Robert Earl Wise

b. 10 September, 1914, Winchester, Indiana, USA
d. 14 September, 2005, Westwood, Los Angeles, USA

[Robert] Wise is varied. He seems able to do almost anything … – Arthur Knight.1

In his influential work of auteurist criticism, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968, first published in 1968, American critic Andrew Sarris lumped Robert Wise – along with directors like John Frankenheimer, Stanley Kubrick and Sidney Lumet – into the less-than-flattering category of “strained seriousness.” “His temperament is vaguely liberal,” wrote Sarris, “his style vaguely realistic; but after The Sound of Music and The Sand Pebbles the stylistic signature of Robert Wise is indistinct to the point of invisibility.”2 To this critic, Wise was an impersonal and workmanlike director – certainly no auteur like Hitchcock or Welles. Or even Howard Hawks, a director who likewise distinguished himself across a wide range of established genres, but who, in the eyes of many critics such as Sarris and Robin Wood, stamped his films with an identifiable style. By definition, the auteur theory values stylistic consistency, sameness, not difference. In eluding a consistent style, Wise said: “I’ve tried to mix my palette and I’ve been pretty successful. A lot of directors have a common thread – like Hitchcock who did a certain kind of film. I like to change, do different things. What I try to do is address each script, each subject, to the cinematic style that I think is appropriate for the story.”3 Sarris’s over-reaching for style, for a recurrent set of characteristics across films reveals the limitations of auteurism as a gold standard for excellence.

In the case of Wise, it blinds us to his almost chameleon-like mastery of genres and styles over 40 films: horror, noir, science fiction, musical, drama, Western, war. Granted, the quality of his output, especially in his later years, was not always even, but a number of his films have been hailed as classics within their respective genres: The Set-Up (1949), The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Executive Suite (1954), I Want to Live! (1958), Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), West Side Story (1961), The Haunting (1963), The Sound of Music (1965) and The Sand Pebbles (1966).4 Wise’s defenders mostly downplay his individual qualities, seeing him as a supremely gifted craftsman, and no lesser for it. But more recently, Wes D. Gehring, in his biography-cum-study, has sought to reframe Wise as an auteur with consistent themes and characters across his oeuvre.5 Justin E. A. Busch equivocates on the question, which he decides is not “especially important.”6 For all that, it is Wise’s versatility that is a key factor in his recuperation as a Great Director, with or without recourse to the auteur theory.

French actor and filmmaker Louis Jouvet once observed that nearly all directors are “seized with a violent desire to make over masterpieces and to express at last their own personal perceptions […] The profession of the director suffers from the disease of immodesty.”7 Not so with Wise, who in life and in film was self-effacing, submerging his “personal perceptions” in the services of genre, style or story. Born in Winchester, Indiana on September 10, 1914, Robert Earl Wise was from an early age enamoured by the movies while growing up in nearby Connersville. At college he hoped to major in journalism, but was forced to withdraw when the Depression took its toll on the family’s finances. His elder brother, an accountant for RKO studios, used his position to land him a job in the film shipping department of the studio. His strong work ethic impressed head sound effects editor T. K. Wood, who took him on as an apprentice. From music and sound effects editor he quickly graduated to film editor, with credits on such notable films as The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1939), My Favourite Wife (1940), The Devil and Daniel Webster (1941) and – from RKO’s prodigy Orson Welles – Citizen Kane (1941) and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942).

Considered one of Hollywood’s finest editors, Wise earned a well-deserved Academy Award nomination for Best Editing on Citizen Kane. An oft-cited example of his work is the celebrated breakfast-table montage between Kane and his first wife that chronicles the breakdown of a marriage. But on The Magnificent Ambersons Welles held Wise chiefly responsible for “mutilating” his masterpiece after it did poorly in test screenings. Welles believed Wise had cooperated with the studio’s cuts to further his own ambitions as a director.8 However, Keenan puts Wise’s cut in a different light: “That it is such a fine example of Welles’s genius in a form so greatly altered from its original vision of [Booth] Tarkington’s novel is due in no small way to Wise’s ability to deal with a clearly impossible task: to give the studio heads the significant cuts they demanded and, at the same time, stay true to Welles’s original intent.”9 To redress continuity issues, he was asked to direct a new scene for the film. Although he downplayed the influence of his estranged collaborator, Wise acknowledged how his use of deep-focus photography and wide-angle lenses “came from Orson,” along with his sense of what music and sound effects contribute to a film’s soundtrack.10 One may discern other traces of Welles in Wise’s work.11 And the sense of rhythm Wise developed in the editing room informed his multifaceted style in the director’s chair.

Amy (Ann Carter) has a special friend in Irene (Simone Simon) in the unusual Curse of the Cat People (1944). Wise’s first directing credit was shared with Gunther von Fritsch, who was fired during filming.

Wise’s first directorial credit arose out of infelicitous circumstances. RKO producer Val Lewton had fired director Gunther von Fritsch after he fell behind production schedule on The Curse of the Cat People (1944). Lewton asked his editor Wise to take over, who accepted – with some trepidation. The film is a sequel, if in name only, to Lewton’s box office hit Cat People (1942). In the original, Oliver Reed (Kent Smith) is the sexually frustrated husband of Serbian-born artist Irena (Simone Simon), whose jealousy – and cat impulses – are aroused whenever he is with work colleague Alice (Jane Randolph). Irena meets her death at the end of that film. In the sequel, Oliver and Alice are now married and live in Tarrytown (a.k.a. Sleepy Hollow, whose legend of the Headless Horseman figures in the film) with their young daughter Amy (affectingly played by Ann Carter). Amy has a vivid imagination, so vivid she conjures up an imaginary friend in the likeness of Simone Simon’s Irena. That imagination deeply unsettles her father, especially her apparent inability to distinguish fantasy from reality. He is worried that Amy’s fantasies – like that of his ex-wife – will plummet her into madness.

Curse of the Cat People shows the influence of the producer as auteur. As per Lewton’s house style, it is shot in moody black and white, incorporating familiar Gothic/horror tropes: a “haunted house” (a leftover from the set of The Magnificent Ambersons), a madwoman in the attic, dreams and nightmares, the burden of the past. The film is also Lewton’s most autobiographical, mining his own childhood traumas and complexes.12 Wise approached the film as a complex study of child psychology, and its nuanced portrayal of a little girl lost between two different realities was applauded not only by critics James Agee (“a brave, sensitive and admirable little psychological drama”)13 and Bosley Crowther (“an oddly touching study of the working of a sensitive child’s mind”)14 but also child psychologists and parent-teacher associations. In terms of direction, the film gives a good indication of Wise’s skilful handling of young actors, as seen in The Body Snatcher (1945), The Day the Earth Stood Still, House on Telegraph Hill (1951), So Big (1953), The Sound of Music, Star! (1968) and Audrey Rose (1977). In sharing credit with von Fritsch, it is seamlessly directed by both, although some wondered if this was really two films joined at the hip: one about the power of a child’s imagination, and the other a supernatural horror film. For Agee this (very Jamesian) uncertainty worked to the benefit of the film. RKO signed Wise to an exclusive, seven-year contract.

Lewton must have been pleased with Wise’s directorial debut because he then offered him the period melodrama Mademoiselle Fifi (1944), based on two stories by Guy de Maupassant. As wartime propaganda, the background of the Franco-Prussian war serves as a commentary on the French Resistance Movement under the Vichy regime. The film again stars Simon, this time as a patriotic French laundress who has her patriotism and virtue tested by the demands of a Prussian officer. With its pitfalls-of-human-nature theme, political subtext and feminist slant, Gehring sees the film as anticipating key themes and directions in Wise’s oeuvre.15 While this may be granting the film inordinate importance under Gehring’s auteurist assumptions, the film is technically accomplished, showing Wise’s early assurance with the camera: a sense of “rightness” with his framing compositions, shot transitions, and blocking of actors.

But it was Wise’s final film for Lewton, The Body Snatcher, that allowed him to fully emerge as a director. Drawing on Robert Louis Stevenson’s short story on the Burke and Hare murders of 1828, it stars Boris Karloff as graverobber John Gray who has been supplying anatomist Dr MacFarlane (Henry Daniell) with cadavers for his school. When MacFarlane, at the behest of his young assistant Fettes (Russell Wade), agrees to perform surgery on a paralysed little girl, MacFarlane requests a dead body to study on. This time Gray resorts to the killing of a girl singing on the street to keep up with demand. This is a standout sequence in the film that shows Lewton’s input. As the girl walks down the cobble-stone street singing her Scottish ballad she disappears into the darkness and drizzle of an alleyway with an arch. Gray follows ominously in his horse and carriage. The clip-clop sound of the horses stops and her song is cut short. As Lewton knew, the horror comes from what is unseen rather than what is seen. In contrast, Gray’s “burking” (smothering) of MacFarlane’s skulking helper in the infirmary, Joseph (Bela Lugosi), who has come to blackmail him, is unflinchingly drawn-out by Wise, impressing on viewers its use of physical force. From his staging of action to handling of actors, Wise’s direction here has been seen as a “model of assurance and discretion”.16 Wise remembered his Lewton days as “a very important period in my directing life.”17

After honouring the terms of his RKO contract with the adventure-thriller A Game of Death (1945; an inferior remake of the studio’s The Most Dangerous Game, released in 1932) and the crime melodrama Criminal Court (1946), Wise made Born to Kill (1947). Even by Wise’s noir standards, it is uncompromising in its view of human existence as poor, nasty, brutish and short. It centres on the pathological love-hate relationship between paranoid psychopath Sam Wilde (Lawrence Tierney, in a one-note performance) and equally depraved Helen Brent (Claire Trevor). Helen covers up for his crimes, and stands by as he marries her beautiful and wealthy sister, thus fuelling her jealousy. They’re irresistibly drawn to each other, for, as Sam points out, “your roots are down where mine are. I knew that the first time I saw you.” However, Sam’s paranoia and insecurity eventually consumes him, which, according to the strict dictates of the Production Code, means that he and Helen will get their comeuppance. Wise directs with vigour from a plot-twisting script by Eve Greene and Richard Macaulay. Critics of the day lambasted the film for its gratuitous violence. But David Thomson, otherwise dismissive of Wise, praises Born to Kill as a “harsh, unsettling thriller.”18

After directing the undistinguished Mystery in Mexico (1948), Wise embarked on his first Western with Blood on the Moon (1948), to which he also brought a fascinating noir sensibility. As photographed by Nicholas Musuraca (whose previous credits included Curse of the Cat People and other Lewton films) the film is visually very dark, beginning with the rain-drenched, night-time opening credits which show a silhouetted man on horseback. The man is wanderer Jim Garry (Robert Mitchum) who will find himself torn between his sympathies for the rights of cattleman Lupton (Tom Tully) over the range and the schemes of his old friend Riling (Robert Preston). Many of the characters are conflicted: like Garry, Lufton’s daughter Amy (Barbara Bel Geddes) who falls in with Garry, Lupton’s other daughter Carol (Phyllis Thaxter) who is in a secret relationship with Riling and is tipping him off about her father’s next move. When Garry confronts Riling about his skulduggery in a tavern, a drawn-out fight erupts, which Wise stages with relish; here, he was keen to show two men getting tired and hurt. Riling’s dying words to Garry, “But you – you – always had a conscience breathing down your neck,” sums up Wise’s intentions: a Western with a conscience.

Robert Ryan stars as a luckless prize fighter in the film noir The Set-Up (1949).

Wise would bring this conscience to bear on his undisputed masterwork, The Set-Up. In it, Bill “Stoker” Thompson (Robert Ryan, in a career-best performance) is a 35-year-old boxer past his prime, always thinking he is one punch away from winning the prize that could change his fortunes. His long-suffering wife Julie (Audrey Totter, also very good) is no longer able to stomach her husband’s beatings in the ring and pleads for him to quit. Unbeknownst to him, his next fight has been fixed by his manager with the owner of the other fighter, “Tiger” Nelson (Hal Fieberling): Stoker is to go down after two rounds. But Stoker does the unthinkable and fights on to victory. For “welshing” on the deal, Stoker will suffer a vicious payback that will end his career as a fighter, but possibly mark a new beginning for Stoker and his wife. For the taut screenplay, Art Cohn drew on a narrative poem by popular journalist Joseph Moncure March. And as a masterclass in documentary realism that was to become the cornerstone of his style, Wise did his homework for the film, visiting arenas, watching fighters in the ring and the reactions from the crowds, and going behind the scenes to watch the fighters in their dressing rooms with their managers and handlers.19

Winning critical acclaim and the FIPRESCI Prize at the 1949 Cannes Film Festival, The Set-Up serves both as an exposé of the brutality of the sport and the sordid business of racketeering that chews up and spits out hapless saps like Stoker. Wise shoots the boxing match with unflinching realism, from mainly low angles to take in the fighters’ bodies, and alternates between them and the crowd baying for blood (“Let him have it!”, “Kill him, kill him!”) inside an arena made to resemble a Roman amphitheatre. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope (1948), released the previous year, or Fred Zinnemann’s Western High Noon (1952), the action unfolds in real time (at 72 minutes, nothing is wasted), without an extra-diegetic music score. This makes the film feel more real and immediate. And in its seedy locker rooms, dark alleyways and shadows, unsavoury criminal elements and cynical attitudes, the film is also a noir. The Set-Up was the first time Wise used storyboards, a la Hitchcock, to meticulously pre-plan his film, which would characterise his working method throughout the rest of his career. It would also turn out to be his last film for RKO, before the Howard Hughes takeover.

The 1950s was the most prolific period for Wise, straddling films in a variety of genres for a variety of studios: Twentieth-Century Fox, Warner Brothers, United Artists and Metro-Goldwyn Mayer. Most significant is how Wise fully emerges as a director with a social conscience during this decade, as earlier seen in his exposé of prize-fight brutality and racketeering in The Set-Up. Gehring usefully classes such films as The Set-Up, The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Captive City (1952), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), I Want to Live! and Odds Against Tomorrow as social problem (or “message”) films, on which he largely mounts his case for Wise as an auteur. Later films that fall into this category include The Sand Pebbles, The Andromeda Strain (1971), Two People (1973) and the penultimate Rooftops (1989). Gehring traces this problem-film strain to Wise’s early interest in journalism.20

However, this tendency has to also be seen within the broader tradition of social problem films in Hollywood that includes the Warner Brothers “topicals” of the 1930s.21 Too various to be classified as a genre, Charles J. Maland defines the social problem film as “one with a contemporary setting whose central narrative concern focuses on a negative condition in society that is perceived as a problem and whose portrayal of the victims or of crusaders against the social problem is empathetic.”22 But this stipulation about setting, by Maland’s own admission, “excludes films set in the past and distinctively genre films which, through the use of metaphor, present a contemporary social problem through the filter of history or the conventional framework of a film genre.”23 This rules out the achievement of The Sand Pebbles, which seems unnecessarily limiting to the scope of Wise’s vision. Wise had much in common with “social realists” like Elia Kazan, Stanley Kramer or Sidney Lumet, who also made problem films. “[A]s a proudly passionate liberal,”24 Wise sought scripts that aligned with his worldview.

The robot Gort resurrects Michael Rennie in the science-fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951).

While Wise preferred his films to have their message embedded within the texture of characters and story, The Day the Earth Stood Still makes this explicit. As one of his most popular and praised films, it was also one of the director’s personal favourites. It begins with world sightings of a UFO which eventually lands in Washington DC. From the spaceship emerges a tall figure in a futuristic spacesuit, followed by a giant silver-grey robot. The alien visitor is Klaatu (Michael Rennie) who is shot by a member of the military when an offering to the President of the United States is mistaken for a weapon. In retaliation, the robot – called Gort – melts all weapons in sight. It transpires that Klaatu has an ultimatum for all humanity regardless of colour, creed or nationality: if it doesn’t cease its destructive and paranoid ways which, in the looming threat of atomic energy applied to spaceships (the launching of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, on 4 October 1957, was a few years off), poses a threat to the security of other planets, it will incur its own destruction by robot world police like Gort. To show the planet he is serious, Klaatu stages a demonstration of power that is dramatic, but not destructive: for 30 mins, all electricity across the globe (with the notable exception of planes in flight, hospitals and the like) is neutralised, bringing the world to a standstill.

The Day the Earth Stood Still is both timely in its reflecting and refracting of Cold War-era fears about communism, and timeless in its laying bare of a universal fear of the Other. Significantly, it was made without cooperation from the Department of Defence, who denied its makers access to military equipment (Wise had to source it from the National Guard instead). Apparently, the Department did not approve of the film’s message of world peace (!), one that earned it a Golden Globe Award for the Best Film Promoting International Understanding. In grounding the science fiction elements in a realistic and believable milieu, Wise utilised news reportage to advance the narrative and had real-life reporters appear as themselves. This makes it easier to accept the otherworldly elements, as underlined by the unforgettable Theremin strains of Bernard Herrmann’s score. The film’s radical conception of a benign alien intelligence was an influence on Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).25 In 1995, the US Library of Congress deemed Wise’s film “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and inducted it into the National Film Registry for preservation.

As a model for Wall Street (1987), fellow social-problem director Oliver Stone ranks Executive Suite as one of the best business pictures ever made. It marks the first of Wise’s four collaborations with Ernest Lehman on his first produced screenplay; unlike John Ford or Frank Capra, who jealously sought to monopolise credit, Wise openly acknowledged the contributions of his screenwriters. The film begins with some innovative use of subjective camera, as we follow the CEO of a furniture manufacturing company, Avery Bullard (whose face we never see), make his way through a building into an elevator, send a telegram via Western Union (in which we learn that he is calling an executive board meeting for six o’clock), walk out on the street and call out for a taxi, then drop dead on the Wall Street sidewalk, letting go of his wallet. His wallet is stolen, and he is, literally and figuratively, a John Doe. For who is this Bullard and what drove him? And who will be the next CEO with enough vision and “balls” (it’s a very much a man’s world) to bring the company into the future? Will it be Avery’s senior officer, Alderson (Walter Pigeon)? Or unscrupulous comptroller Shaw (Fredric March)? Or passionate designer Don Walling (William Holden)? Noting Wellesian traces across Wise’s oeuvre, critic Richard Combs reads Executive Suite as “another version of [Citizen] Kane and the anti-Kane”: “Anti to the extent that its drama produces an up-from-the-shop-floor hero (William Holden) to revitalize the corporation. Pure Kane to the extent that all the executives are defined through their relation to their mythical founder, a ‘great man’ only limited in the end by his pride.”26 Wise went for naturalistic sounds over an extra-diegetic music score; a clock tower bell portentously tolls during the film’s proceedings. The film picked up four Academy Award nominations and was a popular success.

Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956) was also written by Lehman and derived from the autobiography of legendary middleweight Rocky Graziano. It stars Paul Newman as Rocky, in his breakthrough role (Newman and Wise would reteam in 1957’s Until They Sail). In bringing Rocky’s turbulent life and times to the screen, the director and Method actor did extensive research on the man, studying his speech patterns, mannerisms and movements, interviewing his friends, and visiting his haunts.27 Wise also shot in places where Rocky lived in New York City, a location he would return to time and again. But compared with The Set-Up, the film is less ringside spectacle and more human drama, the story of a man’s rise from the slums in the Italian enclave of the Lower East Side of Manhattan into a man of consequence. Newman brings a kinetic energy to the role of Rocky, and Pier Angeli is good as his devoted wife. It is easy to overlook Wise’s unobtrusive direction here; as the New York Post noted, it is “strong, standard and effective. You can say of it that it escapes notice, permitting you to pay attention to the story being told. And that’s enough. It’s the story that shakes you.”28

Susan Hayward stars as the woman on death row in the powerful I Want to Live! (1958).

Two of Wise’s problem films from the 1950s were ripped straight from the headlines. Inspired by Senator Estes Kefauver’s committee investigations into organised crime, The Captive City concerns a crusading newspaper editor (an earnest John Forsythe) who puts his life and career on the line to go to Washington and testify on underworld activity in a small American town. Wise shot the film in his usual vérité manner, with superb deep-focus photography by Lee Garmes using the Hoge lens, but it all feels heavy-handed today. In contrast, I Want to Live! remains a powerful essay on the inhumanity of capital punishment. With Don Mankiewicz, Nelson Gidding drew on articles by Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Edward S. Montgomery on the trial and execution of Barbara Graham for first degree murder. They also drew on her personal letters. And as part of his research, Wise visited San Quentin State Prison where Graham was executed in June 1955, and even witnessed a man go to the gas chamber.

Despite the claim to documentary realism, Wise mercifully spares us some of the drawn-out details of Graham’s execution. Under Wise’s direction, Susan Hayward delivers what critics like to call a “powerhouse” performance as the woman on death row. Hayward’s Graham is gutsy, streetwise, provocative, yet vulnerable and, above all, misunderstood. But complicating this realism is a late 1950s experimental jazz sensibility, particularly in the first half, in the use of canted angles, “staccato” editing and whip pans. It is perhaps a much more showy, self-conscious style than we are used to from the director.29 One may also detect elements of his formative years in film noir. Bosley Crowther in the New York Times grasped how the film’s sophisticated shifts in pacing, style, constituted its carefully constructed realism:

The pace is swift through the first half, as the picture beats out in fast-cut style and to interrupted jazz rhythms the story of how the heroine is caught with a pair of suspected murderers and condemned on rigged evidence. But it slows to a solemn, deadly tempo as she [Graham] languishes anxiously in a cell, awaiting a correction of injustice, and then is ominously removed to the death house at San Quentin, where she plays out her ghastly last ordeal. And ghastly is what you have to call it, for the death-house phase of this film is a harrowing synthesis of drama and cold documentary detail. As the minutes tick off and the tension of last-gasp appeals is sustained through the pacing of death-house formalities against the image of the near-by telephone, attendants go through the grisly business of preparing the gas chamber for its lethal role. Anyone who can sit through this ordeal without shivering and shuddering is made of stone. And Miss Hayward plays it superbly, under the consistently sharp direction of Robert Wise, who has shown here a stunning mastery of the staccato realistic style.30

As well as winning Hayward a Best Actress Oscar, Wise scored his first nomination for Best Director.

The centrality of women in such films as Mademoiselle Fifi, House on Telegraph Hill, I Want to Live!, The Haunting, The Sound of Music, Star! and Audrey Rose is perhaps a case for Wise the auteur. Like George Cukor or William Wyler, he was not above directing “women’s pictures” – Three Secrets (1950), So Big and Until They Sail can be proudly counted in this category. No less a critic than François Truffaut thought So Big starring Jane Wyman (the third adaptation of Edna Ferber’s Pulitzer-Prize winning novel, published in 1924) the work of an auteur.31 It could be argued that Wise does give women a voice in his films, although whether this can be seen as evidence of a feminist sensibility is debatable (at least Gehring thinks so).32

Racial tensions come to the fore in the heist film Odds Against Tomorrow (1959), featuring Robert Ryan and Harry Belafonte.

Seeking greater independence and control, Odds Against Tomorrow marks the first occasion Wise served as both producer and director, which he would continue to do for most of his films throughout the 1960s and 1970s. As adapted by the blacklisted Abraham Polonsky (uncredited) and Nelson Gitting from William P. Givern’s same-titled novel, the offbeat crime caper stars Ed Begley as Dave Burke, a disgraced former police officer who recruits two men with money problems to carry out his “foolproof” plan to rob a bank. One is Earle Slater (Robert Ryan), a racist ex-con from the American South who is being financially supported – hence emasculated – by his girlfriend Lorry (Shelley Winters); the other is Johnny Ingram (Harry Belafonte, who also co-produced the film), a black nightclub singer who owes money to some undesirables he has lost through gambling addiction. Trouble ensues when Slater’s prejudice gets in the way of the job. Wary of repeating the “prosocial” ending of Stanley Kramer’s landmark The Defiant Ones (1958), the deus ex machina “apocalyptic” ending of Wise’s film, in which Johnny and Slater inadvertently blow themselves up on top of a tank at an oil refinery is blackly comic – and unforgettable. As police view the charred remains, one officer asks, “Which is which?,” getting the reply, “Take your pick.” We all look black with our skin burnt off! But Keenan is right that the unfortunate “message” buried in this ending – that Slater and Johnny could have carried out the perfect robbery if only they had put aside their differences – bespeaks a “somewhat muddled liberalism.”33

A new type of movie musical: West Side Story (1961).

If Wise’s output slowed in the 1960s, it was only because of the demands of mounting large-scale productions like West Side Story, The Sound of Music, and The Sand Pebbles. Many consider West Side Story the director’s crowning achievement, and Wise seemed to agree. But proper acknowledgment must be given to Wise’s co-director Jerome Robbins, who conceived, choreographed and directed the musical for the stage; an update of Romeo and Juliet set in the Upper West Side of New York City riven with racially-motivated gang violence, the Caucasian Jets vs Puerto Rican Sharks, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Robbins was fired about 60% into the shoot because of his perfectionism which was putting the film over budget and behind schedule. (One wonders if Wise had feelings of déjà vu after the firing of Gunther von Fritsch on Curse of the Cat People, which led to his break into directing). By all accounts, Robbins was a taskmaster on set, committed to endless takes, while Wise offered more subtle and reassuring direction. Out of their differences, one could argue, emerged the excitement, thrill, of a new type of movie musical.

As per his documentary realism, Wise makes brilliant use of locations, and it was he who came up with the celebrated aerial opening of New York that recasts, defamiliarizes the cityscape as geometric and abstract patterns and shapes. For all its realism/reality West Side Story is highly stylised, theatrical; one might contend that a situation in which characters spontaneously break out into song and dance is itself highly stylised, dependent on a willing suspension of disbelief. In balancing these realistic-dramatic and stylistic aspects, Lehman had the good sense to reposition some of the musical numbers, and Wise masterfully handles the shifts in tone: drama, comedy, euphoria and tragedy. To his credit, Wise preserves the integrity of Robbins’s choreography using wide shots and few cuts (unlike, say, the “reconstructed” routines of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz [1979]), to show no “fudging.” With characteristic magnanimity, Wise brought Robbins back for the editing. West Side Story was met with near-universal acclaim (a “cinema masterpiece”,34 raved Crowther) and it was the second highest grosser of 1961. It also earned eleven Academy Award nominations (winning ten), including Best Picture for Wise and Best Director for Wise and Robbins. Robbins was also presented with an Honorary Academy Award. In 1997, the US Library of Congress deemed the film “culturally significant” and inducted it into the National Film Registry for preservation.

Wise came up with some striking uses of depth of field in his films, as seen here in The Haunting (1963).

After faltering with the opposites-attract romantic-drama Two for the Seesaw (1962), Wise directed the film of Shirley Jackson’s 1959 Gothic novel The Haunting of Hill House. As adapted by Nelson Gidding, The Haunting is Wise’s most Lewtonian non-Lewton film. In it, anthropologist-cum-paranormal researcher Dr John Markway (Richard Johnson) assembles a group of people to assist him with his investigation of the New England house with a notorious history of supernatural goings-on. This includes the overwrought Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris), a spinster with unrecognized telekinetic abilities, and clairvoyant Theo (Claire Bloom). Markway is required to have Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn), as heir to the Hill House estate, accompany them. Most remarkable is how Wise carries the film with the power of suggestion, using baroque lighting, odd camera angles, distorting lenses, strange sounds, unseen forces pressing on the door. As Luke utters almost self-reflexively, “I haven’t seen a damned thing!” While acknowledging the fine acting, direction and cinematography, horror writer Stephen King expressed his dissatisfaction here: “what we have in the Wise film […] is one of the world’s first radio horror movies. Something is scratching at the ornate, paneled door, something horrible… but it is a door Wise never elects to open.”35 Yet it is precisely this “closedness”, opacity, that makes The Haunting ripe for interpretation (one admirer of the film was, tellingly, Stanley Kubrick). For example, one may apprehend a lesbian subtext between Eleanor and Theo – when Theo teases her about her feelings for the married Dr Markway, the sexually repressed Eleanor lashes out, calling Theo one of “nature’s mistakes.” In short, the diseased house functions as a metaphor for “diseased” female sexuality.36

Julie Andrews breaks out into song in the box-office phenomenon The Sound of Music (1965).

With the unqualified success of West Side Story, Fox president Richard D. Zanuck and Ernest Lehman thought Wise the perfect choice for his next project, which would also become his biggest commercial hit: The Sound of Music, based on the hit stage musical by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Wise was impressed with the score and Lehman’s improvements to the source material. As well as opening up the stage musical, Lehman and he worked hard to tone down the excessive sentiment, a concern shared by its star Julie Andrews (playing the irrepressible Maria von Trapp). This, though, would not be enough to quash accusations of schmaltz – as Judith Crist cautioned, “Calorie-counters, diabetics, and grown-ups from eight to eighty had best beware”!37 Despite the polarised reviews, The Sound of Music became a global box office phenomenon – adjusted for inflation it holds its place in the top ten grossers of all time.38 Astoundingly, it was in US theatrical release for the next four and half years: first as a big-event roadshow film with limited engagements, and then on general release.39 At the time, Wise said, “I wasn’t trying to say a damn thing in Sound of Music.40 It was contrived purely as feel-good entertainment. Nevertheless, it picked up a swag of nominations from the Academy, including the highest honours for Robert Wise: Best Director and Best Picture. (Lehman, unforgivably, was not even nominated for best adapted screenplay).

Beyond the film’s dramatic and technical accomplishments (cinematography, editing, art direction, music score) an unpindownable factor in its success is repeatability, hence repeat business: multiple viewings scarcely diminish its pleasure. Yet Wise recognised how timing played a critical role in the film’s reception: with American involvement in the Vietnam War and the stirrings of the countercultural movement, “[the] moviegoing public was ready, possibly even eager, for a film like this.”41 As Noel Brown corroborates, the high esteem accorded to such films as Mary Poppins (1964), My Fair Lady (1964) and The Sound of Music stemmed “as much from their inherent conservatism in a time of social and industry upheaval than their intrinsic merits as popular entertainment.”42 These films were a bulwark against an encroaching youth-oriented culture. At the same time, Brown tenders Wise’s film as “one of the first hybrids between ‘epic film’ and ‘family film’, a combination constitutive of most modern Hollywood blockbusters.”43 In 2001, the US Library of Congress inducted the musical into its National Film Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Steve McQueen received his one and only Academy Award nomination for the war film The Sand Pebbles (1966).

Ironically, The Sound of Music was only meant to be a fill-in assignment for the studio after Wise’s passion project The Sand Pebbles ran into pre-production difficulties. Adapted by Robert Anderson from the novel by ex-sailor Richard McKenna and filmed on location in Taiwan and Hong Kong, one has to admire the film for its scale and ambition. It begins in Shanghai in 1926 and stars Steve McQueen as naval engineer Jake Holman, who is assigned to the gunboat San Pablo that patrols the Yangtze River under the command of the conflicted Captain Collins (Richard Crenna). He befriends officer of the deck Frenchy (Richard Attenborough), a fellow “sand pebble” in white uniform. Holman’s view of the Chinese helpers – coolies – reveals a casual racism, and then some, that is also shared by the rest of the crew, but he undergoes an attitudinal shift through his training of the bilge coolie Po-Han (Mako). Also memorable is the subplot of Frenchy’s obsessive love for a kept Chinese woman in a brothel, whom he saves from being sold to the highest bidder. As in West Side Story, Wise expresses the doomed nature of an interracial union; to the dying Frenchy, the pregnant Maily (Marayat Andriane) gives voice to societal fears about miscegenation which she has internalised: “I’m nothing. I’m not Chinese, I’m not American. And the child will be nothing.”

As for the diplopic nature of the anti-war commentary, Arthur Knight in the Saturday Review opined that Wise is “able to put forward some provocative ideas about the nature of nationalism, American intervention, and the need for a more basic understanding among people – ideas that are as relevant to our role in Vietnam today as they were to our position in China forty years ago.”44 In the film’s re-enactment of the Nanking Incident of 1927 which forms the final act, Americans would have understood the meaning behind Holman’s words before he is shot by Chinese revolutionaries, “I was home. What happened? What the hell happened?!” There is an underlying pessimism and fatalism to Wise’s best work, as seen in Born to Kill, The Set-Up, The Day the Earth Stood Still, I Want to Live!, Odds Against Tomorrow and West Side Story. But, as some critics complained, The Sand Pebbles feels a bit overlong and overstuffed – even Wise later conceded, “I’ve wondered if I maybe tried to tell too many stories in The Sand Pebbles.45 The film grossed $30 million and garnered eight nominations (winning none), including Best Picture and Best Director for Wise; Jerry Goldsmith for his splendid music score; and MacQueen for Best Actor (his one and only nod).

After The Sound of Music, the prospect of Wise reteaming with Andrews in a big-budget musical based on the life and career of Broadway star Gertrude Lawrence was too hard for Twentieth Century Fox to resist. But as Thomas Schatz notes, the studio nearly bankrupted itself with attempts to replicate the success of that film in such costly flops as Doctor Dolittle (1967), Hello Dolly! (1969) and Wise’s Star!46 What they failed to realise was that The Sound of Music – to use industry parlance – was “execution dependent,” its success dependent on the right director, the right script, the right cast. Done differently, the results would have been vastly inferior. Like Wise’s two previous films, Star! was conceived as a roadshow film. It would turn out to be his most significant flop. With critical hindsight, one is struck by its miscasting of Andrews, its protracted production numbers and its protracted length. After years of fiscal responsibility, Wise had fallen victim to Hollywood’s new culture of excess. While he was at a loss to explain why the film did not work, clearly Wise – and Fox – had misjudged the movie-going audience, which was moving away from an adult- to youth-oriented demographic, as signalled by the runaway success of Dennis Hopper’s countercultural ode Easy Rider (1969).47 In a vain bid to curtail losses, Fox released a shorter version entitled Those Were The Happy Times, but the film lost more than $10 million at the box office.48

In his first film of the 1970s, Wise reined himself in for the science-fiction mystery-thriller, The Andromeda Strain, derived from the novel by medical student Michael Crichton. As a problem film about the threat of biological warfare, the plot concerns the round-the-clock efforts of a small team of scientists, brought together at a remote facility located deep underground in the Nevada desert, to contain a deadly blood-clotting virus of extra-terrestrial origin which has already wiped out the entire population in the fictional small town of Piedmont, New Mexico – all except for a baby and an old man. What could they possibly have in common? So as not to detract from the realism, Wise opted for a no-name cast. He also brought his characteristic attention to detail, aided by Boris Leven’s first-rate production design and Douglas Trumbull and James Shourt’s optical effects. Wise’s 34th film shows a director still willing to experiment. To include more information in the frame, he uses not only depth of field but split screen effects. And in commissioning Gil Mellé for the avant-garde electronic score, he goes for an unusual soundscape of atmospheric textures and sound effects.

Wise next got to voice his opposition to the Vietnam War in the slow burn romance-drama Two People before agreeing to helm The Hindenburg (1975) for Universal. In his fifth and final collaboration with Gidding, the film entertains the highly speculative sabotage theory for the cause of the ill-fated dirigible, with George C. Scott as a fictional Luftwaffe colonel in charge of finding the would-be saboteur. While the box-office appeal of the film benefitted (with its “all-star” cast) from the disaster cycle of the 1970s, critics found it overlong, formulaic and unintentionally funny. It is not one of Wise’s best efforts. Still, it showcases his skill in directing large-scale action sequences that he had honed throughout his long career: in the fiery climax, actual archival footage of the dirigible exploding is integrated with newly shot material with actors (here, the film transitions from colour to black and white). For the special visual effects, Albert Whitlock was honoured with a Special Achievement Academy Award.

Anthony Hopkins and Susan Swift as the afflicted child in the underrated supernatural melodrama Audrey Rose (1977).

Audrey Rose remains one of Wise’s most underrated films.  Based on the novel by Frank De Felitta, it centres on eleven-year-old Ivy Templeton (Susan Swift) who may/may not be the reincarnation of another girl, Audrey Rose, who died in a fiery car crash eleven years earlier. Ivy is apparently reliving the trauma of Audrey Rose’s demise. Critics were quick to dismiss it as a rip-off of William Friedkin’s highly sensational box-office hit The Exorcist (1973). But Audrey Rose sees Wise once again returning to his Lewton roots. In eschewing sensationalism and gratuitous special effects, Wise sought to tell his story “in a very realistic and believable milieu.”49 As propaganda for reincarnation, however, the film “ideologically self-destructs”.50 This reflects the flaws in De Felitta’s script, and it is “Wise’s mostly intelligent and tasteful direction that transcends its potboiler source.”51 Despite the claim to realism, this is a melodrama about the possibility of reincarnation, and if the melodrama is somewhat overdone, Wise elicits some gripping performances from Anthony Hopkins as Audrey Rose’s grief-stricken father converted to a belief in reincarnation, Marsha Mason and John Beck as Ivy’s disbelieving parents, and newcomer Swift as the lost/re-embodied Ivy. Paul Petlewski, in his perspicacious review for Cinéfantastique, praised Wise’s use of water and glass imagery – water because it is a rainstorm that causes the car to crash at the film’s beginning and glass because it is on the window of the car that the little girl beats her hands to escape the inferno.52 Wise also makes insistent use of mirrors to connote the girl’s dual personality.

Wise directed Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) under difficult circumstances.

As announced by the title, Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979) launched the film series based on the cult television show for NBC-TV, created by Gene Roddenberry. Riding the sci-fi wave of George Lucas’s Star Wars (1977) and Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Paramount gave the greenlight to a feature film reuniting the beloved gallery of characters from the show. It was not a pleasant experience for Wise, who deserves full credit for just holding the picture together. The impression is of a film done on the fly to meet its Christmas release date, with little or no agreement among writers, producers (including Roddenberry) and executives. Although a financial success (grossing $139 million on a budget that climbed to $46 million), it was not the film Paramount or fans were hoping for: closer in cerebral temperament to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) or Wise’s own The Day the Earth Stood Still and The Andromeda Strain than to Star Wars. With its longueurs, criticisms were levelled at the film’s pacing (Trekkies later re-dubbed it The Slow-Motion Picture) and “slight” MacGuffin – a threatening cloud entity that calls itself V’Ger which is on a quest to reunite with its “Creator” and is headed for Earth. But with a sympathetic cast of mind, the film is (like 2001) an immersive experience, which thought-provokingly treats the theme of artificial consciousness. In 2001, Wise delivered a welcome “director’s edition” addressing some of these pacing issues, but the film remains a noble failure.

Wise’s last films, Rooftops and A Storm in Summer (2000), are not essential. Rooftops is the story of an interracial romance between a white youth and Hispanic girl in the slums of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This is grafted on to a story about drug dealers terrorising homeless kids. Late 1980s street dance culture is also added to this mix, which, along with the setting and story elements, drew unfair comparisons with West Side Story. As the only R-rated film of Wise’s career, one senses the aging filmmaker trying to maintain his relevance and edge. Dusting off a teleplay by Rod Serling, A Storm in Summer was produced for the cable television network Showtime in association with Hallmark. Set in New York in 1969, it centres on the unlikely friendship between a gruff Jewish delicatessen owner (Peter Falk) and an African American boy from the slums of Harlem. In its addressing of racism during one of the most turbulent eras in American race relations, the film is not an altogether unfitting swan song.

As a soft-spoken, unassuming gentlemen, Wise earned the respect of actors, writers, technicians, studios. He was much-admired as an all-rounder with impressive credits in manifold genres, balancing large-scale projects with smaller, more intimate ones. He extensively researched and pre-planned his films and often oversaw all phases of the production process, from screenplay to final cut. While the amount of control he exercised would rival that of any auteur, the idea that Wise imprinted his style or personality on all his films may be overreaching. Here, the differences rather than similarities between Wise and Hawks are most illuminating. As has been widely noted, Hawks self-consciously repeated himself, reworking storylines, characters and ideas in film after film. As Hawks admitted, “I stole from myself.”53 Wise was not above reworking ideas, as witnessed in the aerial views of Manhattan in the opening of West Side Story which he transposed to the breathtaking vistas of the Austrian Alps in The Sound of Music (proof positive of Hitchcock’s dictum that “self-plagiarism is style”). Yet Wise was otherwise reluctant to repeat himself. This is not to cast aspersions on either director, but it is, I tender, a telling observation. For the idea that repetition is necessarily a strength, and the lack thereof a weakness or flaw needs to be reconsidered.

In the complex interplay of genre, ideology and personal authorship, Wise acknowledged that “most of my films have had something to say beyond the entertainment value, to make a comment about man and society or the world today.”54 In his most socially conscious films, he revealed a liberal humanistic “anti” stance on issues such as nuclear arms, capital punishment, racial discrimination and war. Wise’s foregrounding of those issues can be counted as evidence of an ideological signature, although this would not be enough to satisfy Andrew Sarris’s somewhat ill-defined premise of “interior meaning” apropos of the auteur theory.55 In order to appreciate Wise in all his colours and textures, the auteur label may actually be limiting.  As a great artist, Wise displayed qualities which T.S. Eliot saw in only the greatest poets such as Tennyson: namely, “abundance, variety, and complete competence.”56

Wise’s films as director collected more than 50 Academy Award nominations, winning a total of 19, including Best Director and Best Picture for Wise on two separate occasions (1961 and 1965). Wise also received the Irving G. Thalberg Memorial Award in 1966 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the D.W. Griffith Award in 1988 from the Director’s Guild of America. In 1998, he received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award, thanks in large part to the active campaigning of admirers Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese. Wise also served as President of the Director’s Guild of American from 1971 to 1974 and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1985 to 1988. Robert Wise died of heart failure, aged 91, on September 14, 2005.

Filmography (as director)

The Curse of the Cat People (1944, co-directed with Gunther von Fritsch)
Mademoiselle Fifi (1944)
The Body Snatcher (1945)
A Game of Death (1945)
Criminal Court (1946)
Born to Kill (1947)
Mystery in Mexico (1948)
Blood on the Moon (1948)
The Set-Up (1949)
Three Secrets (1950)
Two Flags West (1950)
House on Telegraph Hill (1951)
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951)
The Captive City (1952)
Something for the Birds (1952)
Destination Gobi (1953)
The Desert Rats (1953)
So Big (1953)
Executive Suite (1954)
Helen of Troy (1955)
Tribute to a Bad Man (1956)
Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956)
This Could Be the Night (1957)
Until They Sail (1957)
Run Silent, Run Deep (1958)
I Want to Live! (1958)
Odds Against Tomorrow (1959)
West Side Story (1961, co-directed with Jerome Robbins)
Two for the Seesaw (1962)
The Haunting (1963)
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Star! (1968)
The Andromeda Strain (1971)
Two People (1973)
The Hindenburg (1975)
Audrey Rose (1977)
Star Trek – The Motion Picture (1979)
Rooftops (1989)
A Storm in Summer (2000, made for television)


  1. Arthur Knight, “Unsentimental Gentlemen”, Saturday Review, December 24, 1966, p. 62.
  2. Andrew Sarris, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968 (Boston: Da Capo Press, 1996), p. 203.
  3. Ed Kelleher, “Rooftops Blends Romance, Action and Dance: Veteran Director Wise Helms New Visions Debut,” The Film Journal 92:3 (1989), p. 12.
  4. With characteristic disdain, David Thomson sees Wise’s genre-hopping as a “restless, dispiriting search among subject areas (…) that never caught up with interest.” David Thomson, The New Biographical Dictionary of Film, 6th ed. (New York: Knopf, 2016), p. 1129.
  5. Wes D. Gehring, Robert Wise: Shadowlands (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society Press, 2012).
  6. Justin E.A. Busch, Self and Society in the Films of Robert Wise (Jefferson NC: McFarland &​ Company, 2010), p. 5.
  7. Richard Gilman, The Drama Is Coming Now: The Theater Criticism of Richard Gilman, 1961-1991 (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2005), p. 59.
  8. Joseph McBride, Whatever Happened to Orson Welles? A Portrait of An Independent Career (Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2006), p. 62.
  9. Richard C. Keenan, The Films of Robert Wise (Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2007), p. 8.
  10. Sergio Leemann, Robert Wise on his Films: From Editing Room to Director’s Chair (Los Angeles: Silman-James Press, 1995), p. 21.
  11. Richard Combs goes as far as to ask, “How far has Wise’s more altogether smooth-running career been a transmutation of Welles’s, picking up on it and echoing it even when he reverses it?” Richard Combs, “Cracking Wise,” Film Comment 41:6 (November-December 2005), p. 34.
  12. Greg Mank, audio commentary on Curse of the Cat People, directed by Robert Wise and Gunther von Fritsch (1944; Burbank, CA: Warner Home Video, 2005). DVD.
  13. James Agee, Agee on Film (New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1968), p. 85. (Review originally published in The Nation April 1, 1944).
  14. Bosley Crowther, “The Screen: a Child’s Mind,” The New York Times, March 4, 1944, p. 10.
  15. Gehring, Shadowlands, pp. 83-94.
  16. Phil Hardy (ed.), The Encyclopedia of Horror Movies (London: Octopus Books, 1986), p. 88.
  17. Don Shay, “Robert Wise on Audrey Rose,” Cinefantastique, 6:1 (1977), p. 26.
  18. Thomson, New Biographical Dictionary of Film, p. 1129.
  19. Leemann, Robert Wise, p. 87.
  20. Gehring, Shadowlands, pp. 127-128.
  21. These topicals include such films as Little Caesar (1931), Five Star Final (1931), Black Legion (1937) and Marked Woman (1937). Charles S. Maland, “The Social Problem Film”, in Handbook of American Film Genres, ed. Wes D. Gehring (New York: Greenwood Press, 1988), p. 311.
  22. Maland, “The Social Problem Film”, p. 308.
  23. Ibid., p. 307.
  24. Gehring, Shadowlands, p. xviii.
  25. Wise defender Martin Scorsese has gone on record that “In a sense, he (Wise) was the Steven Spielberg of his time.” Indeed, both filmmakers have featured children prominently in their films, have worked within manifold genres (science fiction, fantasy, horror, drama and war, as well as a string of social problem films), and have been undervalued because of their so-called non-auteur status. That Spielberg is mounting a new screen version of West Side Story (which seeks to redress Wise’s whitewashing of the cast with non-Latino actors) seems significant.
  26. Richard Combs, “Cracking Wise”, p. 34. Keenan also entertains such a reading in his book-length study. Keenan, The Films of Robert Wise, p. 84.
  27. Leemann, Robert Wise, pp. 137-138.
  28. Archer Winsten, review of Somebody Up There Likes Me, New York Post, July 6, 1956. Reprinted in Frank Thomson, Robert Wise: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1995), p. 69.
  29. Busch has noted that “Wise’s films do not move quickly, ever; even Wise’s camera, however mobile overall, rarely moves rapidly, either physically or through zooms.” Busch, Self and Society, p. 4.
  30. Bosley Crowther, “Vivid Performance by Susan Hayward; Actress Stars in I Want to Live”, New York Times, November 19, 1958, https://www.nytimes.com/1958/11/19/archives/vivid-performance-by-susan-hayward-actress-stars-in-i-want-to-live.html
  31. François Truffaut, The Films in My Life, trans. Leonard Mayhew (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), p. 166.
  32. See Gehring, Shadowlands, pp. 93-94, pp. 136-138.
  33. Keenan, The Films of Robert Wise, p. 108.
  34. Bosley Crowther, “West Side Story Arrives”, New York Times, October 19, 1961, https://archive.nytimes.com/www.nytimes.com/packages/html/movies/bestpictures/west-re.html
  35. Stephen King, Danse Macabre (London: Macdonald, 1981), p. 116.
  36. See Patricia White’s most persuasive queer reading, “Female Spectator, Lesbian Specter: The Haunting”, in Inside/Out: Lesbian Theories, Gay Theories, ed. Dian Fuss (New York and London: Routledge, 1991), pp. 142-172.
  37. Judith Crist, review of The Sound of Music, The New York Herald Tribune, March 3, 1965. Reprinted in Frank Thomson, Robert Wise: A Bio-Bibliography (Westport, Connecticut and London: Greenwood Press, 1995), p. 89.
  38. https://www.boxofficemojo.com/alltime/adjusted.html
  39. Julia Antopol Hirsch, The Sound of Music: The Making of America’s Favorite Movie, foreword by Robert Wise (Chicago, Illinois: Contemporary Books, 1993), p. 176.
  40. Ibid., p. 210.
  41. Robert Wise, “Foreword”, in The Sound of Music: The Making of America’s Favorite Movie, by Julia Antopol Hirsch (Chicago, Illinois: Contemporary Books, 1993), p. x.
  42. Noel Brown, The Hollywood Family Film: a History, from Shirley Temple to Harry Potter (London and New York: I.B. Tauris, 2012), p. 120.
  43. Ibid., p. 125.
  44. Knight, “Unsentimental Gentlemen”, p. 62.
  45. Leemann, Robert Wise, p. 190.
  46. Thomas Schatz, “The New Hollywood,” The Film Cultures Reader, ed. Graeme Turner (London and New York: Routledge, 2002), p. 188.
  47. Brown, Hollywood Family Film, pp. 145-146.
  48. Harry and Michael Medved, The Hollywood Hall of Shame: The Most Expensive Flops in Movie History (London: Angus & Robertson, 1984), p. 225.
  49. Shay, “Robert Wise on Audrey Rose”, p 26.
  50. Adrian Schober, Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film: Contrary States (Houndmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), p. 95.
  51. Ibid., p. 89.
  52. Paul Petlewski, review of Audrey Rose, Cinéfantastique 6:2 (1977), p. 20.
  53. Peter Wollen, “Introduction”, in Howard Hawks: American Artist, eds. Jim Hillier and Peter Wollen (London: British Film Institute, 1996), p. 2.
  54. Kelleher, “Rooftops”, p. 12.
  55. As the third and final premise of the auteur theory, following on from technical competence and personal style, Sarris defines interior meaning as “the tension between a director’s personality and his material,” which “is not quite the vision of the world a director projects nor quite his attitude toward life.” Andrew Sarris, “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962”, in Auteurs and Authorship: a Film Reader, ed. Barry Keith Grant (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2008), p. 43, my italics.
  56. T.S. Eliot quoted by William David Shaw, Tennyson’s Style (Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1976), p. 273.

About The Author

Adrian Schober is a Melbourne-based film writer and scholar with a PhD in English from Monash University, Australia. He is the author of Possessed Child Narratives in Literature and Film (Palgrave, 2004) and a Devil's Advocates monograph on The Omen forthcoming by Auteur/Liverpool University Press. He is also the co-editor (with Debbie Olson) of Children, Youth, and American Television (Routledge, 2018) and Children, Youth, and International Television (Routledge, 2021). He is currently engaged in a research project on Steven Spielberg and Romanticism through the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Contemporary Culture Research Unit at the University of Melbourne.

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