Graduated from the University of Michigan.
Nichols was a top journalist who moved into films with the coming of sound: Born Reckless (30, John Ford and Andrew Bennison); A Devil with Women (30, Irving Cummings); Men Without Women (30, Ford); On the Level (30, Cummings); Seas Beneath (31, Ford); The Lost Patrol (34, Ford); fudge Priest (34, Ford); Steamboat Round the Bend (35, Ford); an Oscar for the script of The Informer (35. Ford); The Crusades (35, Cecil B. De Nlille); Mary of Scotland (36, Ford); The Plough and the Stars (37, Ford); The Hurricane (38, Ford); an exceptional comedy, Bringing Up Baby (38, Hawks), which hardly seems to belong to the scribe of the Ford saga; Stagecoach (39, Ford); The Long Voyage Home (40, Ford); Swamp W;ater (41, Jean Renoir); Man Hunt (41, Fritz Lang), turned down by Ford, made into a gem by Lang, thus showing the vulnerability of writers to a director’s authorship. According to Lang, Nichols himself admitted: “A script is only a blueprint—the director is the one who makes the picture. ”
It follows that Ford might have ruined Air Force and Hawks transformed For Whom the Bell Tolls, just as there can be no doubt how much extra backchat Hawks would have added to Stagecoach. Nichols worked on This Land Is Mine (43, Renoir), which he coproduced; It Happened Tomorrow (44, René Clair); And Then There Were None (45, Clair); Scarlet Street (45, Lang), which treats people with a depth and sharpness missing in the Ford films; The Bells of St. Mary's (45, Leo McCarey); The Fugitive (47, Ford); Pinky (49, Elia Kazan); Rawhide (51, Henry Hathaway); Return of the Texan (52, Delmer Daves); The Big Sky (52, Hawks); Prince Valiant (54, Hathaway); Ran for the San (56, Roy Boulting); The Tin Star (57, Anthony Mann); The Hanging Tree (59, Daves); and Heller in Pink Tights (60, George Cukor).
The three films directed by Dudley Nichols are garishly ill-assorted, unlikely, and pretentious—a sign, perhaps, of the strain of writing dutiful scenarios for most of his Hollywood career. Government Girl, which he wrote, produced, and directed at RKO, was Olivia de Havilland and Sonny Tufts; Sister Kenny, written with Mary McCarthy, was an admiring biopic with Rosalind Russell as an Australian nurse; while Mourning Becomes Electra is a hams’ free-for-all, with Russell, Michael Redgrave. Katina Paxinou, and Kirk Douglas rolling their eves at one another. Clearly, someone suggested that Nichols abandon directing and return to his regular output of safe scripts for major films.
Nichols is what passed in Hollywood for a durable, talented writer. Vet he was a sausage machine for Ford’s sentimentality, cardboard characters, and predictable situations. His screenplay for For Whom the Bell Tolls (43, Sam Wood), for instance, is defeated by the sententious grandeur of the novel and Hollvwood’s appetite for Spanish cliché; whereas, in the same year. Air Force (43, Howard Hawks) proved snappy, with colloquial talk and a suggestion of how often scripts were refashioned in the shooting.