In 1969, a movie, Death of a Gunfighter, was released. The plot was interesting, but the film became famous for a reason quite outside the storyline.

The lead actor, Richard Widmark, was not happy with the director, Robert Totten. Though Totten was an experienced director, Widmark kept trying to wrest the reins (so to speak) from his hands. After 25 days of shooting (hah), Widmark managed to get Totten replaced.

The new director, Donald Siegel, climbed aboard and drove the production to the end of the line, which took about 10 days of filming.

When the final edit of the film was created, it contained about equal amounts of work from each of the two directors. Siegal didn’t feel right being listed as the director, since half the work was Totten’s. And Totten didn’t want to be associated with the movie.

Faced with a situation in which neither director wanted his name on the film, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) came up with a solution of sorts: a pseudonym would be used. The name was going to be Al Smith. However, the Guild discovered there was an actual director by that name, so they changed it to Allen Smithee.

When Death of a Gunfighter — with Allen Smithee listed as director — was released, it received good reviews. A number of critics complimented the fine directing. The New York Times, for example, said it was “sharply directed by Allen Smithee who has an adroit facility for scanning faces and extracting sharp background detail.”

Roger Ebert not only called the film “an extraordinary western,” he said “director Allen Smithee, a name I’m not familiar with, allows his story to unfold naturally.”

Death of a Gunfighter was not the first dilemma the DGA had to deal with. At various times, directors had come to the Guild complaining that creative control had been taken from them and the final edit of a film didn’t reflect their vision. Beginning in 1969, if a director could prove such a claim, the DGA gave permission for the credit on a film to read “Directed by Allen Smithee.” Later, the name became Alan Smithee.

All was well until 1997 when a bizarre situation arose. A director, Arthur Hiller, made a movie entitled “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn.” The movie was a mockumentary about a director named Alan Smithee who tries to have his name removed from a film, but can’t because the official pseudonym for such cases is Alan Smithee.

The final cut of the Hiller film was so atrocious, Hiller wanted his name removed from it. So the director of An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn is listed as Alan Smithee. With that, beginning in 2000, the pseudonym, Alan Smithee, was retired. Now, pseudonyms are chosen on a case by case basis.

Go to the International Movie Database and search for Alan Smithee to see a list of works credited to him.

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