Saturday, September 17, 2005

Robert Wise

Over his long and distinguished career, director Robert Wise dipped his creative hand into just about every popular film genre around. If you liked the hard-boiled stuff, there was Born to Kill (1947) with Lawrence Tierney or the classic boxing film, The Set-Up (1949), starring Robert Ryan. Horror fans could sink their teeth into The Curse of the Cat People (1944), The Body Snatcher (1945) with Karloff and Lugosi, the bona fide classic The Haunting (1963), and the sadly underrated Audrey Rose (1977). There were Westerns—Blood on the Moon (1948), Two Flags West (1950)--; historical epics—Helen of Troy (1956)--; war/action—The Desert Rats (1953), Destination Gobi (1953), Run Silent Run Deep (1958), and The Sand Pebbles (1966) with Steve McQueen; melodrama—Executive Suite (1954), I Want to Live! (1958); science-fiction—the humanistic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), the scarily relevant The Andromeda Strain (1971), and the sadly turgid Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). And then there were the musicals West Side Story (1961) and The Sound of Music (1965), which if he had directed nothing else, these two monsters of the genre would’ve been more than enough to solidify his place in Hollywood history. Wise also had his clunkers—Star! (1968), The Hindenburg (1975), and the above-mentioned first Star Trek feature-film—but his track record was more-so-than-not impressive and the work solidly entertaining, if unfortunately lacking in personality or distinction.

Before turning to directing, Wise began his career as an assistant editor for RKO and then later worked with Orson Welles on the masterpiece, Citizen Kane (1941). But Wise’s fruitful relationship with Welles was not to last after the release of The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), when the RKO suits demanded that Wise edit the film down (behind Welles’ back) from its initial 132 minutes to just 88 minutes after preview audiences grew fidgety and confused. Despite Welles’ protestations and cries of betrayal, Wise maintained that his cuts and reconfiguring of scenes simply made the film flow better and tighter. Sadly, because the original print is lost to history, we’ll never know who was right.

Robert Wise died on Wednesday, September 14th, 2005 at the age of 91.

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