Tod Browning: It wasn’t only silent actors who faltered while adjusting to sound; directors, too, found assimilation shaky. A carnival hound and vaudevilleist, Browning parlayed a gift for sleazy entertainment into a career helming great horrors, some with Lon Chaney, like The Unholy Three. He was less in control with sound: Dracula, his most famous film, isn’t him at his best, while Freaks—so scandalous, it nearly destroyed his career—is. He worked sporadically till the end of the ‘30s, then kicked back in Malibu for his remaining two decades, delighting especially in watching contestants faint at dance marathons.
Dorothy Arzner: The lone female Hollywood filmmaker of the 1930s, Arzner’s films—including 1929’s The Wild Party, Clara Bow’s first talkie, and 1933’s Christopher Strong, with an Amelia Earhart-ish Katherine Hepburn—thrived in the Pre-Code era. She worked till 1943 then mysteriously stopped, at only 45, with four decades left on earth.
Ingmar Bergman: Fanny and Alexander (1982), Bergman’s farewell to cinema, of course wasn’t. Two years later, his TV film After the Rehearsal was theatrically released. In 2003 came his actual swan song: Saraband, his bittersweet sequel to the brittle Scenes from a Marriage.
Richard Lester: Far more than A Hard Day’s Night, the terminally underrated Philadelphia native also has The Knack, How I Won the War, Petulia, Juggernaut, etc.—bemused, skeptical looks at humanity that knock the pompous down to earth. Lester is skeptical of Lester, too: After the death of friend Roy Kinnear on the set of The Return of the Musketeers, he called it quits, at only 57. Unfailingly modest and self-effacing, Lester rarely does interviews, nor takes part in retrospectives, and can barely be shaken by those—like Steven Soderbergh, who interviewed him in his book Getting Away With It—who point out his brilliance.
Béla Tarr: For years, it was difficult to see the uncompromising work of Hungary’s bleakest miserablist. Once it was easy to see the 7-½ hour Sátántangó, he was winding down. Tarr, now 57, announced the singlemindedly bleak The Turin Horse was his last, claiming he had said all he could.
Steven Soderbergh: Like many, we will semi-delusionally hold onto intimations that one of cinema’s greatest— understandably burned out on an art and business in which he’s excelled—will one day return.