Top 6: Directorial Swan Songs

Posted in Top 6 at 4:59 am by Sam

Directing is a young man’s game, so say many older directors. It’s a gross generality riddled with exceptions, yet, at the same time, it does seem that a great many of the great directors blossom early, then peter out over time. So it is remarkable, usually, when a director’s very last movie is a great movie, ranking up with his or her best work. Our Top 6 list for Episode 47 is about our favorite directorial swan songs: the last movies of great directors.

What are your favorites?

As always, we recommend listening to the episode before reading further.

  1. Charles Laughton, with The Night of the Hunter (1955)
  2. Krzysztof Kieslowski, with Red (1994)
  3. Luis Bunuel, with That Obscure Object of Desire (1977)
  4. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, with Sleuth (1972)
  5. Cecil B. DeMille, with The Ten Commandments (1956)
  6. Robert Altman, with A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
  1. David Lean, with A Passage To India (1984)
  2. Sergio Leone, with Once Upon a Time In America (1984)
  3. Sergei Eisenstein, with Ivan the Terrible, Part Two (1958)
  4. Michael Curtiz, with The Comancheros (1961)
  5. Jean Vigo, with L’Atalante (1934)
  6. Francois Truffaut, with Confidentially Yours (1983)


  1. Nyperold (116) said,

    August 21, 2007 at 3:16 pm


    * That Obscure Object of Desire links to Night of the Hunter.
    * A Prairie Home Companion is listed as being a 1955 movie instead of 2006.
    * Ivan the Terrible, Part Two is listed as being a 1984 movie instead of 1958.
    * The Comancheros is also listed as being a 1984 movie, instead of 1961.

    Now that that’s out of the way…

    Interestingly enough, the only director this list has in common with its counterpart is Truffaut. But whereas in that list, Stephen had The 400 Blows as his #1 pick, in this list, Sam has him as his #6 pick.

  2. joem18b (231) said,

    August 21, 2007 at 5:58 pm

    1. Frankenstein Unbound (1990) - Roger Corman. King of the B’s quit directing in ‘71 (50 movies), but came back with John Hurt, Raul Julia, and Bridget Fonda for this…this…
    2. Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens (1979) - Russ Myer. Script by Roger Ebert. Classic.
    3. Heaven’s Touch (1983) - Gerard Damiano. A Ron Jeremy vechicle. Swan song for the maker of Deep Throat.
    4. Seven Faces of Dr. Lao (1964) - George Pal. Produced numerous classics. Directed Tubby the Tuba.
    5. The Thousand Eyes of Dr. Mabuse (1960) - Fritz Lang’s final Mabuse movie.
    6. Journey for Margaret (1942) - W. S. Van Dyke. Worthy IMDB 7.2 effort with Robert Young, Laraine Day, Fay Bainter, and Nigel Bruce, by the director of Tarzan the Ape Man.

    Honorable mention: A Countess from Hong Kong (1967) - Charles Chaplin; Buddy Buddy (1981) - Billy Wilder. Matthau, Lemon, and Klaus Kinski!

  3. Sam (405) said,

    August 22, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Nyperold: I apparently wrote that post in my sleep. Thanks.

  4. Jeffrey (84) said,

    August 22, 2007 at 9:42 am

    Yi Yi - Edward Yang (I’m not sure if The Wind was completed)
    Eyes Wide Shut - Stanley Kubrick
    F For Fake - Orson Welles
    The Last Tycoon - Elia Kazan
    Un Flic - Jean-Pierre Melville
    An Autumn Afternoon - Yasujiro Ozu
    The Devil’s Own - Alan J Pakula
    Way Of The Dragon - Bruce Lee (I don’t count Game Of Death as they butchered his original intentions and only used about 20 minutes of footage he shot)

  5. joem18b (231) said,

    August 22, 2007 at 12:15 pm

    Died Too Soon:

    1. Waitress - Adrienne Shelly
    2. Ter Ziele - Theo Van Goth
    3. A Turk from Italy - Werner Fassbinder
    4. The Sacrifice - Andre Tarkovsky
    5. Lion of the Desert - Moustapha Akkad
    6. Niagra Falls - Fatty Arbuckle

    Honorable mention: Bill Bixby (TV directer, hulk), Sam Peckinpah - The Osterman Weekend, Hal Ashby - 8 Million Ways to Die

  6. joem18b (231) said,

    August 22, 2007 at 12:28 pm

    Like Charles Laughton, only one to their credit:

    1. Frank Sinatra - None but the Brave (1965)
    2. Richard Burton - Doctor Faustus (1967)
    3. Angelina Jolie - A Place in Time (2007)
    4. Alec Baldwin - The Devil and Daniel Webster (2004)
    5. Marlon Brando - One-Eyed Jacks (1961)
    6. Douglas Adams - Rockstar (2000) (died too soon)

  7. joem18b (231) said,

    August 22, 2007 at 3:57 pm

    Just to put an asterisk by the Comancheros, Curtiz was on his last legs when it was made. He was too sick to work part of the time and John Wayne did the directing.

  8. Andy (13) said,

    August 23, 2007 at 9:25 am

    I was glad to see A Prairie Home Companion make the list. Altman was still so relevant at the end. Also, glad to see someone mention Waitress. What a tragic story.

    I’ll try to come up with something that hasn’t been mentioned…..

    How about Labyrinth by Jim Henson!?

    It’s possible that Bulworth could end up being Warren Beatty’s last. I can’t find any evidence of him still directing anything.

    I’ve never seen Funny Farm by George Roy Hill (Slap Shot, The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) but I’ve heard of it. Is it worthy of this list? The imdb rating is pretty bad…

    That’s all I got becuase so many great directors are still alive and working into their old age, but I wanted to mention a few that are getting up there in age and stand a pretty good chance of being on this list when all is set and done. All are over 70 and are still making relevant (if not quality) films:

    Sidney Lumet
    Milos Forman
    Mike Nichols
    Clint Eastwood
    Woody Allen
    William Friedkin

  9. joem18b (231) said,

    August 23, 2007 at 10:14 am

    Saraband was a pretty good way for Bergman to go out.

  10. joem18b (231) said,

    August 23, 2007 at 11:46 am

    Female Swan Songs

    (Swan song of the male swan: aarrrrgggghhhh!)
    (Swan song of the female swan: uurrrrgggghhhh!)

    1. Tarnished Reputations (1920) - Alice Guy-Blaché. Directed more films than any other woman.

    2. White Heat (1934) - Lois Weber. First woman to direct a full-length feature film.

    3. First Comes Courage (1943) - Dorothy Arzner. First Woman to join the Director’s Guild of America.

    4. The Very Eye of Night (1958) - Maya Deren. Experimental films.

    5. The Trouble with Angels (1966) - Ida Lupino. I kept thinking of Loretta Young instead of Lupino for some reason. The second woman to join the Director’s Guild and the only notable female writer/director of her era in Hollywood.

    6. Too Much Romance… It’s Time for Stuffed Peppers (2004) - Lina Wertmuller. The first woman to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Direction. Still living, but at 81, may not be working.

  11. Stark (3) said,

    August 25, 2007 at 7:45 am

    I’m in favor of F for Fake. I love how Welles came in setting up how films would be made a decade later, and went out editing how films would be edited a decade later.

  12. Ferrick (140) said,

    August 29, 2007 at 12:07 am

    I don’t know how both of you missed Bob Clark with SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2.

  13. Nyperold (116) said,

    August 29, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    I don’t think “It’s great that there won’t be a Baby Geniuses 3″ is quite the same thing.

  14. Aaron (35) said,

    August 29, 2007 at 6:18 pm

    Actually, I thought I heard that there was going to be a Baby Geniuses 3.

  15. Nyperold (116) said,

    August 30, 2007 at 2:47 am

    Oh dear. It’s in pre-production. Tentative outline: “Children one day awake to discover that they have switched roles with their moms & dads: the babies are now the caretakers of their parents.” ZookGuy thinks it’s a prank, though, so maybe…

    At any rate, chances are, even if they make it and release it, it won’t exist, like Alien Resurrection. ;)

  16. Ferrick (140) said,

    August 30, 2007 at 10:56 am

    I finally watched “A Prairie Home Companion” last night and really enjoyed it. Besides already being a fan of the radio show, I really like Altman. It was very odd, and yet comforting, to know that it was his last film and that he died so soon after it was made. It definitely felt like an Altman film so that may have added to the comfort factor.

  17. Ferrick (140) said,

    August 30, 2007 at 11:58 am

    I don’t remember if the podcast mentioned this or not but I just read about the “remake” of Sleuth that is coming out. Michael Caine plays the Olivier part, this time around, and Jude Law is in Caine’s original role.

    Apparently, it isn’t a remake so much as a new adaptation of the original story. Whatever.

  18. Stephen (221) said,

    August 30, 2007 at 3:53 pm

    I think we’ve mentioned the Sleuth remake before, but I’m not sure. I know Sam and I have discussed it, though, because the idea that Jude Law is reprising ANOTHER Michael Caine role after the Alfie remake is sort of weird.

    This remake of Sleuth might be sort of interesting, though it’s unlikely it’ll be as good as the original. The film is entirely a battle between two actors, and I sure wouldn’t mind seeing Caine and Law go at it for 90 minutes.

  19. Ferrick (140) said,

    August 30, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    These days, if there is a remake, chances are decent that Michael Caine was in the original.

    Alfie, Sleuth, Get Carter, The Italian Job just to name a few that have already been remade. Surprisingly, he has been in three of those remakes.

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