Hubert Cornfield's death June 18 in a Los Angeles hospital went unheralded, and that's a shame.
Although never as famous as some of his friends and contemporaries - Hollywood legends Billy Wilder, William Wyler and Joseph Mankiewicz were said to have signed off on his Director's Guild card - Mr. Cornfield was a director of style and cinematic sense. His was a career that should have been an extended celebration of movie magic instead of the handful of imaginative noirs he left behind.
His body of work might not be large or famous, but it is always interesting. Here's a look at some of his movies, titles everyone should know:
LURE OF THE SWAMP (1957): The film that set Mr. Cornfield up as a master of the twist ending, this strong, simple story of crime and inevitable punishment is enthralling and atmospheric, making excellent use of its backwater backdrop.
PLUNDER ROAD (1957): A great getaway movie, this tidy crime story finds an inept gang trying to transport tons of stolen government gold across state lines. Less a story about criminal malfeasance than the toll extracted by greed, it sports one of the greatest ironic endings in film history.
THE 3RD VOICE (1960): Although a lesser Cornfield, this murder mystery about a lover scorned and the cover-up of a variety of unsavory crimes is filled with interesting ideas indicative of Mr. Cornfield's unusual take on classic morality tales. The films stars the fantastic Edmond O'Brien as a character known only as The Voice.
PRESSURE POINT (1962): A truly amazing and courageous film, Pressure Point stars Bobby Darin as an American Nazi under the psychiatric care of a doctor played with spare elegance by Sydney Poitier. A small story, it basically traces a mental game or cat and mouse where roles of doctor and patient, examiner and examinee, shift and switch. A clever and criminally under-appreciated film, it might have been my favorite Cornfield had it not been for ...
THE NIGHT OF THE FOLLOWING DAY (1968): Although ostensibly a kidnap caper film, with the requisite double-cross and slick tricks of the trade, Night stands outs thanks in part to its rich characters brought to life by a talented cast. Much is made of lean, mean Marlon Brando's performance in this film, but my heart has always belonged to Rita Moreno's drug-addled moll and Richard Boone's charming sadist. Smart and stylish but the last film Mr. Cornfield directed for American audiences.
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