From an auteurist standpoint, the great directors have the power to transform bad, lackluster, or cliched material into great art. But even the mightiest directors have had a few duds. Robert Altman’s Quintet is ignored by almost everyone; stalwart Fordians do not look kindly upon Born Reckless; even the hardcore Hawksians consider Trent’s Last Case to be without merit. (There is also some disagreement regarding A Song is Born.) Hitchcock had Juno and the Paycock, and Michael Mann probably doesn’t like to think about The Keep.
It’s quite rare, then, that a filmmaker (or, occasionally, a filmmaking team) should pitch a no-hitter, from start to finish. Here’s a list of ten. For sanity’s sake we are grading on a slight curve: feature filmmakers only, their documentary work (if any) doesn’t count, nor do their shorts, TV episodes, and “etc” work.
7. Carl Theodor Dreyer
This one might take some doing. For many of you, the name Dreyer invokes a perfect quintet of films: The Passion of Joan of Arc, Vampyr, Day of Wrath, Ordet, and Gertrud, the lot of which directly follows a strong, pre-Joan career making silent pictures such as Leaves from Satan’s Book and The Parson’s Widow. Okay then. What you may not recall without prompting is the odd duck Two People. It’s a chamber drama, but “chamber drama” in a way that should make you think not of Bergman’s Through a Glass Darkly but some one-set melodrama from Warner Brothers, circa 1932. Dreyer was not pleased with the casting and ultimately disowned Two People, which makes it pretty easy for anyone who isn’t a Dreyer completist or aficionado to say, “I probably don’t need to see this.” That said, it’s definitely worthwhile, so it’s not the dud that will knock Dreyer off the list. So we’re calling it: Dreyer had a no-dud career.
Introduce yourself to Dreyer with: Master of the House
Master Class: Gertrud, Ordet, Day of Wrath, Vampyr, The Passion of Joan of Arc
Deep Cuts: Two People, Michael, Leaves from Satan’s Book, The Parson’s Widow