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Robert Wise

Related: American cinema - horror films


Robert Wise (September 10, 1914 September 14, 2005) was an American film producer and director. Born in Winchester, Indiana, Wise began his movie career at RKO as a sound and music editor, but he soon grew to being nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing for Citizen Kane in 1941. He took his first directing job with the stylish horror film The Curse of the Cat People in 1944.

After suffering a heart attack at home, Wise was rushed to UCLA Medical Center, where he died from heart failure. He died on the 14th of September 2005, four days after his birthday. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Wise [May 2006]

The Haunting (1963) - Robert Wise

The Haunting (1963) - Robert Wise [Amazon.com]
Certain to remain one of the greatest haunted-house movies ever made, Robert Wise's The Haunting (1963) is antithetical to all the gory horror films of subsequent decades, because its considerable frights remain implicitly rooted in the viewer's sensitivity to abject fear. A classic spook-fest based on Shirley Jackson's novel The Haunting of Hill House (which also inspired the 1999 remake directed by Jan de Bont), the film begins with a prologue that concisely establishes the dark history of Hill House, a massive New England mansion (actually filmed in England) that will play host to four daring guests determined to investigate--and hopefully debunk--the legacy of death and ghostly possession that has given the mansion its terrifying reputation. Consumed by guilt and grief over her mother's recent death and driven to adventure by her belief in the supernatural, Eleanor Vance (Julie Harris) is the most unstable--and therefore the most vulnerable--visitor to Hill House. She's invited there by anthropologist Dr. Markway (Richard Johnson), along with the bohemian lesbian Theodora (Claire Bloom), who has acute extra-sensory abilities, and glib playboy Luke Sanderson (Russ Tamblyn, from Wise's West Side Story), who will gladly inherit Hill House if it proves to be hospitable. Of course, the shadowy mansion is anything but welcoming to its unwanted intruders. Strange noises, from muffled wails to deafening pounding, set the stage for even scarier occurrences, including a door that appears to breathe (with a slowly turning doorknob that's almost unbearably suspenseful), unexplained writing on walls, and a delicate spiral staircase that seems to have a life of its own.

The genius of The Haunting lies in the restraint of Wise and screenwriter Nelson Gidding, who elicit almost all of the film's mounting terror from the psychology of its characters--particularly Eleanor, whose grip on sanity grows increasingly tenuous. The presence of lurking spirits relies heavily on the power of suggestion (likewise the cautious handling of Theodora's attraction to Eleanor) and the film's use of sound is more terrifying than anything Wise could have shown with his camera. Like Jack Clayton's 1961 chiller, The Innocents, The Haunting knows the value of planting the seeds of terror in the mind, as opposed to letting them blossom graphically on the screen. What you don't see is infinitely more frightening than what you do, and with nary a severed head or bloody corpse in sight, The Haunting is guaranteed to chill you to the bone. --Jeff Shannon for amazon.com

The Curse of the Cat People (1944) - Robert Wise, Gunther von Fritsch

  1. The Curse of the Cat People (1944) - Robert Wise, Gunther von Fritsch [Amazon US]
    Jacques Tourneur's, classic noir, The Curse of The Cat People (1944) might seem more of a fantasy than a horror film, but when one views it as a sequel to Cat People (1942) and considers the meaning of the "curse" of the title, it takes on an altogether sinister tone. Curse of the Cat People tells the story of Amy, a six-year old girl, who leads a solitary existence. She lives with Oliver, her father, and her mother, in a small town next to Sleepy Hollow, the legendary forest which was the setting for the horrifying story of The Headless Horseman. The forest, with its dark secret places, is represented throughout as an extended metaphor for the unconscious. Amy lives in a fantasy world where she conjures up an imaginary playmate who assumes the identity of her father's dead first wife, Irena. --Barbara Creed

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) - Jack Moss, Robert Wise

  1. The Magnificent Ambersons (1942) - Jack Moss, Robert Wise [Amazon US]
    Citizen Kane is considered by many to be Orson Welles's masterpiece, but more than a few prominent critics have argued that his second film, 1942's The Magnificent Ambersons, is an even greater artistic achievement. It's certainly the source of the most painful injustice of Welles's brief career in Hollywood, having been seized from the director's control, drastically cut from over two hours to merely 88 minutes, and reshot with a different, upbeat ending that Welles vehemently disapproved of. Adapted by Welles from the novel by Booth Tarkington, it remains a truncated masterpiece, as impressive for what remains as for the even greater film it might have been. The story is set during the late 19th century and follows the rise and fall of the wealthy Amberson family of Indianapolis, Indiana. Central to the drama is George Amberson Minafer (Tim Holt), who is snobbishly to the manor born, and whose petty jealousies and truculent pride compel him to prevent a wealthy inventor (Joseph Cotten) from marrying his widowed mother (Dolores Costello). This in part is the cause of the Ambersons' downfall, and ultimately leads to George's humbling "comeuppance" at the film's dramatic conclusion. It's an absorbing tale of fading traditions and changing times, and it's also a magnificent showcase for Welles's cinematic audacity, famous among film students for its long, fluid shots and ambitious compositions. Responding to the film's drastic cutting and re-editing, Welles justifiably complained that "they destroyed the heart of the film, really." And yet, the director's stamp of genius is evident throughout--the work of a young master (Welles was only 26 when the film was made) that still shines despite its unfortunate fate. --Jeff Shannon

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