Arguably one of the most successful filmmakers in Hollywood, especially during the 1950s, director Fred Zinnemann won two Academy Awards for "From Here to Eternity" (1953) and "A Man for All Seasons" (1966), while helming such classic films as "The Search" (1948), "High Noon" (1952), "The Nun's Story" (1959) and "The Day of the Jackal" (1973) among others (TMC). His films were celebrated for their exacting sense of realism, a technique he had adopted from working with documentarian Robert Flaherty, as well as their adventurous casting and numerous acting discoveries (Ebert). Such legendary stars as Montgomery Clift and Shirley Jones received their start under Zimmermann, while Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed claimed Oscars for playing solidly against type in "From Here to Eternity," one of the best films of the 1950s. Over the course of his five-decade career, his reputation help fast as a versatile, reliable filmmakers who knew how to produce the best work from his cast and crew.
Zinnemann once worked as an extra in Lewis Milestone’s “All Quiet on the Western Front” in 1930, before later serving as an editor and later assistant to the documentary filmmaker Robert Flaherty. From Flaherty, whom he would credit as having the most significant impact on his life and work, Zinnemann learned to impart the sense of realism within a narrative film that earmarked all of his later work.
In 1950, he directed a film called “The Man” which featured Marlon Brando in his first screen role as a paraplegic veteran and were well regarded. However, Zinnemann's next film, "High Noon" (1952) firmly established him as one of Hollywood's top directors. A powerful Western drama about a marshal, played by Gary Cooper, forced to face down a trio of killers out for revenge, the film's novel chronology, which unfolded in real time, and genre-breaking script, which drew comparisons to the HUAC proceedings that were currently taking place in Washington, helped it win four Academy Awards, including Cooper for Best Actor, while Zinnemann earned his second Oscar nomination for direction. He soon commenced on a string of high-profile films in the 1950s that would cement his position as one of the industry's great filmmakers.
Zinnemann's post-"High Noon" work was earmarked by both his versatility in different genres, as well as his talent for unusual casting choices that paid off in spades for both actor and director. Deborah Kerr was tapped to play an adulterous Army wife in the sprawling World War II epic "From Here to Eternity in 1953. Donna Reed also broke from her established girl-next-door screen persona to play a prostitute in the film, which earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, but the picture's most transformative casting was undoubtedly Frank Sinatra, who was at a career ebb when he replaced Eli Wallach as the doomed Maggio. The role also won Sinatra an Oscar, as well as a new shot at stardom. The film dealt with the gritty realities of war, love and betrayal. "From Here to Eternity" would net eight Oscars in all, including Best Picture and Zinnemann's first Oscar for Best Director.
Zinnemann followed the success of "From Here to Eternity" with "Oklahoma!" in 1955, a big-screen adaptation of the Broadway musical that featured the debuts of its star, Shirley Jones, as well as the wide-screen format Todd-AO (TMC). Audiences were just experiencing films being shown in wide screen and Oklahoma filmed the beauitiful simplicy of the countryside.
The film is remenicant of the more traditional American values of the 1950s. The cinematography and light-hearted storyline mesmerized audiences and has become one of the quintessential classic Hollywood musicals.
Clearly Zinnemann’s career was guided by a variety of genre choices and a series of highly successful actors, he often used repeatedly. His films are some of the best in Hollywood and have been extremely influential as examples of auteur theory and the beauty in creating art in the film industry.