Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Bernard Gordon Passes

Screenwriter Bernard Gordon passed on May 11 after a battle with bone cancer. Gordon was 88. He had written screenplays ranging from Hellcats of the Navy to the sci-fi cult film Day of the Triffids.

Gordon was born on October 29, 1918 in New Britain Connecticut. He grew up in New York City and moved to Hollywood in 1940. Declared physically unfit for military service, Gordon started working in the film industry during World War II. He also joined the Communist Party, a decision which would have a lasting impact on his career. He quit the Communist Party when he learned about Stalin's atrocities.

Gordon's first screenwriting credit was for the film Flesh and Fury. Starring Tony Curtis and directed by Joseph Pevney, the film centred on a deaf boxer. Gordon would go onto write the screenplays for The Lawless Breed and Crime Wave. Unfortunately for Gordon, he was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954. Ultimately, he was never called before HUAC, but an acquaintance named as having been a part of the Communist Party. As a result, he was fired from his job and blacklisted in the film industry. Fortunately, he was able to continue working, although his career would never be the same.

In 1954, producer Charles Schneer hired Gordon. He wrote the screenplay to The Law vs. Billy the Kid (directed by none other than William Castle) under the psuedonym John T. Williams. He would go onto write several screenplays under the pseudonym Raymond T. Marcus, including Earth vs. the Flying Saucers, Hellcats of the Navy, and The Case Against Brooklyn. He used his friend Philip Yordan (who wrote El Cid among other films) as a front to write the screenplay for The Day of the Triffids. With 55 Days at Peking, Gordon received his first screen credit in years. He would go onto write screenplays for Cry of Battle, the 1964 adaptation of The Thin Red Line, Battle of the Bulge (again using Philip Yordan as a front), and his final film Surfacing.

Gordon also wrote two books, Hollywood Exile, or How I Learned to Love the Blacklist and The Gordon File: A Screenwriter Recalls 20 Years of FBI Surveillance.

Bernard Gordon was a gifted screenwriter, and it is sad that blacklisting forced him to much of his work in low budget features. Even then, many of the low budget movies Gordon wrote benefited from his skills. Despite the goofy title, Earth vs. the Flying Saucers is actually a well done movie that is better than most Fifties sci-fi. And not only is The Day of the Triffids a cult film, but it is counted as a classic in some circles. His war movies such as The Thin Red Line and Battle of the Bulge could be inaccurate (as many war movies of the Sixties were), but they were always well written. I have to wonder what Bernard Gordon could have done with the support of a truly big budget production.


d. chedwick bryant said... almost feels like it could happen again sadly. I believe the only movie here that I saw was Hellcats of the Navy...where the unholy alliance was formed...

Sheila West said...

I never saw the 1960's version of "The Day of the Triffids," only the British mini-series from the 1980s. It was awesome. But i donlt know which comapres over the other. The recent "28 Days Later" obviously borrowed a lot from the whole concept of the story.