1. He won four Academy Awards for directing films in many genres, including thrillers, westerns, film noir and play adaptations.
2. Zinnemann was born in Rzeszów, Poland, the son of Anna and Oskar Zinnemann, a doctor. His family was Jewish.
3. While growing up in Austria, he wanted to become a musician, but went on to graduate with a law degree from the University of Vienna in 1927.
4. Zinnemann worked in Germany with several other beginners before going to France to study film.
5. His penchant for realism and authenticity is evident in his first feature The Wave , shot on location in Mexico with mostly non-professional actors recruited among the locals, which is one of the earliest examples of social realism in narrative film.
6. Earlier in the decade, in fact, Zinnemann had worked with documentarian Robert Flaherty, “probably the greatest single influence on my work as a filmmaker”, he said.
7. Zinnemann moved to Hollywood in December 1934 following the completion of his first directorial effort for the Mexican cultural protest film, The Wave, in Alvarado, Mexico.
8. After some success with short films, he graduated to features in 1942, turning out two crisp B mysteries, Eyes in the Night and Kid Glove Killer before getting his big break with The Seventh Cross , starring Spencer Tracy, which was his first hit.
9. The central character—an escaped prisoner played by Tracy—is seen as comparatively passive and fatalistic.
10. In a sense, the protagonist of the film is not the Tracy character but a humble German worker played by Hume Cronyn, who changes from Nazi sympathizer to active opponent of the regime as he aids Tracy.
11. After World War II, Zinnemann learned that both of his parents had died in the Holocaust. He was further frustrated by his studio contract, which dictated that he did not have a choice in directing films like My Brother Talks to Horses , won an Oscar for screenwriting and secured his position in the Hollywood establishment.
12. Shot in war-ravaged Germany, the film stars Montgomery Clift in his screen debut as a GI who cares for a lost Czech boy traumatised by the war.
13. Zinnemann considered Act of Violence the first project in which he “felt comfortable knowing exactly what I wanted and exactly how to get it.”
14. In the critically acclaimed The Men , starring newcomer Marlon Brando as a paraplegic war veteran, Zinnemann filmed many scenes in a California hospital where real patients served as extras.
15. The film is noted for giving Brando his first screen role.