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Phil Karlson

American film director
The basics
Occupation Film director Screenwriter
Country United States of America
Date of birth Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, U.S.A.
Date of death Dec 12, 1985 Los Angeles, Los Angeles County, California, U.S.A.
Education School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Loyola Marymount University
Authority IMDB id ISNI id VIAF id Library of congress id
The details

Phil Karlson (born Philip N. Karlstein; July 2, 1908 – December 12, 1985) was an American film director. Karlson directed 99 River Street, Kansas City Confidential and Hell's Island, all with actor John Payne, in the early 1950s.

Other films include The Texas Rangers (1951), The Phenix City Story (1955), 5 Against the House (1955), The Young Doctors (1961) and Walking Tall (1973).


Karlson was the son of Irish actress Lillian O'Brien. His father was Jewish.

He studied painting at Chicago's Art Institute, and law, at his father's request, at Loyola Marymount University in California.

Karlson got into the film industry working as a prop man while a law student. After working a variety of jobs in the business--including assistant director on a number of Abbott and Costello films--he made his directorial debut in 1944. He directed Marilyn Monroe's first film, 1948's Ladies of the Chorus, and worked on a number of low-budget projects for Monogram Pictures and Eagle-Lion Films before finally hitting his stride in the early 1950s, when he turned out a string of tough, gritty, realistic and violent crime thrillers.

In the 1960s he directed Kid Galahad (1962) with Elvis Presley and two Matt Helm spy films starring Dean Martin, the original The Silencers followed by The Wrecking Crew (1969) co-starring Sharon Tate and Elke Sommer.

He hit it big in 1973 with Walking Tall, the fact-based story of a crusading sheriff in the most corrupt county in Tennessee. It was a major domestic and international hit. It also made him a fortune, thanks to the fact that he owned a large percentage of it.

The Academy Film Archive has preserved his films Tight Spot and Scandal Sheet.

Partial filmography

  • 1944: A Wave, a WAC and a Marine
  • 1945: There Goes Kelly
  • 1945: G. I. Honeymoon
  • 1945: The Shanghai Cobra
  • 1946: Live Wires
  • 1946: Swing Parade of 1946
  • 1946: Dark Alibi
  • 1946: Bowery Bombshell
  • 1946: Wife Wanted
  • 1948: Ladies of the Chorus
  • 1949: The Big Cat
  • 1950: The Iroquois Trail
  • 1951: Lorna Doone
  • 1951: The Texas Rangers
  • 1951: Mask of the Avenger
  • 1952: Scandal Sheet
  • 1952: The Brigand
  • 1952: Kansas City Confidential
  • 1953: 99 River Street
  • 1954: They Rode West
  • 1955: Tight Spot
  • 1955: Hell's Island
  • 1955: 5 Against the House
  • 1955: The Phenix City Story
  • 1957: The Brothers Rico
  • 1958: Gunman's Walk
  • 1960: Hell to Eternity
  • 1961: The Secret Ways
  • 1961: The Young Doctors
  • 1962: Kid Galahad
  • 1963: Rampage
  • 1966: The Silencers
  • 1967: A Time for Killing
  • 1969: The Wrecking Crew
  • 1970: Hornets’ Nest
  • 1972: Ben
  • 1973: Walking Tall
  • 1975: Framed
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