Originally a cameraman with Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, Fleming was known as a director of masculine adventure pictures. But ironically, he obtained some excellent performances from leading actresses, if often ones that resembled those portraits of erotic splendor seen through the smoke above the bar in Westerns.
Above all, Clara Bow in Mantrap and Hula, and Jean Harlow in Red Dust and Bombshell. In the 1920s, Fleming was a Paramount director, but by 1932 he had moved to MGM. Chances are that he would have been happier at Warners. But his career is sprinkled with interest: Red Hot Romance was an Anita Loos satire; Adventure came from Jack London, and Lord Jim from Conrad, with Percy Marmont in the title part; Wolf Song and The Virginian were big roles for the young Gary Cooper. At MGM, both Treasure Island and Captains Courageous were big successes, but as nothing compared with the extraordinary one-two of The Wizard of Oz and Gone With the Wind in 1939. It is easy to say that those fascinating perennials appear undirected, or that they owe their life to Mervyn Le Roy and David Selznick.
The first was far outside Flemings territory, but it is by turns a moving and dark fantasy, beautifully played by an adventurous cast. Fleming was the second director on Gone With the Wind, Gable’s defender after Cukor had become enchanted by Vivien Leigh and slowed by years of screen tests. That Wind got completed, with energy on the screen, surely owes a lot to Fleming's bad-tempered urge to get the damn thing done. After that, Fleming declined. His Jekyll and Hyde is a plain version of the story, apart from the blatant eroticism in the frenzy of transformation, while Joan of Arc is the director at the stake for an Ingrid Bergman who claims to hear voices.