It is with profound sadness that we must announce the passing of director Brian G. Hutton, a long-time friend of and contributor to Cinema Retro. Brian was one of the most unique talents in the film business. Born in New York City, he never lost his hard-scrabble, irascible attitude which extended to resenting having to take orders from the studio "suits" who employed him. He walked away from a great and lucrative career in the industry decades ago and kept out of the public eye, granting precious few interviews in the intervening decades. He remains primarily known for his two big budget WWII MGM films, "Where Eagles Dare" and "Kelly's Heroes", both starring Clint Eastwood. The films were difficult to make and the latter resulted in a major conflict with Hutton and Eastwood and MGM when the studio exercised its rights to dramatically cut the film prior to its release. Hutton also made a number of lesser-known films but each of them proved to be enduring and worthy of praise.
When Cinema Retro was preparing its first Movie Classics edition devoted entirely to "Where Eagles Dare" in 2009, we made every effort to contact Hutton for an interview, but we were unsuccessful. However, shortly after the issue appeared, I was
startled to receive a phone call from a gentleman named Bill Tasgal who said he
was sitting in a coffee shop in L.A. with his friend Brian Hutton and they were
both perusing the Where Eagles Dare issue.
He said Hutton wanted to speak with me. A few seconds later an unmistakably New
York accent growled, “Is this Lee Pfeiffer?” When I said it was, he said “I’m
looking at your magazine and I’m going to sue you for using such an ugly photo
of me!” To which I replied, “As a director, you should know the camera never
lies!” So began a friendship that saw Brian contribute extensively to our Movie Classics Kelly's Heroes issue as well as our revised updated edition of the Eagles Dare issue that was published in 2012.
Last October, Dave Worrall and I traveled to L.A. to finally meet Brian in the flesh. We managed to arrange a wonderful lunch date that saw him reunited with his old friend, director John Landis, who Brian gave a break to when he hired John as a "go for" on Kelly's Heroes. Brian saw great promise in the young film enthusiast and, of course, Landis made good on the faith shown in him by becoming an internationally respected director himself. Over lunch, we were privileged to hear some amazing and truly hilarious stories about their adventures filming in Yugoslavia (not all of them are suitable for publication). It was a wonderful day in every respect.
Reunion in L.A., October 2013. From L to R: Bill Tasgal, John Landis, Brian G. Hutton and Cinema Retro publishers Lee Pfeiffer and Dave Worrall.
Brian Hutton suffered a heart attack a couple of weeks ago and struggled valiantly against the odds. An original tough guy, he managed to hang in there a lot longer than anyone would have predicted but finally the battle was lost. He is survived by his loving wife Victoria and his devoted friend and colleague, Bill Tasgal, who was played a crucial role in making Brian's later years so rewarding and enjoyable. However, Brian had many other "friends" that he never knew personally- namely, everyone who ever saw one of his films. Although he was loathe to lavish praise on his own work, he was very grateful to the loyal fans who kept his films in the spotlight long after he went into self-imposed retirement. He was particularly moved by the fact that so many people around the globe held Where Eagles Dare and Kelly's Heroes in such esteem. He was always lavish in his praise of Clint Eastwood, with whom he continued to maintained a close friendship over the decades.
Rest in peace, Brian- and as Oddball from Kelly's Heroes might say, "Hope you only encounter positive waves...."
(Continue reading for a biography of Brian G. Hutton)
Hutton contributed a rare interview for Cinema Retro's 2012 edition of the Where Eagles Dare issue.
Brian G. Hutton remained an enigma among successful
directors who came to prominence in the 1960s. Despite a promising career,
Hutton was to go into self-imposed exile, retiring from the motion picture
business altogether. Hutton started off as an aspiring actor and landed
supporting roles in major TV series such as Rawhide,
Wagon Train, Perry Mason, Have Gun, Will Travel, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and
The Rifleman. He also had small roles
in theatrical features such as The
Interns, Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, Fear Strikes Out, Last Train From Gun
Hill and King Creole. However, by
1965, Hutton was more enamoured of trying his hand at directing. His first
effort was the little-seen Wild Seed which
was made for Marlon Brando’s Pennebaker Productions and released through
Universal in 1965. The film starred Celia Kaye as a 17 year-old runaway in
search of her biological father. She is befriended and protected by a young
drifter (Michael Parks) whom she meets during her journey. Among the top
craftsmen who worked on the movie were cinematographer Conrad Hall and
cameraman William A. Fraker. The film didn’t get much attention from either
critics or the public, but Hutton displayed competence behind the camera and
this afforded him other opportunities.
Hutton’s follow-up effort, again for Universal, was
far more successful: The Pad (and How to
Use It), produced by Ross Hunter.. This
was a hip, sexually provocative comedy about a swinging bachelor. Starring
Brian Bedford, Julie Sommars and James Farantino, the film boasted a screenplay
by Peter Shaffer, who would go on to write the plays Equus and Amadeus. Released
in 1966, the film was a hit with critics and Hutton was deemed an
“up-and-coming” hot property. In 1967, Hutton began a working relationship with
established producer Elliott Kastner when he directed the thriller Sol Madrid (UK title: The Heroin Gang). The film’s marketing
campaign was bungled by MGM and the movie never made much of an impact with
audiences or critics. However, Hutton turned out a reasonably suspenseful,
highly entertaining film that allowed him to work with a cast of big name
actors including David McCallum, Stella Stevens, Telly Savalas, Ricardo
Montalban and Rip Torn. Although the film wasn’t a notable box-office hit,
Kastner saw great potential in Hutton, who had come from the same New York
neighbourhood he had grown up in. Kastner kept him in mind for his next high
profile project: Where Eagles Dare.
The big budget WWII film was a project initiated by
Richard Burton, who had promised his sons that he would star in an
old-fashioned, rip-roaring action movie. Getting Burton to approve of the
relatively young director with a thin resume was not easy but Elliott Kastner
was undeterred. He would later say, “I persevered. I said ‘Brian Hutton had a
lamp in his gut like a beacon: just put him in a room and Flash! Sparks on the
screen!’”. Hutton recalled that key selling point in getting Burton to approve
him was his ethnic background. In a 1994 phone interview with writer Phil
Masheter: “I was brought into it because I am of Welsh descent – my parents
were Welsh – and he was a Welshman. I speak a little Welsh. He and I used to
sing Welsh songs together; he used to laugh because my Welsh was actually very
bad!” It was Hutton who suggested that Clint Eastwood be signed as Burton’s
co-star. Considering the major logistics of making the film, Burton and MGM had
every reason to be concerned whether the young director could handle the
challenge. Yet, Hutton came through with flying colours, managing not only the
action on screen, but keeping Burton disciplined enough to not allow his
drinking habits to negatively affect the production – something that had
occurred a few years before on The Spy
Who Came in From the Cold. On that film, even veteran director Martin Ritt
could not keep Burton’s excesses in check and the two ended up not speaking to
one another off the set. The film proved to be a smash hit and Hutton was
suddenly as in-demand as any other hot director.
His next film, Kelly’s
Heroes (shot under the title The
Warriors) reunited him with Clint Eastwood in another big budget,
large-scale WWII film. Hutton would later tell Phil Masheter, ““I did that [Kelly’s Heroes] with Clint too, who I
must say was very gracious. They wanted Clint for the picture and since I
brought him into Eagles he brought me
into Kelly’s. And that was all nice.” Hutton brought some of his crew from Where
Eagles Dare onto the new film, including Alf Joint, Dennis Fraser, H.A.R.
Thomson, Jonathan Bates, and John Jympson. He also hired a young aspiring
director named John Landis to handle the second unit. However, the film’s
post-production period was a nightmare.. Eastwood and Hutton protested against
MGM chief James Aubrey’s decision to drastically cut the film, thus removing
many pivotal expository scenes that were deemed essential to character
development. Although the film was a major hit, Eastwood protested by never
making another film for the studio again. Hutton recalled where his career went
after this, telling Masheter, “And then I did a couple of pictures with
Elizabeth Taylor ( X,Y and Zee (aka Zee
and Co) and Nightwatch) and then
I quit. It wasn’t something I wanted to do to begin with – not my life’s work.
I just fell into the whole thing like birdshit out of the sky hits your fucking
hand. And in 1972, when I finished the second Elizabeth Taylor picture, I
thought, ‘Well, what am I wasting my life doing this for?’ I mean, a gorilla
could have made those movies: Elizabeth Taylor does what she’s got to do and
Laurence Harvey does what he’s got to do. It was good fun, but all I had to do
was yell ‘Action’ and ‘Cut-Print’ because everybody was doing what they had to
do anyway. It was a play and I’m a fucking gorilla sitting there saying, ‘How
was that for everybody? Fine, okay, let’s go somewhere else and do something
else.’ So I stopped at that time.”
Indeed, Hutton would not make another film for seven
years. In 1980, he reunited with Elliott Kastner to bring author Lawrence Sanders’
best-selling thriller The First Deadly
Sin to the screen. The film was primarily distinguished by providing Frank
Sinatra with his final leading role in a motion picture, though it was not a
box-office hit. His final film to date was the 1983 Tom Selleck adventure High Road to China, which was a moderate
success. Hutton had made it clear that he did both of these films only as a
favour for people he respected in the industry. By this point, he was happy
being far removed from the motion picture industry.
Recalling his experience on Where Eagles Dare, Hutton told Phil Masheter, “I’ve got to tell
you, I look at it and I think to myself, ‘Gee, I wonder who did that?’ It’s so
far removed now that I can’t remember doing it and I’ve seen it so many times
and there are so many cock-ups in the picture – it’s always enjoyable. And then
after that, of course, I got offers to make fifty other action pictures, but I
didn’t want to make any. I made two, and that was enough.”
Despite Hutton’s penchant for self-deprecation, his
work on Where Eagles Dare and Kelly’s Heroes has earned him a place in
Hollywood history. He proved that a young, relatively untested director could
meet the challenge of bringing major action epics to the screen – and seeing
their popularity only increase over the decades. Brian G. Hutton did not miss
the motion picture industry, but the industry certainly missed him.