Richard Fleischer

(Copyright © 1999-2024 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

4.0 Child of Divorce (1946)
4.0 Banjo (1947)
4.0 Bodyguard (1948)
5.0 So This Is New York (1948)
5.0 Trapped (1949)
6.0 The Clay Pigeon (1949)
6.0 Follow me Quietly (1949)
6.0 Armored Car Robbery (1950)
7.0 Narrow Margin (1952)
4.0 The Happy Time (1952)
4.0 Arena (1953)
5.0 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954)
6.5 Violent Saturday (1955)
6.3 The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955)
4.0 Bandido (1956)
4.0 Between Heaven And Hell (1956)
4.0 The Vikings (1958)
6.0 Compulsion (1959)
6.0 These Thousand Hills (1959)
5.0 Crack in the Mirror (1960)
5.0 Barabbas (1961)
5.0 The Big Gamble (1961)
7.0 Fantastic Voyage (1966)
6.5 Doctor Dolittle (1967)
6.0 Boston Strangler (1968)
5.0 Che (1969)
5.0 Tora Tora Tora (1970)
6.0 10 Rillington Place (1971)
6.0 Last Run (1971)
7.0 See No Evil (1971)
6.5 New Centurions (1972)
5.0 The Don Is Dead (1973)
7.5 Soylent Green (1973)
6.0 Spikes Gang (1974)
5.0 Mr Majestic (1974)
5.0 Mandingo (1975)
5.0 The Incredible Sarah (1976)
5.0 The Prince and the Pauper (1977)
4.0 Ashanti (1979)
4.0 The Jazz Singer (1980)
4.0 Tough Enough (1982)
4.0 Amityville 3D (1983)
5.0 Conan the Destroyer (1984)
5.0 Red Sonya (1985)
5.0 Million Dollar Mystery (1987)

Richard Fleischer (USA, 1916), son of Polish-born animator Max Fleischer, started out with documentaries, in particular Design for Death (1947), and debuted in narrative cinema with Child of Divorce (1946), an adaptation of Leopold Atlas' theatrical play "Wednesday's Child" (1934).

Then came Banjo (1947), Bodyguard (1948), and the screwball comedy So This Is New York (1948).

The film noirs Trapped (1949) and The Clay Pigeon (1949) introduced a more austere style, confirmed by the short thriller Follow me Quietly (1949).

A female reporter, Ann, is looking for a police detective, Harry, who is investigating the case of a serial strangler who calls himself "The Judge". Harry is hostile and even insults her, even if they have never met before. Harry is called urgently for another murder and comments that the maniac only strikes on rainy nights. The new victim is a journalist, who is still alive and, before dying, dictates the article about his own murder. Ann followed the detective and begs him for a scoop, but he despises her morbid curiosity that is not useful to catch the criminal. She shows up later at his apartment and is shocked to see how attractive Harry is in plain clothes. He toys with her and eventually signs a paper authorizing her to cover the story. Harry does not know the face of the killer but has so many clues that is able to design a dummy and have it built. Ann would like to publish the story but Harry gets mad at her: the dummy is for the police only to know. One night, noticing that it started raining, Harry starts talking to the dummy, that is sitting on a chair. After all the police officers exit the room, the dummy gets up: it is not a dummy, but a real human. He grabs the dummy, puts it on the chair and leaves the room. Since it is a rainy night, the police are on maximum alert. Ann's persistence eventually pays off: when they call that a new body showed up, Harry takes her with him. This time they find a magazine, and Ann gives Harry an important clue: it could only have been bought at a second-hand store. One of the store owners recognizes the dummy. A waitress then recognizes the dummy as one of her restaurant's customers, Charlie. His landlord describes him as a regular guy. They wait for him, but he senses that something is wrong and runs. Harry chases him into a factory and arrests him. But Charlie seems afraid of some liquid spilling from the ceiling and, panicking, he almost frees himself. Instead, he falls to his death.

Armored Car Robbery (1950) is a brief detective movie that sped through a typical heist plot while emphasizing the high-tech methods of the police.

Dave is a legendary thief who has pulled robberies that sounded impossible, the last one being investigated by a brilliant detective, Cordell. He has a new plan to rob an armored car. He is in cahoots with Benny and two of Benny's friends. Benny is a failed gigolo who is despised by his wife, cabaret entertainer Yvonne, who also happens to be Dave's lover. The heist goes wrong because Dave and his partner arrive in time. In the shoot out, Benny is wounded and Dave's partner is killed. Dave now has a personal reason to track down the robbers. The gangsters drive away, chased by the police, with the money and a dying Benny. They stop at Dave's motel, where Dave is determined to dump Benny. Benny tries to stop them but Dave kills him. Cordell's police officers corner the three and kill one more. The other two split: Dave goes to tell Yvonne the good news (that she is a widow and that he has the money). The other surviving gangster makes the mistake of going to a Yvonne show while the police is warching her. Cordell arrests him and makes him talk. Now the police know the name of the man they are looking for: Dave. Cordell sends one of his man incognito to Yvonne. He pretends to be an accomplice who needs to find Dave. She pretends to put him in touch but instead helps Dave to take me hostage. When Dave realizes that the cop is transmitting their movements to the police, Dave shoots him. Dave and Yvonne take a cab to the airport, but the cop is still alive and alerts Cordell, who gets to the airport in time to stop their plane. Dave jumps off the plane and starts running on the runway only to be killed by a landing plane.

After many mediocre films, he finally made a major artistic statement with Narrow Margin (1952), an exciting thriller destined to remain a classic of suspenseful cinema. The soundtrack alone is a masterpiece of suspense.

Two police officers, Walter and his partner, get off the train and take a taxi to an unprepossessing house. They are the escort that has to take an important witness, the widow of a mobster, to the city where the trial is going to take place. The widow is a real bitch. While she is walking down the stairs someone tries to shoot her, but instead kills Walter's partner. Walter does not waste a second to mourn his partner. He hurries the woman into a taxi and then into the train. Walter does not like the job, she doesn't like the situation. They are both tense. They have to share the same cabin because in theory she is not there. The gangsters are on the train and Walter has already identified one. Luckily when this gangster inspects their cabin, she is out. The other one comes to visit Walter and offers him money. During the cat and mouse chase on the train, Walter meets an attractive woman who is puzzled by his absent-minded behavior (he is keeping an eye on the gangster while he talks to her), a nice fat man (who always blocks his way in the narrow corridors) and a lively child (who sees his gun and wants to tell everybody). It turns out the child is the son of the attractive woman, Ann. The fat man, Sam, who only has a berth, would like to purchase the more comfortable compartment that is empty because Walter's partner did not board the train, and is upset that Walter would refuse. One of the gangsters is eyeing Ann, having seen her twice in the company of Walter and maybe suspecting she might be the widow whom he has to silence. The train makes a lengthy stop and Walter takes the opportunity to call his police station and ask for help, When Walter sees one of the gangsters follow Ann, he decides to arrest him. After a fight, he succeeds. The fat man turns out to be a railway agent who offers to take care of the gangster, but is soon put out of business by another gangster who just boarded the train. At this point Walter feels that he has to tell Ann the truth because she is in danger, having been mistaken for the widow. While he is chatting with Ann, the gangsters enter his compartment and kill the widow. In the meantime Walter is telling Ann his truth (that he is an undercover agent protecting a mobster's widow) and Ann tells him her truth: that she is the real widow. The woman whom Walter has been escorting is a decoy, a police woman. Walter realizes that his superiors were testing his loyalty: had he accepted the bribe that the gangsters offered him, the fake widow would have turned him in. The gangsters too have realized whom they really killed because they found her police badge. One of the gangsters breaks into Ann's compartment and threatens to kill her. Walter manages to shoot him by looking at his reflection in the window of a train parked on the next tracks. They have arrived and Ann is escorted by other agents to the trial.

The Happy Time (1952) is an adaptation of Robert Fontaine's novel (1945). The 3D movie Arena (1953) is a western.

For several years Fleischer worked as general-purpose director for producer Stanley Kramer. He also directed for Disney 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), a big success thanks to which he was able to make more significant movies, like The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing (1955), a melodrama drenched in a morbid atmosphere (the true story of a showgirl), and Violent Saturday (1955), a psychological film noir set in a provincial town that borrows the truculent overtones of Faulkner's novels.

Bandido (1956) is a western. The war movie Between Heaven And Hell (1956) is a faithful adaptation of Francis Gwaltney's novel "The Day the Century Ended".

The Vikings (1958) is a mediocre, richly-produced historical drama.

Compulsion (1959), adapted from Meyer Levin's novel (1956), displays technical virtuosity but little else.

These Thousand Hills (1959) is a psychological western in which a humble farmer turns to politics, becomes arrogant and ungrateful, but then repents.

Crack in the Mirror (1960) is centered upon two love triangles.

Barabbas (1961), an Italian biblical "kolossal", tells the story of Barabbas who, after being freed by Pilate, becomes a Christian, wanders to different countries and finally is crucified like Jesus.

The Big Gamble (1961)

Fleischer became increasingly a facile director willing to make any film for his producers.

Fantastic Voyage (1966) introduced him to science fiction: a team of doctors boards a miniature submarine and floats inside the blood vessels of a dying man, and they only have one hour to succeed before returning to normal size.

The children's comedy Doctor Dolittle (1967) is about a mad scientist who can talk to animals.

Fleischer's best movie in a while was Boston Strangler (1968), a Freudian version of the "Dr Jekyll" motif, a film that used multiple screens to create tension, projecting three viewpoints at the same time: the killer's, the victim's and the viewer's.

A sex maniac (who really existed) kills elderly, lonely women; a policeman discovers the murderer but has no evidence. He discovers that he is a schizoid, normally honest and sensitive person and , helped by a psychiatrist, manages to show him his second personality, but this drives him mad.

After the biopic Che (1969) and the war movie Tora Tora Tora (1970), 10 Rillington Place (1971) was about a serial killer (another true story), as fictionalized in Ludovic Kennedy's novel.

Tora Tora Tora (1970) is a colossal war movie that tells the attack on Pearl Arbor from the Japanese viewpoint and shows the US military as a bunch of idiots.

Last Run (1971) is a melancholy gangster movie that focuses on the twilight of an aging professional.

A middle-aged man races by himself along the coast, as if to prove his driving skills. Harry lives in a fishermen's village in Spain, and has a good rapport with the natives. His son is buried in a graveyard and he visits a prostitute, whom he entrusts with an envelop. He used to be a gateway driver. He walks into a church and talks to God about his pointless life. He has actually decided to work again for the mob. A simulated accident helps a convict escape from a police van. Harry is waiting for him: his job is to take the fugitive across the border. The fugitive makes fun of the old driver, despite the fact that Harry teaches him a lesson the very first night, and despite the fact that his girlfriend Claudie respects the calm experienced man who can solve dangerous situations without panicking. When they reach the destination, it turns out that the recipients have the order to liquidate the fugitive. Harry saves him and her. But the fugitive is hardly grateful: when Harry asks him questions to find out why someone wants to kill him, the kid sends him to hell. The girl, wisely, talks him into making peace, because Harry has a boat which could help them. But she's actually in love with the middle-aged man, and one night, while her boyfriend is sleeping, she moves into Harry's bed. They resume the trip together and soon they are tailed by the gangsters. It takes all of Harry's driving skills to lose the followers up the mountains. But then the car breaks down, and the kid's shooting skills prove equally vital. They resume the trip. Harry asks to stop half an hour to take a nap, and lies down against a tree. The kid makes love to his very unexcited girlfriend. When Harry wakes up, the girl tells him she has chosen him. Harry calls his friend the prostitute and asks her to get the boat ready. Harry goes to pick up his money from the prostitute, while the kids wait at the graveyard. But the gangsters are waiting for him, and he barely gets away wounded. The kids rush to the beach, where the boat is. Harry gets there limping, just in time to save them from the last ambush.

Even more efficient were the subsequent thrillers, through which Fleischer refined an expressive technique which was at the same time subtle, revolutionary and spectacular.

See No Evil/ Blind Terror (1971) is a psychological horror film. The suspense arises from two factors, which Fleischer skillfully mixes: the woman is helpless and is the epitome of innocence; the viewer is blind like her, because Fleischer doesn't show the killer's face, a way to make sure that the viewer identifies with the victim's terror.

Mia Farrow is an innocently childlike blind orphan girl. While she is out with her boyfriend, someone slaughters the family of the aunt and uncle who adopted her. When she returns home, Farrow thinks everyone is asleep; only the next day does she realize that the house is full of dead bodies. Farrow enters the bathtub where her uncle lies. A bracelet is the only trace left by the killer. The killer comes to get it back, and then the killer begins a long hunt for the blind, helpless survivor who cries out in vain for help in the woods, which ends in her death.

New Centurions (1972) is a film noir based on Joseph Wambaugh's novel (1971).

In an anarchic and violent Los Angeles, the work of some police street patrols. The elderly idealist and teacher Scott, who is about to retire; the ex-Mexican thug; the young married student with daughter who is a cop out of necessity etc. Cross-section of bad neighborhoods. Abandoned by wife, young man turns to alcohol; when he is rebuilding his life with a Negress, he is killed by a crazy old man. The old man retires after a life on patrol and commits suicide from loneliness. A fresco of the moral and material miseries of defenders of the law, heroic and melancholy martyrs of modern violence.

The Don Is Dead (1973) is a mafia movie.

His career reached a peak with Soylent Green (1973), a dystopian apocalyptic sci-fi movie (loosely based Harry Harrison's 1966 novel "Make Room Make Room"). The hero is an asocial misfit. He is surrounded by corrupt cops, widespread poverty, greedy amoral businessmen.

(Translated by DeepL from my original Italian text)

A quick sequence of photographs depicts the history of the U.S. from pioneers to computers. New York City in 2022 has 40 million inhabitants, but lacks food, water, and housing. The population has shrunk to a soylent-fed mass of wretches huddling in miserable hovels. Alarm: a loudspeaker announces a curfew. Sol (Edward Robinson) is an old college professor now working for the police, who grew up in the days when the weather was normal, while now a permanent scorching summer is in force. The young detective who lives with him, Robert (Charlton Heston), leaves home to go on the night shift. Outside, people live huddled in cars and on stairways, immersed in a constantly green atmosphere.
A wealthy heiress lives in unbridled luxury and can even afford to buy meat from the butcher. Into her husband's house penetrates a young man armed with an iron bar, sent by someone who has decided to suppress him. The victim accepts the execution as necessary. In charge of the investigation is Robert, who, however, is far more interested in profiting from the services of that house than in discovering the culprit. Then again, policemen are poor devils who get by with few scruples. Robert returns home walking among the bodies lying on the stairs and shows the old man the loot: paper, pencils, soap, two books, whiskey, vegetables and meat. The old man cries with joy. The next day, at police headquarters, Robert gives his report to the chief, Hatcher, an equally corrupt and cynical Negro. Robert stalks the victim's bodyguard, Fielding.
Sol tells Robert that the case is complicated, that the governor himself is involved. In fact, in his boss's office is the instigator of the murder. Robert goes to see the widow, Shirl: the apartment is full of gorgeous girls with ambiguous ways, very sophisticated and a bit groggy, elegant, annoyingly beautiful. Robert questions her about her late husband's habits. The master of the building mistreats the girls who are his employees, a kind of prostitute-mannequin-robot-whore, whom he exploits. The widow is also fragile, insecure, and lonely: she waits resignedly for the next tenant. Not to be alone, the widow convinces Robert to take a hot bath.
Robert goes to the church to question the black priest who spoke with the dead man shortly before the murder. The church is used as a shelter for the poor. The priest is devastated by the truth confessed to him by the dead man, but he cannot speak because of confessional secrecy. Robert's boss Hatcher decides to close the case. Robert refuses.
Meanwhile, the man who ordered the murder is at a meeting with the governor.
The bodyguard, Fielding, goes to the priest for confession and instead kills him.
There are queues at the market to buy a few grams of rationed industrial food. When the food runs out, a riot breaks out, suppressed by police shoveling machines that load men into piles. One man shoots into the crowd to kill Robert, but is crushed by one of the shoveling machines. Robert goes to Fielding's house to get him to talk. Robert beats him and his girlfriend, but gets nowhere. He then returns to see the widow.
The old man in the library discovers that the dead man was executed by the masters of the food monopoly firm, the Soylent Corporation, to hide the fact that the oceans are dying and it will soon be impossible to produce soylent.
The widow, who is in fact a concubine, receives the new tenant.
Upset by what he has discovered, Sol (who is Jewish) goes to the temple to be killed in a ceremony that brings to mind the beauties of nature. On his deathbed, Sol pleads with Robert to find evidence of the murder.
The bodies of the people killed by this euthanasia are loaded into garbage trucks. The detective clings to the truck on which they dumped the old man's body. All the trucks go to deposit their load at a garbage "disposal" plant, but Robert discovers that the corpses are actually used by Soylent to produce the food, soylent green.
Two men wait for Heston in front of the house: shooting and escape. Fielding wounds and hounds him into the church crammed with sleeping humanity. Scuffle, panic, people accidentally killed. Negro chief arrives just as Fielding falls dead. Robert begs the chief to tell the truth, and shouts to the people the truth as is taken away on a stretcher.

Spikes Gang (1974) is another western.

Lee Marvin is a grim bandit, selfish and amoral, who seduces three peasants and drags them on the road to crime; vile and perverse me proud and brave, he has his own demented philosophy of life: he leads them to slaughter, but the surviving boy kills him.

Mr Majestic (1974), written by Elmore Leonard, is a far less original gangster film with a far more predictable ending.

In a poor agricultural town, a Vietnam veteran, Majestik, who retired to run a farm hires a group of Mexicans, led by beautiful Nancy, to pick his melons. When he reaches his farm, he finds a young thug who wants him to hire his crew of pickers. Majestik refuses and the other one grabs a gun. Majestik easily disarms him and humiliates in front of everybody. The Mexicans start working, but a few hours later the police come to arrest him: the thug sued him. The police shows no compassion for his case (if he doesn't pick the melons in time, he is ruined) and throws him in jail. In jail he meets and confronts hitman Frank, a dangerous criminal who has become a celebrity. As the convicts are being transported to another prison, Frank's gangsters attack the van and engage the police in a gigantic shoot-out. Majestik takes advantage of the chaos to steal the van and kidnap Frank. He then asks the police to drop the charges against him, Majestik, as the ransom to get Frank back. Frank has money and is willing to pay a huge sum, but Majestik only wants to get back to his melons. The police accept Majestik's deal, but Majestik overestimates himself and Frank manages to escape, helped by his girlfriend. Majestik, an honest man, turns himself in to the police. Frank is free, but now is determined to take his revenge. Frank's gangsters convince the man who sued Majestik to drop the charges, so Majestik gets released and Frank has a chance to kill him. Majestik is happy to be released, and the police is happy too: Majestik is bait that can help them get Frank. Majestik, back to his melons, has the same problem to solve: nobody wants to work for him because the young thug has threatened everybody. Worse: the thug now works for Frank. Majestik and Nancy's Mexicans pick the melons. The night that Majestik and Nancy go to town to celebrate, Frank takes his first revenge by kicking out all the Mexicans and damaging all the melons with machine-gun fire. Majestik is ready to give up, but Nancy convinces him to fight on. They basically barricade themselves in the farm, waiting for Frank to make his move. Then they run, chased by three cars full of gangsters. Majestik uses shooting and driving skills, and brains, to get rid of two of the cars and to trap Frank's car in hostile territory (basically, it's a western movie played with cars instead of horses). And turns the tables on them: Frank and the surviving gangsters run away, chased by Majestik and Nancy, and barricade themselves in a cottage. By the time the police arrive, Majestik has already killed all the gangsters except the young thug. Too many scenes are pathetically stereotyped.

Mandingo (1975) is another historical epic about a nineteenth-century Southern family that buys a Negro slave that will cause catastrophic ruin for the family and of the slaves.

The Incredible Sarah (1976) is a biopic of diva Sarah Bernhardt.

The Prince and the Pauper (1977)

Ashanti (1979) is an exotic adveture movie, based on Alberto Vázquez-Figueroa's 1974 novel "Ebano".

The Jazz Singer (1980) is a remake of the historical talkie.

Tough Enough (1982)

The horror movie Amityville 3D (1983) is a sequel to a famous movie.

Fleischer also adapted two popular comic strips: Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Red Sonya (1985), both set in a magical prehistory.

His career ended with a farce, Million Dollar Mystery (1987), similar in its structure to Stanley Kramer's It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

Fleischer died in 2006.