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Bosley Crowther (July 13, 1905 – March 7, 1981) was a journalist and author who was film critic for The New York Times for 27 years. His reviews and articles helped shape the careers of actors, directors and screenwriters.[1] Crowther was an advocate of foreign language films in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly the films of Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.[1]

Contents

Life

Born Francis Bosley Crowther Jr. in Lutherville, Maryland, Crowther moved as a child to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he published a neighborhood newspaper, The Evening Star. His family moved to Washington, D.C., and Crowther graduated from Western High School in 1922. After two years of prep school in Orange, Virginia at Woodberry Forest School, he entered Princeton University, where he majored in history. For his writing performance, Crowther was offered a job as a cub reporter for The New York Times at a salary of $30 a week. He declined the offer, made to him by the publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, hoping to find employment on a small, Southern newspaper. When the salary offered by those papers wasn't half of the Times offer, he went to New York and took the job. He was The New York Times first night club reporter, and in 1933 was asked by Brooks Atkinson to join the Drama Department. He spent five years covering the theater scene in New York, and even dabbled in writing for the theater.

While at the Times in those early years, Crowther met a fellow employee, Florence Marks. On January 20, 1933, they were married.

Film criticism

Crowther was a prolific writer of film essays as a critic for The New York Times from 1940 to 1967. Conscious of the power of his reviews, his style was scholarly rather than breezy.[1] Frank Beaver wrote in Bosley Crowther: Social Critic of the Film, 1940-1967 that Crowther opposed displays of patriotism in films and believed that a movie producer "should balance his political attitudes even in the uncertain times of the 1940's and 1950's, when the House Un-American Activities Committee had frustrated freethinking in Hollywood and the nation."[2] Crowther's review of the wartime drama Mission to Moscow chided the film by saying it should show "less ecstasy," and said "It is just as ridiculous to pretend that Russia has been a paradise of purity as it is to say the same thing about ourselves."[2][3]

In the 1950s, Crowther was an opponent of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, whose anti-Communist crusade had targeted Hollywood. He fought the blacklisting of alleged Hollywood Communists. He ridiculed the stridently patriotic movies of the era. He opposed censorship of movies, but advocated greater social responsibility in the making of movies. He was critical of movies that sensationalized violence, criticizing Bonnie and Clyde as "a blending of farce with brutal killings,"[1] "as pointless as it is lacking in taste.")[4] Crowther approved of movies with social content, such as Citizen Kane, The Grapes of Wrath, and Gone With the Wind, as well as The Lost Weekend, The Red Shoes and All the King's Men,[1] but was notably cool about 'women's pictures'.

Crowther had a barely-concealed disdain for Joan Crawford when reviewing her films, referring to her acting style as "artificiality" and "pretentiousness", but would also chide her for her physical bearing. In his review of the cult classic Johnny Guitar, Crowther complained that, "...no more femininity comes from her than from the rugged Mr. Heflin in Shane. For the lady, as usual, is as sexless as the lions on the public library steps and as sharp and romantically forbidding as a package of unwrapped razor blades."[5]

Crowther's preferences in popular movies were not always predictable. He defended breezy epics such as Ben-Hur, Gigi, and Cleopatra, but gave the World War II film The Great Escape a highly unfavorable review,[6] and panned all of David Lean's later works. He called Lawrence of Arabia a "thundering camel-opera that tends to run down rather badly as it rolls on into its third hour and gets involved with sullen disillusion and political deceit."[7] Crowther stated that he considered the 1951 film version of Show Boat to be superior to both the original stage production and all other film versions of the work; the 1951 Show Boat is generally considered to be inferior to the 1936 film version. In his book "Fifty Memorable Films," Crowther chose the original King Kong as one of the fifty greatest films ever made.

Crowther had a reputation for admiring foreign language films, but did not like some iconic releases. He found Kurosawa's classic Throne of Blood (derived from Macbeth) ludicrous, particularly its ending; and called Gojira (Godzilla) "an incredibly awful film." When Alfred Hitchcock released Psycho in 1960, Crowther dismissed the film as "a blot on an otherwise honorable career." He also commented that Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali was so bad that it would barely pass as a rough cut in Hollywood. Writing about L'Avventura in 1960, Crowther said that watching the film was "like trying to follow a showing of a picture at which several reels have got lost."[8]

Bonnie and Clyde criticism

The end of Crowther's career was marked by his disdain for the 1967 film Bonnie and Clyde. Many critics, including Crowther, had panned the movie; for example, New York Magazine's John Simon, while praising its technical execution, declared "Slop is slop, even served with a silver ladle". Its distributor pulled the film from circulation. However, the critical consensus on Bonnie and Clyde reversed, notably with Time reviewer Stefan Kanfer's ostentatious rebuttal of his magazine's original negative review, as well as a rave in The New Yorker by Pauline Kael. Newsweek's Joseph Morgenstern wrote two reviews in consecutive issues, the second apologizing for the first. Re-released, the film became a substantial critical and financial success.

In the wake of this critical reversal, the most dogged critic of the film was Bosley Crowther, who wrote three negative reviews, as well as periodically blasting the movie in reviews of other films as well as in a letters column response to unhappy Times readers. The New York Times replaced Crowther as its primary film critic in early 1968, and it was widely speculated that his persistent attacks on Bonnie and Clyde had shown him to be out of touch with current cinema, and weighed heavily in his removal. Crowther retired after leaving the Times.

Crowther wrote The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire (1957), the first book documenting the history of MGM, as well as Hollywood Rajah: The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer (1960), a biography of that studio's head.

References

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Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e Robert D., McFadden (1981-03-08). "Bosley Crowther, 27 Years a Critic of Film for Times, is Dead at 75". The New York Times.  
  2. ^ a b Beaver, Frank (1974). Bosley Crowther: Social Critic of the Film, 1940-1967. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 040504870X.  
  3. ^ Crowther, Bosley, Mission to Moscow, Based on Ex-Ambassador Davies' Book, Stars Walter Huston, Ann Harding At Hollywood, New York Times, 30 April 1943
  4. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=EE05E7DF173CE361BC4C52DFB266838C679EDE
  5. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?_r=2&res=9F07E1D8133EE53BBC4051DFB366838F649EDE
  6. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?_r=2&res=9A06E7DE1431E73BBC4053DFBE668388679EDE
  7. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=950CEEDE1630EF3BBC4F52DFB4678389679EDE
  8. ^ http://movies.nytimes.com/movie/review?res=9400E0DB133DE733A25756C0A9629C946091D6CF

Bibliography

  • Bosley Crowther: Social Critic of the Film, 1940-1967 by Frank Eugene Beaver, Ayer Publishing, 1974. ISBN 040504870X ISBN 978-0405048708
  • Kellye, Beverly M., Reelpolitik II: Political Ideologies in '50s and '60s Films, Rowman & Littlefield (2004), ISBN 0742530418, 9780742530416
  • The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire. Ams Prs Inc, 1957. ISBN 0404200710 ISBN 978-0404200718
  • The Great Films: Fifty Golden Years of Motion Pictures. New York: Putnam, 1971. ISBN 0399103619 ISBN 978-0399103612

External links


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