Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Farewell Ulu Grosbard

Ulu Grosbard, who has died at the age of 83, is one of those directors who fell through the cracks. He had an awesome reputation as a theatre director — directing Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall and Jon Voight in a production of …

Tue, Mar 27, 2012, 22:01

   
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Ulu Grosbard, who has died at the age of 83, is one of those directors who fell through the cracks. He had an awesome reputation as a theatre director — directing Dustin Hoffman, Robert Duvall and Jon Voight in a production of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge back in 1968 — but relatively few film-goers now recognise his name. Nonetheless, he directed two undeniably great films. True Confessions (1981) and Straight Time (1978) still hold up brilliantly today. The latter stars Hoffman as a long-time crook who just can’t kick the habit. The former features Duvall and Robert De Niro as, brothers — a cop and a Monsignor– who get caught up in a murder plot in post-war Los Angeles.

It’s hard to explain why the films never quite achieved the status of recognised classics. They were, perhaps, already relics from an earlier — although very recent — era. Coming at the point when Hollywood was waking up from its delirious post-Easy Rider dream and embracing the populist cinema of Spielberg and Lucas, the pictures never quite found a comfortable niche. By that stage, properly intelligent pictures were seen as the preserve of the arthouse crowd. Crime films were expected to be zippy genre pieces. The square peg that was Grosbard’s work never fitted into the round hole.

He was born in Belgium in 1929. He fled the Nazis in 1943 and, after tarrying in Cuba, eventually ended up in the United States. Studies at Yale Drama School led him towards a successful theatrical career. His later career in movies was fairly hit and miss: the weepie Falling in Love, the lightweight junkie flick Georgia. But Straight Time and True Confessions hold up as classics of their time. Seek them out and honour one of the overlooked masters.

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