Joseph Losey, born to a family whose American roots predated the American Revolution, has been called the "most European of American directors. " His influences include Bertolt Brecht and Harold Pinter as well as Italian neo-realism and German expressionism. In 1935, he even studied under Sergei Eisenstein in Moscow, where he also met Brecht. It was his blacklisting in 1951, however, that forced Losey to make Europe his home.
In 1930, after receiving his M.A. from Harvard, Losey moved to New York City to work in the theater; he directed his first play, "Little Ol' Boy", three years later. Directing for both political theater groups and the WPA's "Living Newspaper" productions, Losey combined an anti-realist aesthetic with radical political views. In 1947 he directed the world premiere of Brecht's "Galileo Galilei", a play he would film in 1975.
Losey began to work in film in 1938, making educational documentaries for the Rockefeller Foundation. He directed his first feature, "The Boy With Green Hair", ten years later, and by 1951 had directed five films, the last being a remake of Fritz Lang's "M". Although none of these films expressed Losey's radical views, recurrent themes such as manhunts and mass hysteria provided a timely commentary on the political paranoia of the day. Losey himself was blacklisted in 1951 when he refused to testify before the HUAC. Unable to work in Hollywood, he moved to England, where he worked under pseudonyms for several years.
In England, Losey's focus shifted from the public themes of his Hollywood films to private relationships within the rigid British class system. He brought a stern moral scrutiny to bear on the status quo, often using the figure of the disruptive intruder as a catalyst. Striving for an intellectual rather than an emotional engagement with his audience, he tended to contain the action of his films within tightly defined settings, and to pay minute attention to symbolic details of the mise-en-scene. All of these factors combined to give his work an allegorical quality which, together with Losey's didacticism and pessimistic world view, alienated popular audiences.
Losey's most successful films were his collaborations with playwright Harold Pinter: "The Servant" (1963), "Accident" (1967) and "The Go-Between" (1971). Losey and Pinter also attempted to film Marcel Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past", but while Pinter's screenplay was published, their film never got made. Like Orson Welles, Losey is almost as well known for his numerous uncompleted or aborted projects as for his finished ones. (He was, in fact, set to direct "High Noon" shortly before he was blacklisted.)
In 1976 Losey relocated to France--where he is considered one of the great auteurs of cinema--and directed three films in French. His last feature, "Steaming", released posthumously in 1985, was his first English-language film in almost a decade. In the early 1980s, Losey almost fulfilled his dream of making another film in the United States, but both of his planned projects fell through, one within days of shooting.
Losey resented his alienation from his country, but also acknowledged its positive aspects. Rather than end up a jaded Hollywood director, he was forced to be an outsider--a position that was to inspire, as well as frustrate, his work.