Although unfashionable with latter-day film critics who find some of his "message movies" to be simplistic, Stanley Kramer can take credit for producing (and later directing) some of Hollywood's boldest, most socially conscious movies-at a time when much of the industry was reverting to formula and cowering in the wake of the Communist witch-hunts. Moreover, his projects consistently attracted the top talent working on both sides of the cameras in Hollywood. Making his pictures independently gave Kramer freedom from studio interference, and he produced a run of powerful films, among them the gritty boxing drama Champion a study of Army racism, Home of The Brave (both 1949); a drama of paralyzed war veterans, The Men (1950, Marlon Brando's first film); a notable adaptation of Arthur Miller's play Death Of A Salesman (1951); and the anti-McCarthy Western, High Noon (1952). He then signed with Columbia, where he produced the first "biker" film, The Wild One and The Canine Mutiny (both 1954), as well as a Dr. Seuss musical fantasy The 5,000 Fingers of Mr. T. (1953), a notorious flop in its day but now a cult classic. Kramer finally began directing with, oddly, a glossy soap opera, Not A Stranger (1955).
After helming a large-scale actioner, The Pride and the Passion(1957), he returned to social commentary, attacking racism in the Defiant Ones (1958, Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and Best Director), nuclear proliferation in On The Beach (1959), creationism in Inherit the Wind (1960), and Nazi war criminals in Judgment at Nuremberg (1961, Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and Director). Challenged to make something "a little less serious," he vowed to make the "comedy to end all comedies," and almost pulled it off with the elephantine, overproduced, all-star blockbuster It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), still his most popular film. After a lavish adaptation of Ship Of Fools(1965), Kramer made Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967, Oscar-nominated for Best Picture and Director), which dealt head-on with interracial marriage. His later films, including The Secret Of Santa Vittorioa (1969), R.P.M. (1970), Bless the Beasts and Children (1971), the underrated Oklahoma Crude (1973), and The Dimano Principle (1977), were not successful, to say the least. The Runner Stumbles(1979), a particularly aloof and unconvincing thriller, was dismissed by critics and audiences alike, making it a dismal swan song to Kramer's career. In 1980 he retired and moved to Seattle, where he taught and wrote a newspaper column; a decade later he was back in Hollywood, planning new film projects.