Friday, December 26, 2014

Director Joseph Sargent Passes On

Joseph Sargent, who directed several hours worth of television shows (including Gunsmoke and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.) as well as such films as Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), died at the age of 89 on 22 December 2014. The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Joseph Sargent was born  Giuseppe Danielle Sorgente in Jersey City, New Jersey on 22 July 1925. During World War II Mr. Sargent served in the United States Army. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Following the war he studied acting at the Actors Studio in New York City. He moved to California to pursue his acting career in the early Fifties.

As an actor Joseph Sargent made his film debut in an uncredited role in Her First Romance in 1951. In the Fifties he also appeared in small roles in such films as From Here to Eternity (1953), Kathy O' (1958), Al Capone (1959), and Pay or Die (1960).  He made his television debut in an episode of I'm the Law in 1953. Throughout the Fifties Mr. Sargent guest starred on such shows as I Led 3 Lives, Death Valley Days, The Lone Ranger, State Trooper, Tales of Wells Fargo, Peter Gunn, and Gunsmoke. He made his debut as director with the film Street Fighter in 1959.

Joseph Sargent's acting career continued into the Sixties. He made appearances on such shows as Hong Kong, The Detectives, and  The Twilight Zone. He appeared in the film Tobruk (1967). It was in the Sixties that Mr. Sargent shifted from acting to directing. He directed several episodes of the shows Lassie, Mr. Novak, Gunsmoke, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E. He also directed episodes of Bonanza, Daniel Boone, The Fugitive, Star Trek, The F.B.I., and The Invaders. He also directed such television movies as The Sunshine Patriot and Tribes. In the late Sixties Joseph Sargent started concentrating on feature films. He directed the feature films The Hell with Heroes (1968) and Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970).

The Seventies saw Joseph Sargent concentrating on feature films. Joseph Sargent was set to direct the film Buck and the Preacher (1972), but was fired when star Sir Sidney Poitier became unhappy with the film's point of view. Mr. Poitier then directed the film (the first feature he ever directed). Mr. Sargent's career was hardly hurt by the experience, as he would go on to direct some of the biggest films of his career in the Seventies: The Man (1972) and The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974). He also directed the films White Lightning (1973), MacArthur (1977), Goldengirl (1979), and Coast to Coast (1980). Joseph Sargent still worked in television in the Seventies, although primarily directed TV movies. Among the TV movies he directed were The Man Who Died Twice, Sunshine, Friendly Persuasion, and The Night That Panicked America. He also directed episodes of Kojak and Longstreet.

In the Eighties Joseph Sargent concentrated primarily on television movies. He directed such TV movies as Freedom, Memorial Day, Choices of the Heart, and Day One. He won an Emmy for his direction of the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations Love is Never Silent and Caroline?. He also directed the mini-series Space. He directed the feature films Nightmares (1983) and Jaws: The Revenge (1987).  He also returned to acting, with a bit part in the TV movie Ivory Hunters (which he directed) and The Love She Sought (which he also directed).

In the Nineties Joseph Sargent continued to concentrate on television. He directed the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentations Miss Rose White and Skylark. He also directed such TV movies as Never Forget, Abraham, World War II: When Lions Roared, My Antonia, Miss Evers' Boys, and Crime and Punishment. He also directed the mini-series The Streets of Laredo.

Joseph Sargent continued to work into the Naughts. He directed the TV movies Bojangles, Salem Witch Trials, Out of the Ashes, Something the Lord Made, Warm Springs, and Sybil. His last work was the Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation Sweet Nothing in My Ear. He was 83 years old when he stopped directing.

As a film director Joseph Sargent's work was arguably a mixed bag. He directed two films that can be considered outright classics. Colossus: The Forbin Project is one of the great science fiction movies of the late Sixties, while The Taking of Pelham One Two Three is one of the best action movies of the Seventies. Unfortunately much of Mr. Sargent's film work (Goldengirl, Jaws: The Revenge, et. al.) did not quite measure up to those two films. That having been said, Joseph Sargent excelled in the medium of television. The episodes of Gunsmoke and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. often had a cinematic feel about them, looking much more like feature films than episodes of TV shows. He also did excellent work in the field of television movies, directing some of the classics of the form. Sunshine, Caroline?, Skylark, My Antonia, and Crime and Punishment number among the best television movies ever made.

Quite simply, when provided with a good script, Joseph Sargent could do excellent work. He was particularly good about capturing the look and feel of a particular milieu. With The Taking of Pelham One Two Three he captured the look and feel of New York City perfectly. With My Antonia he created a convincing portrait of 19th Century Nebraska. With Crime and Punishment he convincingly recreated 19th Century Russia. When given a quality script, Joseph Sargent was quite capable of creating films that captured specific times and places quite well. And it was on television that he did this best work. He was truly one of the greats of the medium.

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