5 Classic Movies Directed By King Vidor

The son of a wealthy industrialist, King Vidor became obsessed with making movies at a young age, working as a ticket taker, newsreel cameraman, and projectionist before making his directing debut in 1913. He quickly made a name for himself and earned himself a contract with Goldwyn Studio. After directing The Big Parade (1925), one of the great war films of the silent era, Vidor successfully crossed over into sound and developed into one of the classic era's great directors.

After directing the groundbreaking World War I film The Big Parade (1925), Vidor earned his first of five Academy Award nominations for Best Director with The Crowd, one of his last silent films. A slice of life drama, the film focused on John Sims (James Murray), a working class man born on the Fourth of July who sets out for New York City convinced he's destined for greatness. John finds work at an advertising agency and marries the likeable Mary (Eleanor Boardman), but suffers one setback after another until tragedy nearly drives him over the edge. He's saved by the unconditional love of his son and ultimately finds his faith in himself renewed. Vidor's depiction of an ordinary man suffering numerous defeats reflected his own struggles to get The Crowd made. In the end, the film stood as a triumph to the silent era while giving him his first taste of Oscar glory.

More notable for Wallace Beery's Oscar-winning performance, The Champ set the tone for all other boxing films to follow. The film starred Beery as the titular Champ, a washed out bum who travels from one lowly fight to another with his endearingly loyal son, Dink (Jackie Cooper), in tow. In gearing up for his comeback fight, Champ crosses paths with his ex-wife (Irene Rich), who convinces him that Dink would be better off with her. Though it breaks his heart, Champ feigns indifference in an attempt to persuade his son to let him go. But Dink won't hear of it and follows his father to his bout, where he watches his father win, only to suffer tragedy in the process. A heart wrenching film, The Champ was Vidor's first successful foray into the talkie era.

A classic melodrama starring Barbara Stanwyck, Stella Dallas was a perfect match between director and star that elevated film beyond a soapy affair. Stanwyck starred as Dallas, a crude factory worker who marries rich, but realizes that she will never fit into high society. She watches her new husband (John Boles) move to New York City and deepens her plutonic bond with an old boyfriend (Alan Hale), leading her to finally learn the true meaning of sacrifice. Vidor's movingly effective adaptation of Olive Prouty's novel earned high praise, as well as an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress for Stanwyck.

A sizzling hot Western boiling over with sexualized melodrama, Duel in the Sun was mired by huge production costs and questionable content that challenged Hays Code censors. The filmed starred Jennifer Jones as Pearl Chavez, a half Native American bad girl sent to live with a greedy rancher (Lionel Barrymore) and his kindly wife (Lillian Gish) after her father (Herbert Marshall) hangs for killing her unfaithful mother. The rancher's good son, Jesse (Joseph Cotten), falls under her spell, though she winds up carrying on with Jesse's evil brother, Lewt (Gregory Peck). Meanwhile, Lewt kills a nearby rancher who has also fallen for Pearl, leading to a tragic end for both lovers in the desert. Jokingly dubbed Lust in the Dust, Duel in the Sun struggled to make money upon its release, but remains an influential classic.

One of the few attempts to adapt Leo Tolstoy's labyrinth novel, Vidor's War and Peace was only a surface glimpse at the social and personal chaos of Napoleon's failed invasion of Russia in 1812. Because the film needed to be drastically condensed, Vidor chose to focus his attention on the complex relationship between the beautiful Natasha Rostova (Audrey Hepburn), the idealistic Count Pierre Bezukhov (Henry Fonda), and the sophisticated Andrei Bolkonsky (Mel Ferrer). Despite its severely pared down plot, War and Peace still proved to be too long for audiences to bear and the film suffered at the box office. Making matters worse, War and Peace was bogged down by uneven performances, namely from Fonda and Ferrer, though Hepburn was exceptional as Natasha. However, Vidor managed to earn another Oscar nomination for Best Director, the fifth and final one of his career.