In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Fred Zinnemann

  • Introduction
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Cinema and Media Studies Fred Zinnemann
J.E. Smyth
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 September 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0250


Fred Zinnemann (b. 1907–d. 1997) was one of Hollywood’s most versatile filmmakers, working in every genre and winning Academy Awards for direction (From Here to Eternity, 1953; A Man for All Seasons, 1966), production (A Man for All Seasons), short film (That Mothers Might Live, 1938), and documentary film (Bengy, 1951). Though most of Zinnemann’s films were products of a studio system he publicly defended, he frequently clashed with producers over control of the final cut. Often described as a postwar “social realist” director because of his interest in working with a mix of novices and nonactors on small-budgeted projects shot on location, even Zinnemann’s blockbusters were critiques of mainstream organizations, gender stereotypes, and corporate capitalism. He made a number of films about anti-fascism, World War II, and the Holocaust, and he was an innovative director of historical films and literary adaptations. Of Polish-Jewish descent, Zinnemann grew up in Vienna, and, after rejecting the wishes of his parents for a respectable career, he left to train at the Technical School for Cinematography in Paris in 1927. He worked on several German films, including Menschen am Sonntag (1929), before immigrating to America. Frustrated and unknown in Hollywood, he joined friends in Mexico to direct Redes/The Wave (1936). Ironically, this film about a successful strike led to a career as one of MGM’s top directors of shorts. Promoted to features in 1941, he reached the top quickly, directing Spencer Tracy in The Seventh Cross (1944). MGM suspended Zinnemann for refusing mediocre assignments but released him for Swiss producer Lazar Wechsler’s The Search (1948), a film that established him as an important international filmmaker and turned his Hollywood career around. He returned to MGM briefly to make the highly regarded noir Act of Violence (1948) before moving to independent production and freelancing. The acclaim and notoriety from High Noon (1952) and From Here to Eternity (1953) made him one of Hollywood’s most sought-after directors, and he continued to take risks, not always successfully, throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The Nun’s Story (1959), Behold a Pale Horse (1964), and A Man for All Seasons (1966) are some of his more notable productions, but, for several years, Zinnemann struggled to find a project after MGM’s cancellation of Man’s Fate. The Day of the Jackal (1973), about a charismatic assassin’s attempt to kill French president Charles de Gaulle, channeled his frustrations about people in power, and was a commercial success. Julia (1977) was his last hit, and its timely theme of politicized women attracted much attention. Although over the years a range of critics have explored High Noon, Zinnemann’s other films have been comparatively ignored until the recent interventions of Arthur Nolletti Jr. (Nolletti 1999, cited under Monographs and Edited Collections), Neil Sinyard (Sinyard 2003, cited under Monographs and Edited Collections), and J. E. Smyth, (Smyth 2014 and Smyth 2015, cited under Monographs and Edited Collections).


In his last years, Zinnemann worked closely with Linda Mehr, director of the Margaret Herrick Library, organizing the donation of his papers to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in Los Angeles (Papers). This collection is arguably the most extensive for any director in the world, and it includes copious handwritten notes and correspondence relating to his completed and many unfinished projects. Duplicates of some of the material in the Zinnemann papers in Los Angeles form part of the collection held at the British Film Institute in London, but this collection also has material relating to his unfinished work on Man’s Fate, Carlotta and Maximillian, and The French Lieutenant’s Woman (Additional Papers). Some early sketches for his short films at MGM are reproduced in a Pace Gallery exhibition catalogue (Michelson 1993), and it is interesting to compare his meticulous thumbnail sketches to the methods of other directors. Documents relating to Zinnemann’s film productions The Search (1948) and From Here to Eternity (1953) can also be found in the Montgomery Clift Papers. His extensive personal 35mm and 16mm Film Collection is held separately by the Academy in Los Angeles. Zinnemann’s prints of his films often helped clarify issues about conflicting versions when the studios marketed his films in VHS format in the 1980s. A considerable amount of color and black-and-white home movie footage taken by Zinnemann and Renée Zinnemann on the sets of his productions is also available.

  • Michelson, Annette, ed. Drawing into Film: Directors’ Drawings. Catalogue of the Exhibition at the Pace Gallery, New York, 26 March–23 April 1993. New York: Pace Gallery, 1993.

    Some of Zinnemann’s thumbnail sketches from his career in the MGM shorts department are reproduced as part of an art exhibition of directors’ pre-production sketches. The originals are in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library.

  • Montgomery Clift Papers: T-Mss 1967–006. New York: New York Library for the Performing Arts.

    Clift and Zinnemann were close friends as well as collaborators, and the material on The Search and From Here to Eternity reveals how both worked together on the set to cut and rework the scripts.

  • Zinnemann, Fred. 35mm and 16mm Film Collection. Los Angeles: Pickford Center for Motion Picture Study.

    Includes Zinnemann’s home movies, personal 16mm and 35mm copies of his films, and outtakes from certain productions.

  • Zinnemann, Fred. Additional Papers. London: British Film Institute.

    Some of the material in this collection consists of photocopies of original material held in Los Angeles.

  • Zinnemann, Fred. Papers. Collection 4. Beverly Hills, CA: Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library.

    Includes research, scripts, script notes and annotations, production notes, casting sheets, shooting schedules, editing notes, publicity, box office correspondence, domestic and foreign reviews, personal letters, awards, and transcripts of interviews. Also includes an extensive photographic collection of personal, pre-production research, off-camera stills, and publicity images.

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