Delmer Daves and H. C. Potter were contemporaries and friends who, while not necessarily household names, were essential contract directors during the Golden Age of the Hollywood studio system. This brief survey, which includes prints from MoMA’s collection, captures both in top form.
Delmer Daves (1904–1977) studied law at Stanford University but became intrigued by the industry emerging in his backyard and ended up working as a prop boy on Westerns while completing his degree. In 1929 his script So This Is College was produced for MGM, and he went on to write screenplays for The Petrified Forest (1936) and Love Affair (1939), among others. In 1943 Daves made his directorial debut with Destination Tokyo, starring Cary Grant, though he truly found his niche when he returned to Westerns. In films like Broken Arrow (1950) and 3:10 to Yuma (1957), introspective, conflicted men must confront both nature and human violence. Late in his career, in 1963, Daves adapted Earl Hamner, Jr.’s novel Spencer’s Mountain, a starring vehicle for Henry Fonda and Maureen O’Hara that went on to become the basis for the popular television series The Waltons.
Henry Codman “Hank” Potter (1904–1977), born into a prominent New York family, graduated from Yale University and, in 1927, cofounded the Hampton Players, one America’s first summer theater groups. He soon advanced to Broadway, where his success eventually led to his first Hollywood feature, Beloved Enemy (1936), a romantic drama obsessed by the seemingly eternal British/Irish divide. However, Potter’s true strength was the comedy film—the more hysteria and doubletalk between characters, the better! Best known for quick-witted classics such as Mr. Lucky (1943) and the iconic Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), Potter hit his directorial stride inveigling comical and sometimes tart performances from his actors (including Cary Grant, who shines as both Mr. Blandings and Mr. Lucky). In 1949, while under contract at RKO during Howard Hughes’s ownership of the studio, Potter ran into some difficulties with the eccentric Texan. Just days before photography commenced on a film tentatively titled The High Frontier, which would involve use of the United States Air Force’s massive B-36, Potter received a telegram saying the production was cancelled. There was no further communication from Hughes, and Potter’s notable career lost momentum.
Organized by Anne Morra, Associate Curator, Department of Film.