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F Entries
Federico Fellini
Richard Fleischer
Louise Fletcher
D.C. Fontana
Anne Francis
Joanna Frank
John Frankenheimer
Brendan Fraser
 
FLEISCHER, RICHARD
(1916–2006). American director.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed: Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (1954);  Barabbas (1961); Fantastic Voyage (1966); Doctor Dolittle (1967); Blind Terror (1971); Soylent Green (1973);  Amityville 3-D (1983); Conan, the Destroyer (1984); Red Sonja (1985); Call from Space (short) (1989).

Creative Consultant: Betty Boop's Hollywood Mystery (animated short) (George Evelyn 1989).

Appeared in documentaries: A Look at the World of Soylent Green (1973); A History of the SF Film (Thys Ockersen 1982); The Making of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (Mark Young 2003).

Special Thanks: Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (George ZEMECKIS 1988); You Will Believe: The Cinematic Saga of Superman (2006).

 
Actually, this is not a revision, but an entirely new entry on Richard Fleischer—crafted not so much because of any radical changes in my views, but only the nagging worry that the original entry did not quite capture the essence of the man….

So, if you hired Richard Fleischer to direct your science fiction film—not always an easy task, since for much of his career he was eagerly sought out by high-paying producers for more conventional fare—what would you get? Color—lots of bright, sparkling color; superb special effects; a fast-moving story; and actors performing to the very best of their abilities. It all sounds very appealing, seemingly enough to lay the groundwork for an argument that Fleischer was an underappreciated master of science fiction film. And yet—there are some stories that are diminished, not improved, by lots of bright, sparkling color; superb special effects and a fast-moving story, in themselves, cannot completely compensate for a deeply flawed script; and poorly chosen actors, even performing to the very best of their abilities, can be very poor actors indeed. Perhaps, then, Fleischer has been properly underappreciated.

Certainly, nothing about his background suggested that Fleischer was destined for greatness. The son of famed animator Max Fleischer (who may have provided some unacknowledged assistance on some of his father's cartoons), Flesicher clearly relied upon industry connections to land his first credited jobs in the 1940s: directing a series of compilations of recycled footage from old silent films that cost little but earned enough money to justify their cost. From these humble beginnings he then moved up to directing low-budget crime dramas which have been celebrated in some quarters as classic film noir but have generally been overlooked. Still, canny old Walt DISNEY must have seen some genuine talent in Fleischer's work and hired him to oversee the Disney studio's spectacular plunge into big-budget science fiction film, an adaptation of Jules VERNE's Twenty Thousand Years Under the Sea. Over a half century later, despite many other subsequent efforts (including remakes of Fleischer's film), this remains the best VERNE movie of them all, energized by Kirk DOUGLAS's and James MASON's delightful performances, fine (and colorful) production values, and yes, now that you mention it, a giant squid for the ages.

His reputation now established, Fleischer devoted the next decade to respectable if unmemorable efforts, including an obligatory biblical epic, Barabbas, before returning to science fiction with another, um, Fantastic Voyage, this one through the human bloodstream in a miniaturized submarine. Literally Fleischer's most dazzling effort, the film's Day-Glo visualization of human anatomy makes for compelling viewers and burns itself into one's memory, even decades after one has watched the film. Yet the film also displays Fleischer's weaknesses: the script is so scientifically senseless as to drive science fiction author Isaac ASIMOV, who wrote its novelization, to desperate contortions in order to make it all seem reasonable. And having Douglas and Mason act to the very best of their abilities is one thing; choosing the likes of Stephen Boyd and Raquel Welch to do their very best is quite another thing. In sum, if Fleischer had arranged for one more revision of the script, and insisted upon some strategic recasting, Fantastic Voyage might have been his second classic; instead, we are left to await the emergence from Development Hell of its long-contemplated sequel/remake to see if someone else can bring this story to its full potential.

Fleischer moved on to direct a musical version of Doctor Dolittle, which despite widespread criticism is actually a decent piece of entertainment (color, special effects, a decent actor doing the best he can with the material, etc.) as long as one has never read any of the books which it is purportedly adapting. Its disappointing performance at the box office did not in itself ruin Fleischer's career; that task was accomplished by two more conspicuous bombs, Che! (1969) and Tora Tora Tora (1970), the dissection of which thankfully falls outside my responsibility. As his offers grew less attractive, Fleischer next agreed to direct a project he could not have regarded as promising, a future dystopia starring Charlton HESTON. Now, I am completely sympathetic to efforts to promote Soylent Green as an overlooked classic and an anticipation of Blade Runner, and especially appreciate small touches like the sight of Edward G. Robinson riding a bicycle to generate a little energy to get by in his nightmarish world. But why, oh why, is the film so darn colorful? Perhaps the secret to getting audiences to appreciate this film would be to de-colorize it and re-release it as a black-and-white film.

Fleischer continued to work into his sixties, but the last decade of his career does not make for pleasant viewing, with lowlights including Neil Diamond's laughable reinterpretation of The Jazz Singer (1980), the third Amityville film, and two sword-and-sorcery epics featuring an inexperienced Arnold SCHWARZENEGGER. Perhaps the kindest way to sum up his career would be to say that he added a great deal of color to the history of science fiction film, and leave listeners to interpret that statement in the most positive way.

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