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Robert Mulligan

filmmaker , producer

Robert Mulligan was an American film director, producer, screenwriter. Recipient Career Achievement award, Los Angeles Film Critics Association, 2006.

Background

Mulligan, Robert was born on August 23, 1925 in Bronx, New York, United States. Son of Robert Edward and Elizabeth (Gingell) Mulligan.

Education

Attended Fordham University.

Career

After naval service, he graduated to TV where he won a reputation for prestige drama that soon admitted him to Hollywood. Fear Strikes Out was not only his debut but that of producer Alan J. Pakula, who was to collaborate with Mulligan on another six films. It has most of Mulligan’s virtues—an unusual setting within which he observes a young person under emotional stress; an effacing camera style that is pledged to intimate performances; and his besetting Haw—the preference for tastefulness rather than true rawness.

Just as he lacks artistic character, so his films do not live in the memory. Professional compromise seems always to round off initial promise. Although attempting to deal with anguish and loneliness, the films are irresolute, neat, and appealing—unwilling to probe their audience sufficiently. Thus, it is notable that Klute—made by the now independent Pakula—goes much deeper into its characters and emerges with more disturbing conclusions than Mulligan ever dared.

The four films made after Mulligan’s debut were all uneasy, especially The Great Imposter; a marvelous vehicle for Tony Curtis that stated rather than realized the black comedy of imposture. With To Kill a Mockingbird, Mulligan was reunited with Pakula (they worked together until The Stalking Moon). Mockingbird was a big hit, an important event in liberalizing attitudes, and it is sound work. The films that followed all battered to deceive: Love With the Proper Stranger is as coy as its title; Inside Daisy Clover cries out for Minnelli; The Stalking Moon is earnestly slow; while Summer of 42 is a cunning piece of nostalgic romance, sadly minus the real period character of The Last Picture Show.

To make serious material easeful is Mulligan’s greatest fault and it is now more likely that he will succumb to a solemn and respectable sentimentality than smpass it. He has the sophistication and sensibility of a producer rather than a director. His tact is too infectious.

Mulligan’s career did not work out well: Kiss Me Goodbye was a remake of Donna Flor and Her Two Husbands, but it found no spark between Sally Field and James Caan; Clara’s Heart had W hoopi Goldberg as a Jamaican servant to an upper-middle-class family. But then Mulligan came back to life with The Man in the Moon, a lovely small film about children growing up in a rural setting—it was To Kill a Mockingbird again, and it left the intervening years seeming all the stranger.

Works

Personality

There is something wrong with a thirty-five-year career of twenty movies that is still indistinct and tentative. Mulligan appeared once to have the typical promise of the New Wave American director.

Connections

Married Sandy Mulligan, 1961. Children from previous marriage: Kevin, Beth, Christopher.