Director Curtis Hanson Dies at Age 71
One of the most celebrated film makers of the last four decades has died. Here’s how the New York Times reported it….
Curtis Hanson, the film director whose adaptation of the James Ellroy noir novel “L.A. Confidential” won him an Academy Award, died on Tuesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 71.
The death was confirmed by Officer Jenny Houser, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Police Department. She said that officers had been called to the house shortly before 5 p.m., and that Mr. Hanson had died of natural causes.
Julie Mann, his business manager, said Mr. Hanson had been struggling for some time with a form of dementia.
Let’s take a look at his long career. His first screen credit is for helping to adapt H.P. Lovecraft’s short story in the 1970 American International Pictures’ THE DUNWICH HORROR starring Sandra Dee and Dean Stockwell. Three years later Hanson was a triple threat as writer, producer, and director of the low-budget Tab Hunter thriller, SWEET KILL. In 1978 he scripted the crime caper flick SILENT PARTNER starring Christopher Plummer, Elliot Gould, Susannah York, and John Candy. Two years later Hanson was back behind the camera as director/producer of the action kids’ comedy DIRTY DRAGONS. He next collaborated with iconic director Sam Fuller on the script for the controversial WHITE DOG in 1982 The next year was a busy one as the screenwriter of the Disney wilderness adventure NEVER CRY WOLF and as director of the 60’s set teen sex farce LOSIN’ IT starring a post RISKY BUSINESS Tom Cruise, Jackie Earl Haley, and Shelley Long.
In 1987 Hanson wrote and directed the Hitchcock influenced mystery THE BEDROOM WINDOW starring Steve Guttenberg and Isabelle Huppert, and also directed (under the alias Edward Collins) the zombie horror flick EVIL TOWN. 1990 saw him back in thriller territory directing the Rob Lowe/ James Spader BAD INFLUENCE. Two years later Hanson had his biggest commercial hit, directing the psychological nail-biter THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE featuring a showdown between mother Annabella Sciorra and Rebecca De Mornay that would inspire countless made-for-basic-cable-TV flicks.
In another two years Hanson helped turn Oscar darling Meryl Streep into an action heroine in the outdoor survival action epic THE RIVER WILD.
1997 saw the release of Hanson’s most acclaimed film. He pulled triple duty (directing, co-producing, and co-screenwriter) on the movie adaptation of James Ellroy’s noir ode to the “city of angels”, L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. It was gritty 1953-set whodunit involving high-priced star look-a-like call girls, mobsters, gossip rags, and corrupt cops (except for noble Bud White, a role that firmly established Russell Crowe as a major star). And it earned Hanson his only Oscar, for adapting the book with Brain Helgeland (Kim Basinger grabbed one for supporting actress). It might’ve nabbed Best Picture if not for that flick about the boat and the iceberg.
Hanson’s follow-up was quite a change of pace. He directed and co-produced WONDER BOYS based on Michael Chabon’s quirky college-set comic romance and featuring a most impressive cast: Michael Douglas, Robert Downey, Jr., Toby Maguire, Frances McDormand and Katie Holmes. It garnered tons of favorable reviews and tanked at the box office.
But Hanson bounced back in 2002 as the director/producer of the semi-autobiographical rap drama 8 MILE telling the slightly fictionalized story of its star, hip-hop superstar Eminem and co-starring Basinger as his boozy mother. It snagged an Oscar for Best Original Song and was a smash box office hit.
That same year Hanson was in front of the camera playing Streep’s husband in ADAPTATION. He returned to directing and producing with the sister sibling “dramedy” IN HER SHOES with Cameron Diaz, Toni Collette, and Shirley MacLaine. Two years later Hanson handled the same chores in addition to co-wrtiting the screenplay on the drama set in the world of professional poker players, LUCKY YOU which starred Eric Bana and Drew Barrymore. His last feature film was the 2014 family friendly true surfing sports saga CHASING MAVERICKS starring Gerard Butler. Unfortunately, due to illness, Hanson was unable to finish directing the film and Michael Apted was brought into to finish it.
Curtis Hanson was also a well-respected film historian and scholar. For a short time he was editor of Cinema magazine. In 1999 Hanson became the first chairman of the UCLA Film and television Archive, and in he was a member of the Directors’ Branch of the Board of Governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
We hope you’ll take the time to sample some of his films. Mr. Hanson has left an outstanding body of work, a legacy that movie lovers will study and enjoy forever.