Fed up with what New Hollywood’s churning out? Prepare to gorge on some of the best of Old Hollywood. Film Forum is marking the centennial of the great American director William Wyler with a 33-film retrospective, running from September 13 through October 10. Although he is one of the most honored of directors, with a record number of acting Oscars under his stewardship, Wyler’s reputation has been dimmed somewhat by a generation of auteur critics who find his films insufficiently “personal.”
Wyler was a supreme craftsman who captured how people look and sound in the most decisive and harrowing moments of their lives, and he framed those moments in ways that make them memorable forever. There are so many worthies that it’s tempting to highlight them all, but in addition to the famous ones, like his masterpiece The Best Years of Our Lives, Jezebel, The Letter, Roman Holiday, The Little Foxes, Dead End, and The Heiress (hands down the best Henry James adaptation), don’t miss These Three, Wyler’s 1936 adaptation of Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour (which he redid in 1961); Counsellor at Law, featuring John Barrymore’s greatest film performance; and Dodsworth, with Walter Huston at his most powerful. Laurence Olivier credited Wyler with teaching him how to act for the screen in Wuthering Heights. Also check out Olivier in Carrie, an adaptation of Dreiser’s Sister Carrie that contains one of his finest (and least-known) portrayals. Peak performances are routine in Wyler films. He brought out the best in every actor he ever worked with.
(Film Forum; starting September 13).