Posts Tagged ‘Merle Oberon’

Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier

Merle Oberon, Laurence Olivier

“Wuthering Heights” screens at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014 in the Durwood Film Vault of the Kansas City Central Library, 14W. 10th St.  Admission is free. It’s part of the year-long film sereies Hollywood’s Greatest Year, which features movies released in 1939.

Happy sets do not always result in happy movies.

Nor do miserable sets invariably produce cinematic dreck.

For proof of that one need look no further than the career of William Wyler, one of the most prolific and honored filmmakers ever.

Films made by Wyler (1902-1981) have won more awards – acting, writing, technical achievement — than those of any other director in Hollywood history. Moreover, Wyler himself was 12 times nominated for an Oscar for best director, winning three times. That’s a record that holds today.

But Wyler had a reputation for crankiness, imperiousness and, some would say, borderline sadism in his handling of actors.

He was a perfectionist who would drive his cast and crews crazy with reshoots, earning him the nickname “90-take Wyler.”  While filming “Jezebel,” he had Henry Fonda do the same scene 40 times in a row. His only comment to the actor was “Again.”

When an exasperated Fonda asked what was wrong with the take they’d just completed, Wyler replied: “It stinks.” And kept on shooting.

In 1938 producer Samuel Goldwyn contracted with Wyler to direct an adaptation of Emily Bronte’s Gothic classic, “Wuthering Heights.”

By this time Wyler – who was born in Alsace, a French-speaking district of Germany – had been shooting Hollywood features for a decade.

His earliest efforts were mostly Westerns (a French-speaking German shooting cowboy pictures … go figure) but he’d also done a good mix of comedy (“Her First Mate,” “The Good Fairy,” “The Gay Deception”) and drama (“Counselor at Law,” “These Three,” “Dodsworth,” “Dead End”).

Moreover, he’d gotten terrific performances from a wide range of actors: John Barrymore, Paul Lukas, Constance Cummings, Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall, Joel McCrea, Miriam Hopkins, John Huston, Frances Farmer, Humphrey Bogart, Sylvia Sidney.


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