Born in Chicago. He graduated from Jesus College, Cambridge and found work in Warner Brothers film library, rising to become head of the Montage Department. In 1945 he won an Academy Award for his shorts Hitler Lives? and A Star in the Night which launched his career as a feature director.
He directed whatever material came his way, often transcending the limitations of budget and script to produce interesting and adept works. He worked well with Steve McQueen in Hell Is For Heroes and Lee Marvin in the influential The Killers before a series of films with Clint Eastwood that were successful on both an artistic and commercial level, he was a considerable influence on Eastwood.
He was briefly married to the actress Viveca Lindfors.
The Verdict (1946), Night Unto Night (1947), The Big Steal (1949), Duel at Silver Creek (1952), Count the Hours (1953), China Venture (1953), Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954), Private Hell 36 (1954), The Blue and Gold (1955), Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Crime in the Streets (1956), Baby Face Nelson (1957), Spanish Affair (1957), The Gun Runners (1958), The Line-Up (1958), Hound Dog Man (1959), Edge of Eternity (1959), Flaming Star (1960), Hell Is For Heroes (1962), The Killers (1964), The Hanged Man (1964), Stranger on the Run (1967), Coogan's Bluff (1968), Madigan (1968), Two Mules for Sister Sarah (1969), The Beguiled (1970), Dirty Harry (1971), Charley Varrick (1972), The Black Windmill (1974), The Shootist (1976), Telefon (1977), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), Rough Cut (1980), Jinxed (1981).