Archive for Hell’s Heroes

The Sunday Intertitle: Home and Deranged

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , on February 12, 2017 by dcairns


William Wyler, strangely for an acclaimed, Oscar-winning, AFI-certified master director (albeit one with shaky standing among highbrow cinephiles), suffers from a peculiar neglect of his early work. he cut his teeth doing tiny westerns, like Ford, but while Ford’s shorts are at least the object of some cinephile interest, and ripples of excitement are felt whenever one is rediscovered, Wyler’s juvenilia seems to inspire little curiosity and in any case there is no way to slake any if you have some.

“I used to lie awake at night trying to think of new ways to photograph a man getting off a horse,” recalled Wyler, who had been known as Worthless Willie, a Laemmle relative who had been handed a studio job based on genetics rather than merit, and made little splash apart from when he drove his motorbike off a friend’s diving board as a lark. His brother Robert was considered the promising one.


Somewhere in between starting out on his sagebrush hackwork and making 1929’s THE SHAKEDOWN, the only pure silent of his I’ve been able to see, Wyler got good. The same year he made part-talkies THE LOVE TRAP and HELL’S HEROES, which are very good, once you get over the whole part-talkie thing. So the whole “learning his craft” part of the Wyler oeuvre is MIA. It might be very interesting, or totally uninteresting, but we don’t know until we see it, or at least until some reliable person sees it and reports back in detail.


So I was chuffed to obtain THE STOLEN RANCH from 1926 — and then surprised to find it’s not a two-reel western but a fairly substantial piece of work, opening as it does in WWI — not a WINGS-scale super-epic version, admittedly, but a comparatively modest evocation of trench warfare with a few shell-bursts and squibs. We meet leading man Fred Humes (me neither) and his buddy, who has a breakdown under the strain, and then we flash forward to an unspecified postwar world, roughly contemporaneous…

A train passes and Fred covers his friend’s ears so he won’t be startled by the whistle — he still has shell-shock, we surmise. And Fred’s tenderness is touching. I’m immediately gripped. I want to know what happens to these fellows. I’ll let you know.

The Dramatic Angle #2

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2010 by dcairns

An outlaw considers a possible outcome. Raymond Hatton in William Wyler’s HELL’S HEROES, but of course let’s get the obvious out the way and admit the resemblance to Eli Wallach at the end of THE GOOD THE BAD AND THE UGLY.

Peter B. Kyne’s The Three Godfathers has had a long and unusual screen history, beginning in 1916, then again in 1920. Both silent versions featured Harry Carey, and the second was directed by John Ford.

This 1930 adaptation was Universal’s first soundie made outdoors, and although it suffers a bit from arthritic creak, it explodes into life in several places, notably the showstopping climax.

A 1936 version by Richard Boleslawski stars Chester Morris (who’s only really good in THE BAT WHISPERS, but my goodness he’s good in that) was followed in 1948 by John Ford’s version starring Duke Wayne, regarded as many as definitive. Which didn’t stop the story being recycled in a John Badham TV movie, The Godchild, starring Jack Palance,  an episode of Walker, Texas Ranger, and in the excellent anime TOKYO GODFATHERS, which in addition to being a real crowd-pleaser has the merit of doing something new with the story idea (briefly: three outlaws must care for an orphaned infant).

Wyler’s film is an important work in his career — never a sentimentalist, he’s able to ease his way into the soppiness here through the notably abrasive characterization at the start, where the bad men truly are unredeemably bad. And in fact, only one of them really redeems himself. This was perhaps Wyler’s biggest and most prestigious film to date — he’d begun his career with a slew of western shorts (many now lost) that had him “lying awake nights trying to think of new ways to shoot a man getting off a horse.” The experience paid off here.

Wyler’s early career is a bit neglected, I’d say. His mature work won so many Oscars it eclipsed his early years completely. And the people who care about Oscars only care about the later films, while sometimes I think the people who don’t care about Oscars undervalue WW because he won so many (not so much for himself, but for many many of his actors). Better to ignore the awards and watch the films.