Reading about movies, you hear stories of some films shot in five days and other films shot over three years. Some of the poverty-row directors and B-movie makers cranked out as many movies as they could during a calendar year, while filmmakers like Charlie Chaplin and Stanley Kubrick waited years between projects (making each release a new "event"). Most filmmakers, I think, given the chance would probably release one film per year, keeping their toes in without burning out. But sometimes, whether it's a trick of the calendar, or some peculiar rhythms of timing, some of the greatest directors manage to release two films per year. And even less often, both of these films turn out great. The following is my not-exactly-extensive, but enthusiastic celebration of the one-two punch or the director's double-whammy.
1. Jacques Tourneur:I Walked with a Zombie and The Leopard Man (1943)
The world has frankly been a better place to live since Warner Home Video released the five-disc, nine-film DVD "Val Lewton Horror Collection" box set in 2005. I have often promised myself that, if ever en route to a desert island, it would be the first thing I'd grab (provided that said island came with its own entertainment system). Four directors worked on those nine great horror films (counting poor Gunther von Fritsch, a footnote in film history for being too slow, getting fired from The Curse of the Cat People, and thus launching Robert Wise's career). But Jacques Tourneur -- son of silent era filmmaker Maurice Tourneur -- is undoubtedly the most talented of the group. He started the cycle with the extraordinary Cat People in 1942, and followed it with this one-two punch in April and May of the following year. Sure, they're cheap, quickly-made B-movies, but few films have ever been made -- in any genre, for any price -- with so much textured atmosphere and such a resounding sense of dreamy dread.
2. David Cronenberg:Videodrome and The Dead Zone (1983)
Released in February of 1983, Videodrome went unnoticed at that time, except by the usual band of horror buffs. But these days -- and thanks to a spiffy two-disc Criterion Collection DVD release in 2004 -- it has come to be considered a kind of lynchpin in David Cronenberg's career, and perhaps his masterpiece (it's the crossover from his early, low-budget horror films into his more mature, recent entertainments). The Dead Zone, on the other hand, was released in October by a major studio and earned quite a bit more attention and money. While not up to Videodrome standards, it's still a very interesting work, and it received generally good reviews at the time. So with this particular one-two punch, Cronenberg upped the ante both for his die-hard fans and for his newfound mainstream fans.
3. Orson Welles:The Lady from Shanghai and Macbeth (1948)
Some sources list The Lady from Shanghai as a 1947 film, but it was released in the United States in June of 1948, just a few months before the October premiere of Macbeth. This was a remarkable feat, given that Welles directed, completed and released only 13 films over the course of 37 years, and for two of them to fall in the same year must have been a miraculous luxury for the most adventurous moviegoers of the time. Of course, Welles' name was mud back then, and even today there are those who believe that his career after Citizen Kane was a long, slow downfall. But just check out this pair -- an off-kilter film noir with some genuinely bizarre touches and a low-budget, but nightmarish Shakespeare adaptation -- and you'll see that the genius had never lost his touch.
4. John Ford: Stagecoach and Young Mr. Lincoln (1939)
How did he do it? John Ford averaged two or three movies a year all through the 1930s. He made three in 1939, two more in 1940 and two more in 1941 -- and won the Best Director Oscar twice during that time. And these were no mere low-budget quickies. These were the best A-list stuff Hollywood had to offer. He was good... really, really good. But 1939 was his best year. He finished the year with a Revolutionary War film, Drums Along the Mohawk, which is a perfectly good film, but his earlier two releases are essential viewing, even today. Stagecoach was pretty much instantly acclaimed as an American masterpiece, turning a fairly tired genre on its head and re-inventing it for a more intelligent audience (though it has its fair share of great action, too). Young Mr. Lincoln took a bit longer to find its place, and was helped along by French critics after WWII, who embraced it as one of the director's most balanced films.
5. Don Siegel: Dirty Harry and The Beguiled (1971)
Siegel rose through the ranks from a "montage" director at Warner Brothers, to one of Hollywood's most crackerjack B-movie makers in the 1950s and 1960s to one of the very best action directors of the 1970s. 1971 was his banner year, finishing off with a huge hit and a highly influential Clint Eastwod classic, Dirty Harry; it was so brutal and incendiary at the time that both Roger Ebert and Pauline Kael called it "fascist." But earlier in the year, he made what might be his personal masterpiece, The Beguiled, a psychosexual war film about a wounded Union soldier (Eastwood again) who is taken in by the proprietors of a Confederate girls' school. If that's not enough, Eastwood also made his own great directorial debut this year, Play Misty for Me, and gave Siegel a small part in it.
6. Clint Eastwood: Changeling and Gran Torino (2008)
This one is all the more remarkable when you consider how complex and detailed the two films are, that they were released only two months apart (in October and December), and that Eastwood was 78 at the time. I found Changeling very tough to sit through when I first saw it, but my admiration for it has grown; I found the fact that Eastwood did not soften the subject matter quite commendable. Apparently viewers did too; it currently ranks on the IMDB's Top 250 films. Gran Torino is a masterpiece, a concept that neither critics nor the Academy picked up on at the time. Happily, the fans did, and they made it one of the biggest hits of Eastwood's career.
7. Preston Sturges: The Lady Eve and Sullivan's Travels (1941)
Sturges was a comedy pressure-cooker, popping out at least seven hilarious classics in the four years between 1940 and 1944. He started out small, with Christmas in July and The Great McGinty in 1940, and raised the stakes for this pair. The Lady Eve is one of the sexiest screwball comedies that anyone could have baffled the censors with in 1941 (complete with phallic snakes), and Sullivan's Travels is still one of the ultimate post-modern Hollywood satires (with a message that continues to be ignored to this day).
George A. Romero: Martin and Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Steven Spielberg: Jurassic Park and Schindler's List (1993)
Alfred Hitchcock: To Catch a Thief and The Trouble with Harry (1955)
Yasujiro Ozu: Good Morning and Floating Weeds (1959)
Anthony Mann: The Furies and Winchester '73 (1950)