Arthur Penn

Biography: Arthur Penn was initially trained in his father's profession as a watchmaker, but gravitated to theater while still in high school. During his infantry service in World War II, he formed a theatrical company at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After leaving the service he attended the Actors Studio in Los Angeles, studying under Michael Chekhov. He went into television in 1951 as an NBC employee, serving as floor manager of the Colgate Comedy Hour. Within two years, he'd begun writing dramas for television and directing Philco Playhouse and, later on, Playhouse 90. His feature film debut came in 1957 with The Left-Handed Gun, a highly mannered psychological interpretation of the story of Billy The Kid starring Paul Newman, which was removed from Penn's control. It failed in the United States but was well received in Europe. He began directing for the stage soon after and found success on Broadway with Two For the See Saw and The Miracle Worker, followed by Toys In the Attic andArthur Penn was initially trained in his father's profession as a watchmaker, but gravitated to theater while still in high school. During his infantry service in World War II, he formed a theatrical company at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. After leaving the service he attended the Actors Studio in Los Angeles, studying under Michael Chekhov. He went into television in 1951 as an NBC employee, serving as floor manager of the Colgate Comedy Hour. Within two years, he'd begun writing dramas for television and directing Philco Playhouse and, later on, Playhouse 90. His feature film debut came in 1957 with The Left-Handed Gun, a highly mannered psychological interpretation of the story of Billy The Kid starring Paul Newman, which was removed from Penn's control. It failed in the United States but was well received in Europe. He began directing for the stage soon after and found success on Broadway with Two For the See Saw and The Miracle Worker, followed by Toys In the Attic and All The Way Home, all major hits on stage within a period of only three years. It was The Miracle Worker(1961) that brought Penn back into movies, with a bravura screen adaptation of the play that remains undiminished in its power over 30 years later, and earned Oscars for stars Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, and a nomination as Best Director for Penn. His career moved between stage and screen for the next several years, with two failures in Mickey One (1965) and The Chase (1966). But in 1967, Penn surprised the public and the critics alike with one of the most popular and influential films of the decade, Bonnie and Clyde, starring Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. One of the most successful crime films ever made, this movie, with its mix of rich characterizations and graphic violence, coupled with surprisingly frank sexuality for its time, took the public by storm, and, for the next decade or so, anyone doing movies about criminals of the early twentieth century felt compelled to emulate its style and look--most failed, although a few, such as John Milius' Dillinger, starring Warren Oates, had something to offer all their own. Penn followed this triumph with a most unusual feature, Alice's Restaurant (1969)--probably the only serious American feature based entirely on a popular song. Although not a major hit, this whimsical, gently lyrical and satirical movie became a major cult favorite, and may be the finest American film ever to attempt to look at the anti-war movement and the people around it. Penn's Little Big Man (1970), a revisionist look at the conquest of the west, fit in nicely with the anti-Vietnam sensibilities of its period, and has held up remarkably well as a reasonably honest look at a troubled past, with Dustin Hoffman turning in one of the best performances of his career. Penn's subsequent movies have seen his fortunes decline, as success eluded him through the 1970s and 1980s (1981's Four Friends is a particularly galling picture). Apart from the offbeat comedy Penn and Teller Get Killed, his most recent public appearance has been as the designated replacement for David Lean on the latter's unfinished project Nostromo. Lean's death before the project had gotten sufficiently far along led to its cancellation rather than Penn's picking up the film as his own. Expand

Arthur Penn's Scores

  • Movies
  • TV
Average career score: 72
Highest Metascore: 86 Bonnie and Clyde
Lowest Metascore: 53 Target
Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 5 out of 6
  2. Negative: 0 out of 6
6 movie reviews
Title: Year: Credit: User score:
53 Target Nov 8, 1985 Director tbd
65 The Missouri Breaks May 22, 1976 Director tbd
82 Night Moves Mar 18, 1975 Director tbd
63 Little Big Man Dec 23, 1970 Director 7.9
86 Bonnie and Clyde Aug 13, 1967 Director / Director tbd
83 The Miracle Worker Jul 28, 1962 Director 9.4