Bosley Crowther (July 13, 1905 – March 7, 1981) was an American
journalist and author who was film critic for
The New York Times
The New York Times for
27 years. His work helped shape the careers of many actors, directors
and screenwriters, though his reviews, at times, were perceived as
unnecessarily mean. Crowther was an advocate of foreign-language
films in the 1950s and 1960s, particularly those of Roberto
Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica,
Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini.
1 Life and career
2 Film criticism
3 Bonnie and Clyde criticism
6 External links
Life and career
Crowther was born Francis Bosley Crowther, Jr. in Lutherville,
Maryland, the son of Eliza (Leisenring) and Francis Bosley
Crowther. As a child, Crowther moved to Winston-Salem, North
Carolina, where he published a neighborhood newspaper, The Evening
Star. His family moved to Washington, D.C., and Crowther graduated
from Western High School in 1922. After two years of prep school in
Orange, Virginia at Woodberry Forest School, he entered Princeton
University, where he majored in history. For his writing performance,
Crowther was offered a job as a cub reporter for
The New York Times
The New York Times at
a salary of $30 a week. He declined the offer, made to him by the
publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger, hoping to find employment on a small
Southern newspaper. When the salary offered by those papers wasn't
half of the Times offer, he went to New York and took the job. He was
the first night cub reporter for the Times, and in 1933 was asked by
Brooks Atkinson to join the drama department. He spent five years
covering the theater scene in New York, and even dabbled in writing
for it.
While at the Times in those early years, Crowther met Florence Marks,
a fellow employee; the couple wed on January 20, 1933. They had
Bosley Crowther III, a retired attorney, John Crowther, a
writer and artist, and Jefferson, a banker and the father of Welles
Crowther was a prolific writer of film essays as a critic for The New
York Times from 1940 to 1967. Perhaps conscious of the power of his
reviews, his style was considered by many to be scholarly rather than
breezy. Frank Beaver wrote in Bosley Crowther: Social Critic of the
Film, 1940–1967 that Crowther opposed displays of patriotism in
films and believed that a movie producer "should balance his political
attitudes even in the uncertain times of the 1940s and 1950s, during
the House Un-American Activities Committee". Crowther's review of
the wartime drama
Mission to Moscow
Mission to Moscow (1943), made during the period
when the Soviet Union was one of the Allied Powers with the United
States, chided the film by saying it should show "less ecstasy", and
said "It is just as ridiculous to pretend that Russia has been a
paradise of purity as it is to say the same thing about
In the 1950s, Crowther was an opponent of Senator Joseph R. McCarthy,
whose anti-Communist crusade targeted
Hollywood and blacklisted
Hollywood Communists. He opposed censorship of movies, and
advocated greater social responsibility in the making of movies.
Crowther approved of movies with social content, such as Gone With the
Wind (1939), The Grapes of Wrath (1940),
Citizen Kane (1941), The Lost
Weekend (1945), All the King's Men (1949) and
High Noon (1952).
Crowther also had a barely concealed disdain for
Joan Crawford when
reviewing her films, referring to her acting style as "artificiality"
and "pretentiousness," and would also chide Crawford for her
physical bearing. In his review of the
Nicholas Ray film Johnny Guitar
(1954), Crowther complained that, "no more femininity comes from
(Crawford) than from the rugged Mr. Heflin in Shane (1953). For the
lady, as usual, is as sexless as the lions on the public library steps
and as sharp and romantically forbidding as a package of unwrapped
His preferences in popular movies were not always predictable. He
defended epics such as Ben-Hur (1959) and Cleopatra (1963), but gave
the World War II film The Great Escape (also 1963) a highly
unfavorable review, and panned all of David Lean's later works. He
called Lawrence of Arabia (1962) a "thundering camel-opera that tends
to run down rather badly as it rolls on into its third hour and gets
involved with sullen disillusion and political deceit."
Crowther had a reputation for admiring foreign-language films
including many of the
Italian neorealist films such as Rome, Open City
(1945), Shoeshine (1946) and The Bicycle Thief (1948). However he was
critical of some iconic releases as well. He found Kurosawa's classic
Throne of Blood
Throne of Blood (1957, but not released in the US until 1961), derived
from Macbeth, ludicrous, particularly its ending; and called Gojira
(Godzilla) (1954) "an incredibly awful film". Crowther dismissed
Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) as "a blot on an otherwise honorable
career," but later reassessed the film considering it
one of the top ten films of the year, writing that Psycho was a "bold
psychological mystery picture.... [I]t represented expert and
sophisticated command of emotional development with cinematic
techniques." He commented that while Satyajit Ray's Pather Panchali
(1955, US: 1958) took on "a slim poetic form" the structure and tempo
of it "would barely pass as a 'rough cut' with editors in
Hollywood". Writing about
L'Avventura (1960), Crowther said that
watching the film was "like trying to follow a showing of a picture at
which several reels have got lost."
The career of
Bosley Crowther is discussed at length in For the Love
of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism, including his support
for foreign-language cinema and his public repudiation of McCarthyism
and the Blacklist. In this 2009 documentary film contemporary critics
who appreciate his work, such as A. O. Scott, appear, but also those
who found his work to be too moralistic, such as Richard Schickel,
Molly Haskell and Andrew Sarris.
Bonnie and Clyde criticism
The end of Crowther's career was marked by his disdain for the 1967
film Bonnie and Clyde. He was critical of what he saw as the film's
sensationalized violence. His review was negative:
It is a cheap piece of bald-faced slapstick comedy that treats the
hideous depredations of that sleazy, moronic pair as though they were
as full of fun and frolic as the jazz-age cut-ups in Thoroughly Modern
Millie... [S]uch ridiculous, camp-tinctured travesties of the kind of
people these desperadoes were and of the way people lived in the dusty
Southwest back in those barren years might be passed off as candidly
commercial movie comedy, nothing more, if the film weren't reddened
with blotches of violence of the most grisly sort... This blending of
farce with brutal killings is as pointless as it is lacking in taste,
since it makes no valid commentary upon the already travestied truth.
And it leaves an astonished critic wondering just what purpose Mr.
Penn and Mr. Beatty think they serve with this strangely antique,
Other critics besides Crowther panned the movie; for example, New York
magazine's critic, John Simon, while praising its technical execution,
declared "Slop is slop, even served with a silver ladle." Its
distributor pulled the film from circulation. However, the critical
consensus on Bonnie and Clyde reversed, notably with two high-profile
reassessments by Time and Newsweek. The latter's
Joe Morgenstern wrote
two reviews in consecutive issues, the second retracting and
apologizing for the first. Time hired Stefan Kanfer as its new film
critic in late 1967; his first assignment was an ostentatious rebuttal
of his magazine's original negative review. A rave in The New Yorker
Pauline Kael was also influential.
Even in the wake of this critical reversal, however, Bosley Crowther
remained one of the film's most dogged critics. He eventually wrote
three negative reviews and periodically blasted the movie in reviews
of other films and in a letters column response to unhappy Times
The New York Times
The New York Times replaced Crowther as its primary film
critic in early 1968, and some observers speculated that his
persistent attacks on Bonnie and Clyde had shown him to be out of
touch with current cinema and weighed heavily in his removal.
Crowther worked as an executive consultant at
Columbia Pictures after
leaving the Times.
Crowther wrote The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire
(1957), the first book documenting the history of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer,
Hollywood Rajah: The Life and Times of Louis B. Mayer (1960), a
biography of MGM's studio's head.
Crowther died of heart failure on March 7, 1981 in Mount Kisco, New
York. He was survived by his wife Florence; a sister, Nancy Crowther
Kappes; three sons, F. Bosley, John, and Jefferson; and four
^ a b c d e Robert D., McFadden (March 8, 1981). "Bosley Crowther, 27
Years a Critic of Film for Times, is Dead at 75". The New York Times.
Retrieved 19 March 2016.
^ Marjorie Dent Candee, "Current Biography Yearbook – 1957", H. W.
Wilson Co. (1958), p 121.
^ a b Beaver, Frank (1974). Bosley Crowther: Social Critic of the
Film, 1940–1967. Ayer Publishing. ISBN 0-405-04870-X.
^ Crowther, Bosley, Mission to Moscow, Based on Ex-Ambassador Davies'
Book, Stars Walter Huston, Ann Harding at Hollywood, The New York
Times, April 30, 1943
^ Crowther, Bosley (August 20, 1955). "Screen: Mild Mystery; 'Female
on the Beach' Bows at the Palace". The New York Times.
^ Crowther, Bosley (May 28, 1954). "The Screen in Review; Johnny
Guitar' Opens at the Mayfair". The New York Times.
^ Crowther, Bosley (August 8, 1963). "Screen: P.O.W.'s in 'Great
Escape':Inmates of Nazi Camp Are Stereotypical Steve McQueen Leads
Snarling Tunnelers". The New York Times.
^ Crowther, Bosley (December 17, 1962). "Screen: A Desert Warfare
Spectacle:'Lawrence of Arabia' Opens in New York". The New York
^ Kapsis, Robert E. (1992). "Hitchcock: The Making of a Reputation".
University of Chicago Press. Retrieved June 5, 2015.
^ Crowther, Bosley (September 23, 1958). "Screen: Exotic Import;
Pather Panchali' From India Opens Here". The New York Times.
^ Crowther, Bosley (April 5, 1961). "Screen: 'L'Avventura':Film by
Michelangelo Antonioni Opens". The New York Times.
^ Crowther, Bosley (April 14, 1967). "Bonnie and Clyde (1967) BONNIE
AND CLYDE". The New York Times.
^ Ebert, Roger (December 10, 1967). "Bonnie, Clyde and the critics".
^ Bradford, Jack (September 23, 1968). "
Bosley Crowther Leaving
Times". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Bosley Crowther: Social Critic of the Film, 1940–1967 by Frank
Eugene Beaver, Ayer Publishing, 1974. ISBN 0-405-04870-X
Kellye, Beverly M., Reelpolitik II: Political Ideologies in '50s and
'60s Films, Rowman & Littlefield (2004), ISBN 0-7425-3041-8,
The Lion's Share: The Story of an Entertainment Empire. Ams Prs Inc,
1957. ISBN 0-404-20071-0 ISBN 978-0404200718
The Great Films: Fifty Golden Years of Motion Pictures. New York:
Putnam, 1971. ISBN 0-399-10361-9 ISBN 978-0399103612
The New York Times
The New York Times links to numerous film reviews by Bosley Crowther
Speech at DePauw University; February 6, 1948
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