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HOME > Biographical > 100 New Yorkers of the 1970s > EASTSIDER OTTO PREMINGER
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Rebel filmmaker returns with The Human Factor


On the cover of his 1977 autobiography Preminger, he is described as "Hollywood's most tempestuous director" and "the screen's stormiest rebel." But today, at 73, the years appear to have caught up with Otto Preminger, the Austrian-born director and actor who came to the U.S. in 1935 and met success after success, both in movies and on Broadway.

He became the first producer/director to make major motion pictures independently of the giant studios, and with such films as Forever Amber, The Moon is Blue and The Man with the Golden Arm, won precedent-settling battles with censorship boards that established new artistic freedom for filmmakers.

Between 1959 and 1963 he produced and directed, in succession, Porgy and Bess, Anatomy of a Murder, Exodus, Advice and Consent, and The Cardinal. After that his career took a dip, and since 1971 he has released but a single movie, Rosebud (1975), which marked the screenwriting debut of his son Erik Lee Preminger and the acting debut of a New Yorker named John Lindsay, the city's former mayor.

In February, Preminger's 33rd film, The Human Factor, is scheduled to open in New York and across the country. Based on a best-selling novel by Graham Greene, The Human Factor is the suspenseful story of a black South African woman (played by fashion model Iman) who marries a white secret agent (Nicol Williamson). Filmed mainly in the English countryside, the movie deals with the agent's allegiance to the man who helps his wife to escape from South Africa. Persuaded to become a double agent, he ends up in Moscow, separated from the one person he loves. The novel's title underlines the fact that bureaucracy can never be all-powerful: there is always the human factor.

Preminger, seated at his huge palette-shaped desk of white marble in the lavishly furnished projection room on the uppermost floor of his Eastside town house, admits that he sank over $2 million of his own money into the picture when his signed backers failed to come through. "Everybody in Europe lies about money," says Preminger in his deep, German accented voice. "I originally wanted to sue them, but suing doesn't make sense unless you are sure they have money. So I inquired from my Swiss lawyer, and they didn't have money in Switzerland. You see, in Switzerland, the advantage of the Swiss law is that is you sue somebody, all his assets are frozen immediately. … Luckily enough, I had two houses that I wanted to sell in the south of France. … At least I own the whole film. The question is now............
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