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5 Classic Films Directed by Victor Fleming

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A prolific filmmaker who started his career early in the silent era, Victor Fleming would most likely not have been as well known were it not for directing two of classic Hollywood's most iconic films, Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz.

Made in the magical year of 1939, both films elevated his status beyond studio craftsman, with the latter earning him his one and only Academy Award. Though he died relatively young, Fleming was a powerful force behind the camera and still would have enjoyed a long venerable career even without his two greatest achievements.

1. ‘Captains Courageous’ – 1937

MGM Home Entertainment
Though he directed several quality films for MGM like Red Dust (1932) and Treasure Island (1934), it wasn’t until 1937’s Captains Courageous that Fleming made his first truly great film. Adapted from Rudyard Kipling’s novel, the film starred Spencer Tracy in his Oscar-winning role as a salty sea captain who rescues an overboard boy (Freddie Bartholomew) and teaches him the spoiled kid the value of friendship and hard work. While the core of the story focused on the growing bond between Tracy and Bartholomew, Fleming crafted an excellent film that ably moved from emotional character moments to thrilling action on the high seas. Captains Courageous received a total of four Academy Awards nominations, including Best Picture, but only Tracy came away with a win.
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2. ‘The Wizard of Oz’ – 1939

MGM Home Entertainment
One of classic Hollywood’s most iconic movies, The Wizard of Oz is also one of its most storied. Though he received solo credit for his efforts, Fleming was actually one of several directors involved in the project produced by Mervyn LeRoy. Initially, Norman Taurog was slated to direct, but he only got as far as the Technicolor test shoots before being replaced by Richard Thorpe. Thorpe pushed the film into production, 10 days in original Tin Man, Buddy Ebsen, had a serious reaction to his aluminum powder makeup. With production on hold, LeRoy replaced Ebsen with Jack Haley and Thorpe with George Cukor, who helped reorganize the shoot before moving onto direct Gone With the Wind. That's when Fleming stepped in and he wound up shooting most of The Wizard of Oz. In an ironic twist, Fleming left to take over for Cukor on Gone With the Wind, leaving the sepia-toned Kansas scenes in the hands of King Vidor. While many chefs in the kitchen tend to spoil the pot, this was one rare instance where several minds came together to create a singularly extraordinary film, one that was a bit of a financial dud upon release but has since become one of Hollywood’s most enduring films.
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3. ‘Gone With the Wind’ – 1939

Warner Bros.
There must have been magic in the air in 1939, because two of the era’s greatest films were directed by a multitude of directors. For Gone With the Wind, the greatest romantic dramas of all time and one of the best films ever made, Fleming was called upon by producer David O. Selznick to take over for George Cukor, who was fired three weeks into production despite the protests of Vivien Leigh and Olivia de Havilland. Fleming left The Wizard of Oz and took the reigns of a four-hour period epic that was enormous in both size and scope. Having filmed back-to-back films of such magnitude, Fleming fell prey to exhaustion and was forced to temporarily leave production, leading Sam Wood to take over until he returned. Of course, the results go without saying as Gone With the Wind became a huge box office smash while winning a staggering 10 Academy Awards, including statuettes for Best Picture and Best Director – Fleming’s only nomination and win.
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4. ‘A Guy Named Joe’ – 1944

MGM Home Entertainment
After struggling with mediocre films like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1941) and Tortilla Flat (1942), Fleming returned to critical favor with this World War II-themed fantasy about a reckless fighter pilot (Spencer Tracy) who dies in an attack, only to be given a chance to help another young pilot (Van Johnson) while in spirit form. Complicating matters are his grieving girlfriend (Irene Dunne) who falls for Johnson in the wake of Tracy’s death, leaving him jealous and unable to win her back. Beautifully acted and well directed, A Guy Named Joe milks all it can out of its heartrending premise and ranks as one of Fleming’s more underappreciated films.
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5. ‘Joan of Arc’ – 1948

Image Entertainment
Nominated for seven Academy Awards and winner of two, Fleming’s version of Joan of Arc earned such recognition despite being one of his more disappointing movies. A labor of life for Ingrid Bergman, who long wanted to play the titular French heroine, Joan of Arc featured a strongly compelling performance from its star, which was aided in no small part by Fleming. But clocking in at a whopping 145 minutes, the picture was considered too slow and dull for public consumption. While an edited version that was whittled down to 100 minutes was released two years later, the film’s reputation had already been cemented. Fleming was reportedly distraught over the final product, but died on Jan. 6, 1949, just three months after its release, before he could make up for it.
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