Welcome to the twelfth edition of Famous Directors First Theatrical Movies. Today, we are discussing the versatile Ang Lee, the famous western director John Ford, and the actor-director Mel Gibson. For one last time, let’s look at the first theatrical movie of these famous directors.
Ang Lee’s most famous American Films include Sense and Sensibility, Brokeback Mountain, and Life of Pi. His most famous foreign films include Eat Drink Man Woman and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. In the early 1990s, however, Ang Lee was unemployed for six years after graduating from NYU with an MFA in Film Production. He stayed busy writing screenplays, and in 1990 submitted two screenplays to a competition sponsored by his home country Taiwan’s government. His screenplay Pushing Hands won first place and attracted the attention of film producer Li-Kong Hsu, who offered for Lee to direct his first feature film. Pushing Hands is about an elderly t’ai chi ch'aun teacher who emigrates to New York City from Beijing to his son, American daughter-in-Law, and grandson, and the culture clash that occurs between the traditional grandfather and the American life that his son and family lives. The movie was a huge success in Taiwan, and received eight nominations at Taiwan’s premiere film festival, the Golden Horse Film Festival. Lee made two more films exploring the culture clash between the old and new generations, The Wedding Banquet and the most famous, Eat Drink Man Woman, forming what is referred to as the “Father Knows Best” trilogy of movies.
John Ford’s legacy is generally considered westerns, including Stagecoach, The Searchers, and the Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, but he also directed the film adaptation of The Grapes of Wrath and the award-winning How Green Was My Valley. In the 1910s, John Ford was a prolific silent director, making multiple two and three-reel films (short films). In 1917, John and his collaborator writer-actor Harry Carey, decided to ignore orders from the studio and make a five-reel movie instead of a two-reel film, thereby making Ford’s first feature-length movie. That movie was called Straight Shooting. At the beginning of Straight Shooting, a cattleman cuts off Farmer Sims’ water supply. When Sims’ son goes in search of water, he is killed. Cheyenne (Harry Carey) is sent to kill Sims but he switches sides when he sees his son’s grave. Universal boss saved Straight Shooting from being edited down to a two-reel film, and today prints of the film are in the International Museum of Photography and Film at the George Eastman House.
While Mel Gibson has been mostly a prolific actor, rising to prominence with Mad Max films and starring in four Lethal Weapon movies, he has directed a few movies, most famously Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ (his most recent, Hacksaw Ridge, has been winning awards, including many AACTA awards). In the early 1990s, Gibson read a script based on a novel by Isabelle Holland. He liked it enough to decide to direct it. Gibson tried to ask other actors to play the main role, but none were interested, so he took on the main role himself. The movie was called The Man without a Face and was filmed on location in Deer Isle, Maine. Gibson plays Justin McLeod, a recluse and former teacher who is disfigured from a car accident. Chuck Nordstadt is a 12-year-old boy who has a difficult relationship with his family and wants to join the military academy. After meeting McLeod on a ferry, Chuck convinces McLeod to help him pass the academy’s entrance exam, and McLeod begins to meet Chuck in secret at his house to learn how to pass the entrance exam, but when Chuck’s mother and the townspeople find out, they begin to suspect McLeod was molesting Chuck... It should be noted that the script did not have the more controversial aspects present in the novel, with (spoilers here) McLeod’s relationship with Chuck shown as nothing more than a misunderstood mentor-son relationship in the movie. The movie was released on August 25, 1993, and received mixed reviews, holding 67% score at Rotten Tomatoes, It made $24 million at the box office.
In this entry of famous director’s first theatrical movies, each of these movies is not nearly as well known as the movies which followed in the director’s career. However, each director used their first movie as a springboard to bigger and better movies following their first movie. Check out these first theatrical movies of these famous directors.