William Wyler – Ben-Hur (1959)

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Synopsis by Hal Erickson
This 1959 version of Lew Wallace’s best-selling novel, which had already seen screen versions in 1907 and 1926, went on to win 11 Academy Awards. Adapted by Karl Tunberg and a raft of uncredited writers including Gore Vidal and Maxwell Anderson, the film once more recounts the tale of Jewish prince Judah Ben-Hur (Charlton Heston), who lives in Judea with his family during the time that Jesus Christ was becoming known for his “radical” teachings. Ben-Hur’s childhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) is now an ambitious Roman tribune; when Ben-Hur refuses to help Messala round up local dissidents on behalf of the emperor, Messala pounces on the first opportunity to exact revenge on his onetime friend. Tried on a trumped-up charge of attempting to kill the provincial governor (whose head was accidentally hit by a falling tile), Ben-Hur is condemned to the Roman galleys, while his mother (Martha Scott) and sister (Cathy O’Donnell) are imprisoned. But during a sea battle, Ben-Hur saves the life of commander Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins), who, in gratitude, adopts Ben-Hur as his son and gives him full control over his stable of racing horses. Continue reading

William Wyler – The Little Foxes (1941)

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Lillian Hellman’s play, a prime example of the “well-made” variety, is precisely the kind of successful middle-brow property that appealed to Samuel Goldwyn. He had already produced Hellman’s controversial The Children’s Hour (also directed by William Wyler, with cinematographer Gregg Toland), a play that handsomely survived a title change to These Three and the transformation of the issue of lesbianism into an illicit heterosexual affair. No major alterations were required for The Little Foxes. The film even resists the conventional “opening up” so often applied to theatrical texts, in the mistaken notion that fundamental cinematic values are expansively pictorial ones. Continue reading

William Wyler – How to Steal a Million (1966)

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Based on the short story “Venus Rising” by George Bradshaw, How to Steal a Million features a rather contrived plot about a wealthy art forger (Academy Award winner Hugh Griffith, Ben Hur) and his beautiful daughter (Hepburn) who are about to be exposed as frauds after they allow one of their fake statues to be displayed in a major art exhibition. In a desperate attempt to save face, Hepburn solicits help from a dashing society burglar (Peter O’Toole, Lawrence of Arabia) to steal the statue before tests can be made to reveal its true origin. The “burglar” isn’t exactly what he appears to be, however, and as they plot their haphazard heist, the two inevitably begin to fall in love.

Audrey Hepburn stars as Nicole Bonnet, the daughter of a very successful art forger named Charles Bonnet (played by Hugh Griffith). His latest project is a replica of a famed statue, which he knows would be scrutinized and inspected if he were to sell it – so he chooses instead to donate the piece to a museum. But when the museum announces that they’re bringing in a specialist to examine the statue, Charles is sure he’ll be found out. Nicole decides that the only way to avoid the situation is to steal the statue back, and enlists the help of suave, self-described “society burglar” Simon Dermott (O’Toole). The two begin plotting the heist and, of course, find themselves falling for each other along the way. Continue reading

William Wyler – A House Divided (1931)

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In a small Pacific village, a widowed fisherman marries a girl young enough to be his daughter. Complications ensue when the new wife falls in love with her husband’s son.

Creaky but interesting melodrama powered by Walter Huston’s performance as a brute and a dynamite action ending. Although Wyler’s direction is not as sure as it would be later, it is interesting to note that, for the most accomplished studio director of all time, a man said to operate without a style of his own, a lot of images that show up in his later films (particularly WUTHERING HEIGHTS and THE LITTLE FOXES) also show up here. Continue reading

William Wyler – The Collector (1965)

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Quote:
John Fowles’s novel The Collector was written in the form of a dual diary, one kept by a kidnapper, the other by his victim. The film is told almost exclusively from the point of view of the former, a nerdish British bank clerk named Freddy Clegg (Terence Stamp). A neurotic recluse whose only pleasure is butterfly collecting, Clegg wins $200,000 in the British Football Pool. He purchases a huge country estate, fixes up its cellar with all the comforts of home, then kidnaps Miranda (Samantha Eggar), an art student whom he has worshipped from afar. The demented Clegg doesn’t want ransom, nor does he want to rape the girl: he simply wants to “collect” her. She isn’t keen on this, and tries several times to escape. After several weeks, Clegg and Miranda grow increasingly fond of one another, and Clegg promises to let her go. When time comes for the actual release, however, Clegg decides that Miranda hasn’t completely come around to his way of thinking and changes his mind, leading to a further series of unfortunate events. Continue reading