatole Litvak died in a hospital in Neuilly, Paris, in December 1974 at the age of 72.