Clint Eastwood's 'Hereafter' opens wide this week and Woody Allen's 'You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger' is still around; while it's easy to picture the faces of those two big-time directors, you will not actually see them in their respective movies. Eastwood announced his retirement from acting two years ago and, as for Allen ... who knows?
It's fairly easy to figure out what drives an actor to want to direct, but it's much harder to understand the decision of whether or not to appear in the movie you're helming. Then there's the question of whether to play the lead, take a supporting role, appear in a cameo or perhaps just narrate. Finally, there's the option of not acting at all and staying 100 percent behind the camera. This choice may be the most artistic act of humility, or it may be the most colossal act of ego. Here are seven great ones:
1. Charles Laughton - 'The Night of the Hunter' (1955)
Laughton (1899-1962) was one of the biggest hams in movie history; hardly anyone so heartily enjoyed wrapping his lips around some good dialogue in films ranging from 'The Old Dark House' to 'Witness for the Prosecution.' How he wound up directing this one and only film, starring Robert Mitchum and not himself, is something as mysterious as the film itself. Some critics credit the film's creepy beauty as a combination of the screenplay by James Agee and the cinematography by Stanley Cortez, but surely Laughton's show-off personality must have contributed something. When the film flopped both critically and commercially, Laughton vowed never to direct again.