Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Arthur Hiller R.I.P.

Arthur Hiller, the director known for such films as The Americanization of Emily (1964), The Hospital (1971), The Out-of-Towners (1970), Plaza Suite (1971), and The In-Laws (1971), died today at the age of 92.

Arthur Hiller was born on November 13 1923 in Edmonton, Alberta. His father operated a second-hand music store in Edmonton. When Arthur Hiller was around seven or eight years old his parents began putting on plays for the Jewish community there. Young Mr. Hiller helped build and paint sets. He made his acting debut when he was eleven.

After he graduated from high school, Arthur Hiller joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. He served as a navigator on bombers that flew over Europe during World War II. Following the war he attended the University of Toronto. Initially studying law and psychology, he found himself drawn to entertainment. He graduated in 1947 with a Bachelor of Arts degree.

Arthur Hiller began his career working for CBC Radio, but soon found himself directing television programmes for the CBC. It was in 1956 that he moved to the United States. He made his American television debut directing an episode of Matinee Theatre. In the late Fifties he directed episodes of such shows as The Ford Television Theatre, Zane Grey Theatre, Playhouse 90, Climax!, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse, Wagon Train, The Third Man, Goodyear Theatre, Perry Mason, Thriller, Gunsmoke, and The Rifleman. In 1957 he made his feature film debut with the movie The Careless Years.

The early Sixties saw Arthur Hiller continue to direct television programmes. He directed such shows as The Dick Powell Theatre, Naked City, The Detectives, Route 66, Ben Casey, The Addams Family, and Insight. By the middle of the decade, however, he had shifted to feature films. He directed the 1963 Disney film Miracle of the White Stallions, followed by The Wheeler Dealers (1963) the same year. His following film was The Americanization of Emily (1964). With a screenplay by  Paddy Chayefsky, the film won critical acclaim and was nominated for two Academy Awards. It also did moderately well at the box office. Arthur Hiller's film output in the mid to late Sixties was a variety of genres. Promise Her Anything (1965) was a romantic comedy. Penelope (1966) was a Sixties-style, screwball comedy starring Natalie Wood. These two films were followed by the war drama Tobruk (1967). Mr. Hiller closed out the decade with the comedy The Tiger Makes Out (1967), the comedy-drama Popi (1969), and the classic Neil Simon comedy The Out of Towners (1970). His final film of the Sixties was also his biggest box office success, Love Story (1970).

The Seventies saw Arthur Hiller work again with Neil Simon, directing the playwright's Plaza Suite (1971). He also worked once more with Paddy Chayfesky, directing The Hospital (1972). He directed the musical Man of La Mancha (1972), the drama The Man in the Glass Booth (1975), the biopic W.C. Fields and Me (1976), and the horror film Nightwing (1979). He also directed the classic comedies Silver Streak (1976) and The In-Laws (1979).

During the Eighties Mr. Hiller directed the films Making Love (1982), Author! Author! (1982), Romantic Comedy (1983), The Lonely Guy (1984), Teachers (1984), Outrageous Fortune (1987), See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989), and Taking Care of Business (1990). From the Nineties into the Naughts he directed Married to It (1991), The Babe (1992), Carpool (1996), An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997--credited to "Alan Smithee"), and Pucked (2006).

Arthur Hiller was the President of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) from 1989 to 1993. He was also  member of the National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress from 1989 to 2005, and President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences from 1993 to 1997.

While the quality of his output varied over the years, for me there is little doubt that Arthur Hiller was a gifted director. I would number him among the best television directors of all time. He directed some of my favourite Naked City episodes, including "Ooftus Goofus". He also directed some of my favourite Route 66 episodes, including "Welcome to Amity" and "Go Read the River". In his television career he worked on some of the greatest TV shows of all time, including Playhouse 90, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, Gunsmoke, and the aforementioned Naked City and Route 66.

Of course, Arthur Hiller's fame would stem from his feature films, and he directed many classics. He seemed to have a particular gift for comedy, starting with The Wheeler Dealers in 1963. I have always thought that Penelope (1966) is one of the most underrated comedies of the Sixties, and I hope one day it is recognised as a classic. To me The Out of Towners is among Neil Simon's best works adapted to film. Plaza Suite (1971) and The In-Laws (1971) number among the best comedies of the Seventies.

That is not to say that Mr. Hiller was incapable of directing fine dramas. The Man in the Glass Booth (1975) was one of the more remarkable dramas to emerge from the Seventies. And while Love Story (1970) might have its problems, its direction is not one of them. Many of his other films were often as much drama as they were comedies. The Americanization of Emily (1964) was not only nominated for two Oscars and a BAFTA Award, but is now regarded as a classic by many. The Hospital (1971) won awards for Paddy Chayefesky's screenplay and received largely positive reviews. While I suspect Arthur Hiller will be best remembered for his comedies, he was a versatile director who worked in several genres. 

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