William Wyler

William Wyler

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Jezebel Review


OK
Jezebel's southern Civil War-era setting and its brazen female lead make it seem a lot like Gone With the Wind, but this Bette Davis Best Actress-winner can't hold a candle to the successor which would arrive the following year. Davis is the draw here, playing a bachelorette who no one seems to be able to control -- and she of course is keen to keep it that way. The histrionics come across as quaint today, and even Davis's performance can't hold the film up all by its lonesome.

Detective Story Review


OK
It's just another day at the precinct for Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas)... well, that's what we're supposed to think anyway.

Detective Story takes place almost entirely within a detective squad room of a police station. Originally a play, the film focuses on the dramas -- large and small -- that go on during this fateful day. A woman (Lee Grant) is hauled in for shoplifting. She spends the entire day just sitting there, waiting. Another man is brought in for stealing from his boss in order to fund his girlfriend's expensive tastes, while her sister begs for the cops to let him go. Two burglars are given the shakedown. And, in what drives the film's most critical plot forward, McLeod spars continuously with a suspicious doctor for reasons unknown. When McLoed's wife (Eleanor Parker) shows up, it'll come to a head.

Continue reading: Detective Story Review

Mrs. Miniver Review


Excellent
For some reason, I've resisted seeing the acclaimed Mrs. Miniver all my life (probably due to the dull title) -- but finally I caught a showing on Turner Classic Movies and I was duly impressed. Now out on DVD, there's no excuse for anyone to miss seeing Miniver for themselves.

The titular missus is just a moderatly wealthy English lady in 1939 who's trying to keep her family together on the eve of World War II. Her son enlists in the RAF, her husband serves in the river patrol. The Germans drop bombs and, eventually, a Nazi soldier lands in the Miniver backyard. In happier times the son woos and marries the local beauty. A flower show is held. Oddly, all of this is compelling and makes perfect sense -- and it all looks gorgeous thanks to some lush black & white photography, excellent set designs, and impressive war effects.

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The Letter Review


OK
Given the source material and the star power, The Letter should be a smash, but this sweaty tropical melodrama doesn't quite deliver. It serves as a reminder that back in the day, even the greatest actors were forced to play whatever roles their studio bosses dictated. That explains why Bette Davis's career in the '30s and '40s has as many misses as hits. This is one of the near misses.

Based on a stage play by W. Somerset Maugham, The Letter opens with a bang, actually six bangs, as Malaya rubber plantation mistress Leslie Crosbie (Davis) pumps six slugs into her neighbor, Geoffrey Hammond (David Newell). The murder throws the plantation into an upheaval, and when Leslie's husband Robert (Herbert Marshall) arrives and learns what has happened, Leslie's explanation is simple: Hammond was drunk, he was possessed with lust, and he tried to "make love" to her. Robert gets his lawyer, Howard Joyce (Robert Stephenson), involved right away, and the visiting police are terribly kind to Leslie, telling her she performed magnificently. Nevertheless, they'll have to arrest her for murder and take her to Singapore for what should be a quick and easy trial.

Continue reading: The Letter Review

Carrie (1952) Review


Good
The people at the video store hadn't heard of this movie, naturally confusing it with Brian De Palma's hyperkinetic horror classic Carrie. They should know better. William Wyler's 1952 film is an intense, visual retelling of Theodore Dreiser's first novel Sister Carrie, a sprawling story of a "kept woman" in turn-of -the-century America and how she rises from shy country girl to big-city diva in spite of, or because of, what was then called "moral transgressions." Considered controversial, if not indecent, when Dreiser wrote it in 1900, its publication was delayed for over a decade.

Wyler (who died in 1981) was a master of hybrid movie-making, transforming one masterpiece novel and one serious play after another, into stylized, highly cinematic pictures that made audiences forget they were watching adaptations. His Wuthering Heights may not be true Bronte, but audiences in 1939 cried over Heathcliff and Kathy as if they were Romeo and Juliet; in These Three, he fashioned Lillian Hellman's play The Children's Hour in ways that made a lesbian couple acceptable on screen in 1936; and any one who's seen The Heiress, his version of Washington Square by Henry James, will never forget Olivia de Havilland's haunting portrayal of the lonely, angry, ugly-duckling daughter of a rich and powerful physician. Then there's always Ben-Hur.

Continue reading: Carrie (1952) Review

Detective Story Review


OK
It's just another day at the precinct for Jim McLeod (Kirk Douglas)... well, that's what we're supposed to think anyway.

Detective Story takes place almost entirely within a detective squad room of a police station. Originally a play, the film focuses on the dramas -- large and small -- that go on during this fateful day. A woman (Lee Grant) is hauled in for shoplifting. She spends the entire day just sitting there, waiting. Another man is brought in for stealing from his boss in order to fund his girlfriend's expensive tastes, while her sister begs for the cops to let him go. Two burglars are given the shakedown. And, in what drives the film's most critical plot forward, McLeod spars continuously with a suspicious doctor for reasons unknown. When McLoed's wife (Eleanor Parker) shows up, it'll come to a head.

Continue reading: Detective Story Review

Jezebel Review


OK
Jezebel's southern Civil War-era setting and its brazen female lead make it seem a lot like Gone With the Wind, but this Bette Davis Best Actress-winner can't hold a candle to the successor which would arrive the following year. Davis is the draw here, playing a bachelorette who no one seems to be able to control -- and she of course is keen to keep it that way. The histrionics come across as quaint today, and even Davis's performance can't hold the film up all by its lonesome.

The Big Country Review


Good
The Big Country is a Big Movie, long, majestic, and filled with Shakespearean overtones. This William Wyler western has never found classic status, but it's a worthwhile and very well-made production. Charlton Heston steals the show as the ranch foreman to a wealthy landowner feuding with his neighbors; Gregory Peck makes a minimal impression as a sea captain who arrives on the scene to marry the ranch owner's daughter -- only to get caught up in the squabble. Burl Ives (yes, Burl Ives) won an Oscar for playing the neighbor, Rufus. This one's been lost to time for the most part, but Wyler fans will eat it up.

Roman Holiday Review


Extraordinary
One can't help but wonder how Roman Holiday would have been different is it was made today instead of in 1953 (Mr. Deeds aped Holiday more closely than its ostensible source material). The Gregory Peck-Audrey Hepburn classic features a reporter in Rome (Peck) and an incognito princess (Hepburn) -- with both pretending they're someone else. Of course, he knows she's playing hooky from her royal family and he's out to write the story of a lifetime (with photographer pal Eddie Albert in a priceless role). She on the other hand is oblivious to what's going on. She wants to have a little fun outside the watchful eyes of her keepers. Of course they fall in love along the way.

Roman Holiday is one of the most beloved of both Hepburn's and Peck's films, a lovely little romance, full of fun and playfulness, stellar performances (Hepburn won an Oscar and Albert was nominated), and all set against the beauty of Rome. Many of its scenes are nothing short of priceless: the ad-libbed moment when Peck sticks his hand into the mouth of a statue and pretends it's been bitten off (sending Hepburn into hysterics) is absolutely unforgettable.

Continue reading: Roman Holiday Review

William Wyler

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