Richard O. Fleischer
Richard O. Fleischer (December 8, 1916 – March 25, 2006) was an American film director. Fleischer was born in Brooklyn, the son of Essie (née Goldstein) and animator/producer Max Fleischer. He started in motion pictures as director of animated shorts produced by his father including entries in the Betty Boop, Popeye and Superman series.
His live-action film career began in 1942 at the RKO studio, directing shorts, documentaries, and compilations of forgotten silent features, which he called Flicker Flashbacks. He won an Academy Award as producer of the 1947 documentary Design for Death, co-written by Theodor Geisel (later known as Dr. Seuss), which examined the cultural forces that led to Japan’s imperial expansion through World War II.
Fleischer directed his first feature in 1946. His other early films were taut film noir thrillers such as Bodyguard (1948), The Clay Pigeon (1949), Armored Car Robbery (1950), and The Narrow Margin (1952). In 1948, Fleischer also directed So This Is New York, a cynically sophisticated comedy. In 1954, he was chosen by Walt Disney (his father’s former rival as a cartoon producer) to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason and Peter Lorre. It was a great success with both the critics and the public. As a result, Fleischer became known for big features, often employing special effects, such as Barabbas (1961), Fantastic Voyage (1966), Doctor Dolittle (1967), and Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970). He also directed many action adventures such as Violent Saturday (1955), Bandido (1956), The Vikings (1958), and Mr. Majestyk (1974).
However, Fleischer also directed a superb trilogy of films centering on famous serial killers and focusing on the theme of capital punishment:
Compulsion (1959), in which Artie Strauss (Bradford Dillman) and Judd Steiner (Dean Stockwell) kill a boy on his way home from school in order to commit the “perfect crime”. Strauss tries to cover it up, but they are caught when police find a key piece of evidence – Steiner’s glasses, which he left at the scene of the crime.
The Boston Strangler (1968), which starred Tony Curtis as Albert DeSalvo, the strangler, and Henry Fonda as John S. Bottomly, the chief detective now famed for obtaining DeSalvo’s confession. The first part of the film shows the police investigation, with some examples of the seedier side of Boston life, including promiscuity in the adult quarters of the city. The second part shows the apprehension of DeSalvo. Bottomly’s intent is to answer the question presented in the film’s famous print ad: Why did 13 women open their doors to the Boston Strangler?
10 Rillington Place (1971), which dramatises the case of British serial killer John Christie (Richard Attenborough), who committed most or all of his crimes in the titular apartment, and the miscarriage of justice involving Timothy Evans. The film relies on the same argument advanced by Ludovic Kennedy in his book Ten Rillington Place, that Evans was innocent of the murders and was framed by Christie. That argument has now been accepted by the Crown, when Evans was officially pardoned by Roy Jenkins in 1966. The case is one of the first major miscarriages of justice known to have occurred in the immediate post-war period.
He also helmed Soylent Green (1973), a cautionary tale starring Charlton Heston and, in his final film, Edward G. Robinson. The film depicts the investigation into the murder of a wealthy businessman in a dystopian future suffering from pollution, overpopulation, depleted resources, poverty, dying oceans, and a hot climate due to the greenhouse effect. Much of the population survives on processed food rations, including the mysterious “soylent green”.
Fleischer was chairman of Fleischer Studios, which today handles the licensing of Betty Boop and Koko the Clown. In June 2005, he released his memoirs of his father’s career in Out of the Inkwell: Max Fleischer and the Animation Revolution. Fleischer’s 1993 autobiography, Just Tell Me When to Cry, described his many difficulties with actors, writers and producers.
He died in his sleep in 2006, aged 89, after having been in failing health for the better part of a year.