Born in Montreal, Quebec, he attended Roslyn High School and Westmount High School in Montreal. He later studied at the University of California, Los Angeles and Pacific Coast University School of Law. Robson then found work in the prop department at 20th Century Fox studios. He eventually went to work at RKO Pictures where he began training as a film editor.
In 1940 he worked as an assistant to Robert Wise on the editing of Citizen Kane, the film debut of Orson Welles. He and Wise also edited Welles' next movie, The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), and were part of the drastic cuts of the ending of the film with which Welles disagreed.
He was promoted to editor for The Falcon's Brother (1942), an RKO B picture.
Both he and Wise benefited tremendously from producer and screenwriter Val Lewton, who was supervising a series of low budget horror films at RKO that would become legendary. The first one was Cat People (1942), directed by Jacques Tourneur and a tremendous success. He edited Journey into Fear (1943), made by Orson Welles' company but the editing was again done without Welles' involvement.
Robson edited Lewtown's next two films, both directed by Tourneur, I Walked with a Zombie (1943) and The Leopard Man (1943).
Lewton had been so impressed with Robson's work he promoted him to director for The Seventh Victim (1943). Lewton liked the result and so Robson directed The Ghost Ship (1943). (Lewton would later give Robert Wise his first directing job, on The Curse of the Cat People (1944).
Lewton wanted to make non-horror films and RKO allowed him to make Youth Runs Wild (1944), a juvenile delinquency story; Robson directed but the film was not a commercial success. More popular was Isle of the Dead (1945) starring Boris Karloff. Lewton, Karloff and Robson reunited on Bedlam (1946), which lost money at the box office and turned out to be the last horror movie made by Lewton.
His success at RKO lead to work on major film projects and in 1949 he was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures for his work on the film noir drama Champion, produced by Stanley Kramer. He made another for Kramer, Home of the Brave (1949), one of the first films to deal with the issue of racism.
That year also saw the release of Roughshod (1949), a Western made for RKO, and My Foolish Heart (1949) a melodrama for producer Sam Goldwyn. Goldwyn then used Robson for Edge of Doom (1950) and I Want You (1951). At Universal he made Bright Victory (1951).
Robson briefly brought back his old mentor Val Lewton with fellow protégé Robert Wise in a partnership for film and television production, only to drop the ailing Lewton without explanation a few months later.
Robson and Wise produced Return to Paradise (1953), starring Gary Cooper. For Warwick Films he directed Alan Ladd in Hell Below Zero (1954).
He made a comedy at Columbia, Phffft (1954), then had one of the biggest hits in his career with The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954). This film earned him another DGA nomination.
Warwick Films used him again for A Prize of Gold (1955), then he went to MGM to make Trial (1955). The Harder They Fall (1956), from the novel by Budd Schulberg, was the last movie of Humphrey Bogart.
The Little Hut (1957), for MGM was a huge hit. Even bigger was Peyton Place (1957),for 20th Century Fox. Robson was nominated for an Academy Award for Directing. He was nominated again the following year for directing Ingrid Bergman in The Inn of the Sixth Happiness. For these films he also received his third and fourth Directors Guild of America nominations.
Robson produced and directed From the Terrace (1960), from a best seller, starring Paul Newman. He produced only The Inspector (1962) and produced and directed Nine Hours to Rama (1963).
Robson and Newman reunited on The Prize (1963). It was a hit, as was Von Ryan's Express (1965), starring Frank Sinatra.
He produced and directed Lost Command (1966), a tale of the French Foreign Legion, and directed 1967's Valley of the Dolls, a film panned by the critics but a success at the box office.
He had a series of films that were commercially disappointing: Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969), Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971) and Limbo (1972). In 1974 he directed Earthquake, the film that introduced "Sensurround".
On 20 June 1978, Robson died of a heart attack in London after completing Avalanche Express. The film was released a year after his death. He is interred in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.
For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Mark Robson has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1722 Vine Street.Citizen Kane (1941, assistant editor, uncredited)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942, assistant editor, uncredited)
Mail Trouble (1942)
The Falcon's Brother (1942)
Cat People (1942)
Journey into Fear (1943)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
The Leopard Man (1943)
The Seventh Victim (1943)
The Ghost Ship (1943)
Youth Runs Wild (1944)
Isle of the Dead (1945)
Home of the Brave (1949)
My Foolish Heart (1949)
Edge of Doom (1950)
Bright Victory (1951)
I Want You (1951)
Return to Paradise (1953, director and producer)
Hell Below Zero (1954)
The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1955)
A Prize of Gold (1955)
The Harder They Fall (1956)
The Little Hut (1957, director and producer)
Peyton Place (1957)
The Inn of the Sixth Happiness (1958)
From the Terrace (1960, director and producer)
The Inspector (1962, director and producer)
Nine Hours to Rama (1963, director and producer)
The Prize (1963)
Von Ryan's Express (1965)
Lost Command (1966, director and producer)
Valley of the Dolls (1967, director and producer)
Daddy's Gone A-Hunting (1969, director and producer)
Happy Birthday, Wanda June (1971, director and producer)
Earthquake (1974, director and producer)
Avalanche Express (1979, director and producer)