In 1969, the film Death of a Gunfighter was released, a western that, although it was not very popular in its time, won over a few critics. Roger Ebert, for example, wrote that it was “extraordinary” and later mentioned that although “he was not familiar with his director”, he felt that his director allowed his story “to unfold naturally”. But who was behind the camera in that production? This is the story of Alan Smithee, the pseudonym of more than one film director.
The first credit for “Allen Smithee”, in Death of a Gunfighter (1969).
The originally posted review is no longer available, but luckily searching with very specific terms can find an updated version that is hosted on the Chicago Sun-Times headline moviegoer website. There, an asterisk is seen next to the name of the creative, which leads to an editorial note at the bottom of the text. It reads:
“It wasn’t until years after this review was published that it became publicly known that ‘Allen Smithee’ was a pseudonym used by directors who wanted their name removed from film credits.”
Immediately afterwards we are informed that, in fact, the film had been directed by Don Siegel and Robert Totten, veterans who had become known with projects such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers or episodes of the television series Mission: Impossible.
None of these filmmakers wanted their name to be the one that signed the final product (ah, those creative differences!). Thus, they went to the Directors Guild of America and there it was decided to create the pseudonym for any film director who did not want to sign with his real name. It is known that, commonly, said union did not allow any director to separate from their work, but, thanks to the appeal presented by Siegel and Totten, this was finally achieved. First, he was created “Allen”, although, eventually came “Alan”.
Credited for “Alan Smithee” (David Lynch) in 1984’s Dune.
From its inception, the pseudonym for film director appeared in countless films and television episodes. What’s more: contrary to what one might think, the credit is not only applied in directorial aspects, as it has also been used by cinematographers, writers, actors, casting directors and even animators (via IMDB).
The best known cases of the use of the nickname are linked to people like Michael Mann, Kiefer Sutherland and even David Lynch: the first is not satisfied with the tremendous cuts they made to his criminal epic Heat on television and on airplanes; the second was not proud of the results of his film Woman Wanted and the third preferred to hide his name from his adaptation of Dune due to the many disagreements he had with the producer, Dino De Laurentiis (it should be noted that, in the latter case, the Lynch’s name was seen in the theatrical version, but not on television).
Alan Smithee’s story was formally short, as the DGA withdrew the name’s registration in 2000, preventing later tapes from officially using it.
However, this veto was only valid in the commercial industry, which is why several independent creatives followed, and still do, coining in their films, although with some variations, such as “Alana Smithy.”
Nobody knows director Alan Smithee.
Most likely, your films were actually the work of a daring filmmaker who, disappointed by studio pressure, or uneasy about bad editing, chose not to reveal his identity. Or who knows? Maybe it’s just your cousin trying to disengage from his school project that has been seen by millions.
José Roberto Landaverde Cinephile and music lover. I love writing, listening, reading and commenting on everything related to the seventh art. I think Fleetwood Mac is underrated. I’m a Rocky and Back to the Future fan and of course one day I’ll go up the “Philly Steps” and drive a DeLorean. Faithful believer that the cinema is the best teleportation machine, and also that on the big screen we can all see ourselves represented.