With only half of the films directed by New Yorker Richard Donner, most filmmakers would rejoice in his résumé. But in his case he accumulated mythical titles, which made him the favorite director of the teenagers of the eighties and nineties. Donner, who died this Monday – without revealing the causes of death -, as confirmed by his production company to various US media, was responsible for Superman, the saga Lethal Weapon, The Goonies, Lady Falcon O The prophecy, to mention some of the most popular titles of his filmography, the one that in Spain fed the shelves and shelves of the video stores that at that time were the (cinematographic) hunting ground of the kids.
Richard Donald Schwartzberg was born in the New York Bronx in 1930 to a family of Russian Jewish immigrants. Although he graduated in television directing, he began his acting career, thanks in part to his height (1.88 meters), until another film myth, Martin Ritt, who was part of the great generation of directors who jumped from the small screen to the big one in the fifties, advised him to leave it and proposed that he be his assistant. Donner accepted the advice and the job offer.
Thus his name began to appear in the early sixties as head of chapters of Randall the vigilante (the series Steve McQueen combined with The Magnificent Seven), Perry Mason, CIPOL Agent, Super Agent 89, Gilligan’s Island, The San Francisco Gunman … In addition, he made low-budget films such as X-15 (1961), with Charles Bronson, or the British Salt and pepper Y Twinky, which combined with telefimes. In the mid-1970s he was a renowned television producer who was called in to Streets of San Francisco, Ironside, Canon O Kojak, but that he was being reduced to this label. And that would have been his fate if a script of psychological terror hadn’t crossed his path.
Donner never wrote for movies. And yet his style is guessed at every sequence. The flashes of talent displayed in his chapters of The unknown dimension and everything learned was reflected in The prophecy (1976), the film that opened the doors to Hollywood for him. Was Damien, the son of the ambassador played by Gregory Peck, the antichrist? Donner approached that story as the drama of a family in crisis, and from there a blockbuster was born that, due to the numerous incidents that surrounded the production, soon became a movie full of legends of Satanism in Hollywood.
The filmmaker was suddenly embarked on his next challenge: shooting both the first and the second part of Superman, an idea imposed by the producers, Alexander and Ilya Salkind. But to finish the first at Christmas 1978, the filming of the second was abandoned very late, and when the Salkind argued with Donner, he was fired. He had already filmed 80% of the sequel, and the producers hired Richard Lester, another master of commercial cinema of those years, who was the author of 50% of Superman II (1980). More than 25 years later, a Donner cut version of this film was released on DVD. But it was Donner who relaunched the myth in the audiovisual … with the face of Christopher Reeve.
And even if he was fired from that saga (he would eventually refuse to direct Superman IV) and did not come out well from the drama Max’s Bar nor the comedy Your favorite toy, Donner was a benchmark. In 1985 he premiered Lady hawk Y Los Goonies, a milestone. The first, more than a movie, seems like a miracle of the seventh art: Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer embody a couple in love in medieval Italy who, bewitched, can only be seen for a few seconds at dawn and dusk: by day, one is warrior and the other, a hawk; At night the tables turn and she is a lady of the time and he is a wolf. The second is a classic teen adventure devised by Steven Spielberg and written by Chris Columbus.
In those years Richard Donner married Lauren Shuler Donner, a production company who became a star in her field: she started the saga X-Men, and together they raised Hidden youth (1987), by Joel Schumacher, and another series in cinema: ¡Liberad a Willy!. Meanwhile, Donner gave birth to his own saga, Lethal weapon, with Mel Gibson and Danny Glover, and buddy movies (movies from colleagues) were never the same. Among the first three installments, Donner also directed Ghosts attack the boss (1988), adaptation of Christmas story of Dickens with Bill Murray in the world of television, and The force of illusion (1992), a film with a much darker history (child abuse), which in Donner’s hands became more familiar, and which was a disaster in the critics.
After Lethal Weapon 3 (1992), Donner returned with his friend Gibson for the western Maverick (1994), and then came his first big disaster: Assassins (1995) with Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas, despite having a script by the Wachowski sisters rewritten by Brian Helgeland. In 1997 and 1998 Donner returned with Gibson in Conspiracy Y Lethal weapon 4.
From that moment he and his wife increased his work as a producer (their names appear in, for example, Wolverine); yet he would still direct two more films: la lazy Timeline (2003), and the curious and vindicable 16 streets, con Bruce Willis.
At the premiere of Lethal Weapon, Donner said in an interview in EL PAÍS: “My goal as a filmmaker is to entertain.” A clear message, which in his death his friends have remembered and underlined: Gibson, Sean Astin or Spielberg.