Joseph H. Lewis

Joseph H. Lewis (April 6, 1907 – August 30, 2000) was an American B-movie film director whose stylish flourishes came to be appreciated by auteur theory-espousing film critics in the years following his retirement in 1966. In a 30-year directorial career, he helmed numerous low-budget westerns, action pictures and thrillers and is remembered for original mysteries My Name Is Julia Ross (1945) and So Dark the Night (1946) as well as his most-highly regarded feature, 1950's Gun Crazy, which spotlighted a desperate young couple (Peggy Cummins and John Dall) who embark on a deadly crime spree.

Joseph H. Lewis
Lewis (seated center) with Glenn Ford (left) and Barry Kelley (seated right) on the set of The Undercover Man (1949)
Born(1907-04-06)April 6, 1907
DiedAugust 30, 2000(2000-08-30) (aged 93)
Marina del Rey, California
OccupationFilm director
Spouse(s)Buena Vista Lewis (?-2000; his death; 1 child)
ChildrenCandy Lewis Sangster
Parent(s)Ernestine Miriamson Lewis
Leopold Lewis

Life and career

Born in Brooklyn, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants,[1] Ernestine (née Miriamson) and Leopold Lewis.[2] His father was an optometrist. He grew up on the Upper East Side of New York City and attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx[1] and when his brother, Ben, moved to Hollywood in 1927, decided to follow with hopes of becoming an actor. Ben found him a job as camera assistant and, subsequently, young Joseph became an assistant film editor just as the film industry was converting to sound. At the dawn of his directorial career (1937–40), while turning out low-budget B-Westerns, he earned the derogatory nickname "Wagon-Wheel Joe" from the studio editors, because of his tendency to use wagon-wheels for constructing interesting visual compositions within the frame.

Although known for having directed horror stars Bela Lugosi (The Invisible Ghost) and Lionel Atwill in early 1940s, he is most appreciated for work in film noir during the 1940s and early 1950s. Gun Crazy, considered the peak of his career, is a dark romance about gun-obsession, notable for its use of location photography and, for film students and buffs, a particularly arresting shot which lasts for ten minutes, as the audience suddenly becomes a passenger in the getaway car following a bank robbery committed by the young leads. His work includes the 1944 musical Minstrel Man, and the musical sequences for The Jolson Story.

Toward the end of Lewis's career, he worked in television, directing mostly westerns: The Rifleman, Bonanza, The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, and the pilot for Branded.

Lewis suffered a major heart attack at the age of 46, but continued working until his 59th birthday in April 1966, at the end of the 1965–66 TV season. He later lectured at film schools and fan gatherings as well as at retrospectives such as the Telluride Film Festival, along with European venues in France, Germany and other locations. In 1997 he became the recipient of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Nearly five months after his 93rd birthday, Lewis died at his home in Los Angeles County's seaside community of Marina del Rey. Active until the end, he made his final public appearance five weeks earlier to introduce a screening of Gun Crazy at the University of California at Los Angeles.[3] He was married to Buena Vista Lewis; they had one daughter, Candy Lewis Sangster.[2]

Selected filmography


  1. Rhodes, Gary D. (September 5, 2012). The Films of Joseph H. Lewis. Wayne State University Press. pp. x. ISBN 978-0814334621.
  2. Bogdanovich, Peter (May 30, 2012). Who the Devil Made It: Conversations with legendary Film Directors. Ballantine Books.
  3. Van Gelder, Lawrence (September 13, 2000). "Joseph H. Lewis, 93, Director Who Turned B-Movies Into Art". The New York Times.

Further reading

  • Maltin, Leonard. Leonard Maltin's Movie Encyclopedia. A Plume Book, 1995. p. 527–8.
  • Katz, Ephraim. The Film Encyclopedia (fourth edition). New York:HarperResource, 2001, p. 826.
  • Thomson, David. The New Biographical Dictionary of Film (fourth edition). New York: Alfred A. Knopf, October 2002, pp. 521–2.
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