Peter Yates (1929-2011) b. Aldershot, Hampshire, England.
Director Peter Yates was born in Aldershot, Hampshire, to Colonel Robert Yates and his wife, Constance. After attending Charterhouse school, Surrey, he dreamed of becoming an actor and studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before going on to star on the stage. His dreams of acting were soon forsaken for theatre direction, first in the local repertory, and then at the Royal Court in London. He gained valuable film experience in the dubbing studios in Wardour Street and worked as an assistant director on films as varied as Cover Girl Killer (1959), Sons and Lovers (1960), The Guns of Navarone (1961) and as an assistant director for Tony Richardson on The Entertainer (1960) and A Taste of Honey (1961). Later that decade he gained experience in television, directing episodes for the ITC action series The Saint and Danger Man.
He made his debut as a film director with the amiable low-budget Cliff Richard musical Summer Holiday (1963). He returned to his theatrical origins to film N.F. Simpson’s offbeat comedy, One Way Pendulum (1964), but the film’s surreal humour failed to engage film audiences. Yates experience as an assistant works manager at HW Motors in Surrey gave him the break he needed when he was hired to direct the taut thriller Robbery (1967). The heart-stopping opening car chase and climactic action sequence made the film, which was inspired by the 1963 Great Train Robbery, a turning point in his career. It brought box-office success, critical plaudits and an invitation to Hollywood.
Yates was offered acclaimed cop movie Bullitt (1968), starring Steve McQueen as a cool, laconic cop. Its high-speed pursuit through the streets of San Francisco is still regarded as one of the best car chase sequences in movie history. In a move characteristic of his career, Yates next directed an oddly sentimental comedy, John and Mary (1969), starring Dustin Hoffman and Mia Farrow as a couple who meet in a Manhattan singles bar. He then tackled the WWII action film, Murphy’s War (1971), with Peter O’Toole as a crazed Irishman seeking revenge on a lone German U-boat in the closing days of the conflict. After the engaging, if overlong, crime caper How to Steal a Diamond in Four Uneasy Lessons (1972) starring Robert Redford and George Segal, Yates made his best thriller, The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1973). This low-key and realistic Boston crime story starred the wonderfully laconic Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle as middle-aged, small-time hoods.
His next films tackled a variety of subjects and genres and gave rise to Yates becoming known, somewhat disparagingly, as a journeyman director for hire. The lumpen screwball comedy For Pete’s Sake (1974) starred an ill-at-ease Barbra Streisand, while Mother, Jugs & Speed (1976) made the best of an indifferent screenplay. He then enjoyed a massive box-office success with the underwater saga The Deep (1977). Loathed by critics, Yates was the first to admit that putting Jacqueline Bisset into a wet-suit was a major part of the film’s commercial appeal. He then produced and directed the beguiling youth movie Breaking Away (1979), from a witty and observant Oscar-winning screenplay by Steve Tesich. It brought him his first Oscar nominations for best picture and best director. Yates and Tesich reunited for the intriguing political thriller Eyewitnesss (1981), which was markedly more successful than the sword and sorcery epic Krull (1983), in which special effects and lush sets were no compensation for dull plotting.
Yates exercised his versatility was exercised when he returned to the UK to direct The Dresser (1983). Based on Ronald Harwood’s play about his experiences working for the actor-manager Donald Wolfit, the film was a poignant character study of a man vicariously living his life through his exuberant star employer. Yates was again nominated for best director and best picture Academy Awards. He again teamed up with Steve Tesich for the poignant drama Eleni (1985) and directed the effective courtroom drama Suspect (1987) starring Cher, Dennis Quaid and Liam Neeson. A year later Yates produced and directed the sub-Hitchcockian cloak and dagger political movie The House on Carroll Street (1988), and treaded Hitch territory again with An Innocent Man (1989), starring Tom Selleck in a tale of wrongful imprisonment and its devastating effect on the victim and his family. The sentimental Roommates (1995) was salvaged only by Peter Falk’s virtuoso performance, and Yates inspired equally fine work from Finney in the Irish-set The Run of the Country (1995). After the woeful supernatural comedy Curtain Call (1999), Yates returned to television with a lavish production of Don Quixote (2000), adapted by John Mortimer and starring John Lithgow as the eponymous hero, and the coming-of-age drama A Separate Peace (2004), based on John Knowles’s novel.