Mark Robson (film director)

Mark Robson (4 December 1913 – 20 June 1978) was a Canadian-born film director, producer, and editor. Robson began his 45-year career in Hollywood as a film editor. He later began working as a director and producer. He directed thirty-four films during his career, including The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955), Peyton Place (1957), for which he earned his first Oscar nomination, Von Ryan's Express (1965), and Valley of the Dolls (1967).

Mark Robson
Born(1913-12-04)4 December 1913
Died20 June 1978(1978-06-20) (aged 64)
London, UK
Resting placeMount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery, Los Angeles
Alma materUniversity of California, Los Angeles
Pacific Coast University School of Law
OccupationFilm director, producer, editor
Years active19411978

Robson died of a heart attack after shooting his final film, Avalanche Express, in 1978. The film was released a year after his death.

Early life and career

Born in Montreal, Quebec, he attended Roslyn Elementary School and Westmount High School in Montreal.[1] He later studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and Pacific Coast University School of Law.[2] Robson then found work in the prop department at 20th Century Fox studios. He eventually went to work at RKO Pictures where he began training as a film editor.[3]


In 1940, he worked as an assistant to Robert Wise on the editing of Citizen Kane, the film debut of Orson Welles. He and Wise also edited Welles' next movie, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and were part of the drastic cuts of the ending of the film with which Welles disagreed.[4]

He was promoted to editor for The Falcon's Brother (1942), an RKO B picture.

Val Lewton

Both he and Wise benefited tremendously from producer and screenwriter Val Lewton, who was supervising a series of low budget horror films at RKO that would become legendary. The first one was Cat People (1942), directed by Jacques Tourneur and a tremendous success. He edited Journey into Fear (1943), made by Orson Welles' company but the editing was again done without Welles' involvement.[5]

Robson edited Lewton's next two films, both directed by Tourneur, I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Leopard Man (1943).


Lewton had been so impressed with Robson's work that he promoted him to director for The Seventh Victim (1943). Lewton liked the result, and so Robson directed The Ghost Ship (1943). Lewton would later give Robert Wise his first directing job, on The Curse of the Cat People (1944).

Lewton wanted to make non-horror films and RKO allowed him to make Youth Runs Wild (1944), a juvenile delinquency story; Robson directed but the film was not a commercial success. More popular was Isle of the Dead (1945) starring Boris Karloff. Lewton, Karloff and Robson reunited on Bedlam (1946), which lost money at the box office and turned out to be the last horror movie made by Lewton.[6]

Leaving RKO

His success at RKO led to work on major film projects, and in 1949 he was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for his work on the film noir drama Champion, produced by Stanley Kramer. He made another for Kramer, Home of the Brave (1949), one of the first films to deal with the issue of racism.

That year also saw the release of Roughshod (1949), a Western made for RKO, and My Foolish Heart (1949) a melodrama for producer Sam Goldwyn. Goldwyn then used Robson for Edge of Doom (1950) and I Want You (1951). At Universal he made Bright Victory (1951).

Robson briefly brought back his old mentor Val Lewton with fellow protégé Robert Wise in a partnership for film and television production, only to drop the ailing Lewton without explanation a few months later. Robson and Wise produced Return to Paradise (1953), starring Gary Cooper. For Warwick Films, he directed Alan Ladd in Hell Below Zero (1954). He made a comedy at Columbia, Phffft (1954), then had one of the biggest hits in his career with The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954). This film earned him another DGA nomination. Warwick Films used him again for A Prize of Gold (1955). He went to MGM to make Trial (1955). His boxing film, The Harder They Fall (1956), was based on Budd Schulberg's novel.

The Little Hut (1957), for MGM was a huge hit. Even bigger was Peyton Place (1957), for 20th Century Fox. Robson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director. He was nominated again the following year for directing Ingrid Bergman in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.[7][8] For these films, he also received his third and fourth Directors Guild of America nominations.


Robson produced and directed From the Terrace (1960), from a best-seller, starring Paul Newman. He produced The Inspector (1962)[9] and Nine Hours to Rama (1963), the latter of which he also directed. After completing that film, Robson left Fox after a five-year association.[10]

Robson and Newman reunited on The Prize (1963) for MGM. It was a hit, as was Von Ryan's Express (1965), starring Frank Sinatra, back at Fox.

He produced and directed Lost Command (1966), a tale of the French Foreign Legion, and directed 1967's Valley of the Dolls, a film panned by the critics, but a success at the box office.[11]

Later films

He had a series of films that were commercially disappointing: Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969), Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971), and Limbo (1972). In 1974, he directed Earthquake, the film that introduced "Sensurround".[12]


On 20 June 1978, Robson died of a heart attack in London after completing Avalanche Express. The film was released a year after his death.[13] He is interred in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Mark Robson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1722 Vine Street.[3]





  1. "On & Off the Record: Show Business". The Montreal Gazette. 1967-07-17. p. 4. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  2. Blau, Eleanor (1978-06-22). "Mark Robson, Film Director, Dies; Did 'Champion' and 'Earthquake'; Praised by Critic Directed 'Bright Victory'". The New York Times. p. D19.
  3. Lindgren, Kris. "Mark Robson". Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  4. "Robert Wise, Film Director, Dies at 91". 2005-09-16. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  5. ROLLING UP FROM RIO: Despite a Sea of Trouble, Orson Welles Remains His Irrepressible Self By THEODORE STRAUSS New York Times (1923-Current file); Aug 30, 1942; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times pg. X3
  6. Richard Jewel, 'RKO Film Grosses: 1931-1951', Historical Journal of Film Radio and Television, Vol 14, No 1, 1994, p. 46
  7. "Guinness, Kerr Head Academy Award Lists". Saskatoon Star-Phoenix. 1958-02-18. p. 5. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
  8. Gardner, R.H. (1959-03-01). "Oscar Derby--Our Critic's Comments". The Baltimore Sun.
  9. By MURRAY SCHUMACH Special to The New York Times. (1961, Jun 26). ROBSON SADDENED BY STAY IN EUROPE. New York Times (1923-Current File) Retrieved from
  10. ROBSON ENDS PACT AS FOX PRODUCER: His Red Lion Films Severs 5-Year Association Music Hall Records Casting Notes Charles Theatre Awards Manulis Goes to Europe New York Times 6 July 1962: 13.
  11. Thomas, Tony (1968-05-24). "Dolls warned to avoid valley". The Phoenix. p. 10. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  12. Kapica, Jack (1975-01-08). "Earthquake sharing things up inside the theatres-and out". The Montreal Gazette. p. 39. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
  13. Canby, Vincent (1979-11-12). "'Avalanche Express' Is Tacky Melodrama". Youngstown Vindicator. p. 36. Retrieved 23 November 2012.
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