For a select group of people, a movie is sold not by its star or its premise but, by simply who directed the film. And like all things that could be quantify by how great they are, there are those who are not as well known as the big named directors of Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. But, that does not mean that these relatively unknown directors are making anything less than those directors. Although not household names, these directors have made careers making great films that deserve more fanfare and for whatever reason did not.
This list is divided between Classic Hollywood directors and contemporary directors making small, yet some of the most interesting works of their time. The list is limited to filmmakers who make English language films as the list for foreign filmmakers would prove too large and daunting to limit it only to fifteen. With such a vast number of underrated filmmakers out there, there is no particular order to the list other than the fact that the first seven are Classic Hollywood directors and the last eight are contemporary directors.
And I implore all those who read this article to search out these directors’ films.
15. Martin Ritt
Key Films: The Long Hot Summer, Sounder, Hud, Hombre, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Norma Rae, The Great White Hope
Martin Ritt had the innate ability to make films of the western, rural area that touches upon the people indicative to that setting. His best film, “Hud”, a revisionist western that stars Paul Newman was one of the driving forces in the changing genre of the Western in Hollywood cinema. “Hud” as a western follows the trope of the desert setting but replaces all others with burgeoning modernism. With the imminent end of Classic Hollywood, Ritt was able to introduce the complex hero to the genre pictures. With Paul Newman in “Hud”, he was the atypical cowboy hero as well as Richard Burton in the adaptation of the John Le Carre novel, “The Spy who Came in From the Cold”. In both the spy and the western genre, Ritt was able to create a sense of atmosphere, from the blockaded West Berlin to the desert landscape of Texas.
His career of being on the blacklist during the McCarthy, Red Scare era informed his ability of telling stories of the complex narrative outside of the Hollywood norm. Although, that does change later on in his career, his most important film came with the children’s classic, “Sounder”. His ability to capture atmosphere and setting is most evident in this film as he was able to tap into the locale of a distinct area telling the tale of a sharecropping African American family and their dog. He furthers his humanist trend with pro-union dram “Norma Rae” that garnered Sally Field an Academy Award. All in all, Martin Ritt is a director of great skill and passion, informed by his experiences making him a director who deserves more recognition.
This article was first posted on February 28, 2013