Men Behind the Stars — Richard Thorpe (1937) 🇺🇸

Richard Thorpe |

January 15, 2022

Richard Thorpe is one of Hollywood’s youngest and one of its most versatile directors. If an interviewer were to ask him “What have you done in the movies?” he could truthfully answer “Everything.”

Director of “Night Must Fall”

Having passed his thirtieth birthday not so very long ago, Thorpe has directed thirty-five feature pictures since the advent of sound. And he found time, in his rapidly sprouting career, to precede this activity as director with about twenty other kinds of jobs around the studios. He has been everything from extra man to studio manager.

Born in Hutchinson, Kansas, Thorpe went to school in Wichita. He received early theatrical training with stock companies, musical comedies and vaudeville. During the World War he served overseas in the Headquarters Intelligence Detachment of the 88th Division. After the war he remained in Paris to enter a musical show at the Théâtre Champs Elysées.

Returning to the United States, he began his picture training as an extra in the New York studios, graduating to bits and parts. Then he worked into the writing department and became a scenarist and “gag man.” He was with Johnny Hines during the entire Torchy series, working variously as actor, gag man, assistant director, cutter and studio manager. He remained with Hines in a number of feature-length pictures and then embarked on a career as a leading man. He appeared with Doris Kenyon, Dorothy Gish and Constance Binney, making “Three O’Clock in the Morning,” and other successful pictures.

California beckoned him, and he came West to play the lead in “Flames of Desire.” An opportunity to direct suddenly opened to him, and he seized it. In the ensuing years he made seventy-five feature westerns for Pathé, several serials, and a number of other silent features, among them “College Days,” “Jocelyn’s Wife” with Pauline Frederick, and “The First Night” with Bert Lytell.

Since the advent of sound he has directed thirty-five features. They include “Probation,” “Love Is Like That,” Escapade,” “Last of the Pagans,” “The Voice of Bugle Ann” and “Tarzan Escapes.”

Thorpe enjoys golf and swimming, both of which lie does well, and likes horses and dogs. His greatest ambition, he says, is to “continue making good pictures.” The two most interesting pictures he has ever handled, Thorpe will tell anyone without any hesitation, are “Last of the Pagans” and Night Must Fall, both for M-G-M.

The former was produced on location in the South Seas, with native players as extras, and Mala (hero of Eskimo) in the male lead. It involved months of arduous and ingenious effort to capture the full beauty of native backgrounds, tribal rites and adventurous exploits. It is particularly to the young director’s credit that not one member of the big location troupe incurred any injury or serious ailment during the entire expedition. Night Must Fall, an adaptation of the London and New York stage thriller of the same name, constituted a milestone in Thorpe’s directorial career in that it marked a completely new and divergent role for Robert Montgomery. The suave, sophisticated, bantering star of “No More Ladies,” “Petticoat Fever” and “Piccadilly Jim,” appears in this new production as a homicidal maniac.

It was when making “Last of the Pagans” in the tropics that Thorpe developed an amazingly adroit flair for candid camera photography. He made hundreds of snapshots in the South Pacific, put most of them away in his album and forgot about it. Then one of his assistants enlarged some of the shots, showed them to an art dealer. The next day Thorpe received a visit from the dealer, who begged to be permitted to handle all of his photographs. Many of them, subsequently, were nationally exhibited. Since then Thorpe has made an equally attractive series of group shots dealing with early California mission homes. If he ever decides to retire from directorial work, the candid camera magazines will deluge him with offers. 

Dame May Whitty, Roz Russell, Bob Montgomery and the back of Director Thorpe’s head on the set of grisly Night Must Fall.

Source: Motion Picture, August 1937