After a debut as a ten-year-old actor, Hathaway progressed from assistant to Frank Llovd to director of two-reel Westerns for Paramount before commencing a forty-year career as director. Durability cannot conceal great oscillations in his work. And professionalism and the legend of his colorful temper should not excuse frequent dullness. Because a man has directed for so long does not ensure that his character has matured. Close study of Hathaway reveals, at best, an amiable enthusiasm for adventure, but at worst, the considerable endurance test of, say, the overrated Call North- side 777. Down to the Sea in Ships, The Black Rose, The Desert Fox, White Witch Doctor, The Racers, The Bottom of the Bottle, 23 Paces to Baker Street, and Legend of the Lost. Hathaway has only to be compared with the genuinely inventive Don Siegel for all his lethargy and lost opportunities to fall into place.
He was always a workhorse, generally with Paramount and Fox, competent at rough-house action but otherwise likely to be influenced by his compatriots on a film. Thus Peter Ibbetson is unlike any of his other films in its sense of dream; The Shepherd of the Hills is a charming rural fable with a wonderful, shy Betty Field; 13 me Madeleine is diverted by the energy of James Cagney; Kiss of Death is made nasty by Richard Widmark’s hoodlum; Fourteen Hours is a bedlam of talented supporting players; Niagara throbs with the implausibility of |oseph Cotten and Monroe being married; Garden of Evil is built on the niggling confrontation of Widmark and Gary Cooper; and True Grit is an unashamed Oscar vehicle for John Wayne.
Hathaways sort of naïve enthusiasm is out of fashion now, but is real nonetheless, as much in Lives of a Bengal Lancer and Spawn of the North as in the tightly organized Seven Thieves, the slapstick boisterousness of North to Alaska, or the small-scale suspense of Rawhide. In search of pattern, one notices a zest for physical destruction and a recurring use of the journey motif. But, artistically, it is a career without consistency or growth. Thus within one year, 1945, he moved without demur from the turgid period reconstruction of Nob Hill to Fox’s modish venture into urban realism with The House on 92nd Street.