Friday, March 1

The Directors: George Roy Hill

Here we go with our second outing in the field of movie directors.  Raise your hand if you know who George Roy Hill is.  If you do not know the name, most of you will know his films.  Trust me.  His output is not great, only 14, but he has made some memorable films.  Let's give you the entire listing right now... and we'll fill in the details as we go on. 

Period of Adjustment
Toys in the Attic
The World of Henry Orient
Thoroughly Modern Millie
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Slaughterhouse Five
The Sting
The Great Waldo Pepper
Slap Shot
A Little Romance
The World According to Garp
The Little Drummer Girl
Funny Farm 

I have not seen Slaughterhouse Five, The Little Drummer Girl or Funny Farm so will forego any long-windedness on those.  Of the ones I have seen, only The World of Henry Orient with Peter Sellers left me cold, so let's add it to the list with the other three.  We're still left 10 films on which to flesh out some details and they're all films I very much liked. 

Hill is most closely associated with Robert Redford and Paul Newman since he directed the two films in which they paired...   Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.  Hill was Oscar-nominated as best director for both films and won the coveted award for the latter.  He would also work with each of these actors on separate third films.  Julie Andrews could twice list him as her director.  He was the man behind both Glenn Close and Diane Lane's screen debuts. 

Hill was a Minnesotan who became a newspaper reporter and in doing some graduate work found himself in Ireland where he got involved in a play.  For awhile he had a career as an actor both on the stage and television.  In the latter he became a director with a play he had also written.  Ultimately he directed the play version of Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment and that also provided his leap into film directing.  He was 41 years old, a little late for a beginner and obviously why he helmed so few films.

Adjustment (1962) was not one of Williams' more notable works and therefore easily dismissed as a film but there is more to it than initially meets the eye.  It is a marital comedy about two guy friends, one just married and the other just separated, and their spouses, all trying to work it out.  It was only Jane Fonda's fourth film and she, Jim Hutton, Tony Franciosa and Lois Nettleton turned on the charm under Hill's direction.  

His next project is one of my favorites of his works, Toys in the Attic, based on a Lillian Hellman play.  It contains, I think, the best performance Dean Martin ever gave.  Geraldine Page and Wendy Hiller portrayed his sisters... one couldn't ask for better acting genes than that.  Yvette Mimieux, blonde, ethereal and comely, as Martin's young newlywed wife, turns in one of her best performances.  Family jealousies and failures are explored in a good film that never really found an audience.

Things really went downhill for the new director in the first of his back-to-back films with Julie Andrews.  Hawaii was an ambitious project that was a difficult shoot with locals, money problems and actors who didn't get along.  It was epic-like, a grand story where the characters go from young to old.  I thought it was ok but it was a big loser.

If Hawaii was the bad news with Andrews, the good came with Thoroughly Modern Millie, a perfectly silly concoction about the lives of young single women living in a New York boarding house for women only.  There were snappy songs and crazy dances and a plot involving white slavery and the rich masquerading as poor.  Lively performances by Andrews, Mary Tyler Moore, James Fox, John Gavin and the wildly over-the-top Carol Channing and a popular title song caused the public to flock to it.

If Millie was purchasing the lottery ticket, his next project was cashing in.  I can't tell you anything you don't already know about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  Most likely the hottest bromance in Hollywood history came when Paul Newman and Robert Redford signed on for the title roles.  It is not only one of the best westerns ever made, it is one of the most popular films ever.  A blend of fact and fanciful fiction follows the careers of two of America's favorite outlaws.  It is aided by a monstrously popular song and a wonderful musical score.  It garnered some Oscar nominations and the happy trio vowed to find something to work on again.  Wrap parties frequently have chatter about that but we are lucky it would not only happen but surprisingly even bigger.  (I expect one day two more hunks will be signed to do a remake.)

Hill and you-know-who

The Sting is also so famous there's nothing I can tell you about it that you don't already have a firm grasp on.  I loved it.  It was riveting watching the boys oh so cleverly pull off separating a gangster from his cash.  And what's more... the time frame, the musical score, the clothing, Redford at the height of his beauty and a fabulous supporting cast headed by the always-watchable Robert Shaw.  It would go on to win a few of those golden statues and everyone was saying get me George Roy Hill.

The great love of Hill's life was not making movies but flying.  He loved everything about airplanes and it is therefore with little doubt that The Great Waldo Pepper was his favorite film.  Airplanes did figure rather prominently in a handful of his other works, too.  It was not one of Hill's highly-acclaimed films but it is nonetheless quite entertaining.  Redford stars as the title character, a biplane barnstormer, circa WWI, who becomes a movie stunt pilot.  It had a great period feel to it and thrilling photography.

In 1977 Hill reunited with Newman to make Slap Shot, one of the wildest sports films you're likely to encounter.  Of all the films in Newman's illustrious career, this was his favorite.  He is the coach of a never-very-good hockey team that is about to fold so he creates a pile of bs to generate interest in the team with many comical results.  Hunky Michael Ontkean, as one of the players, more than held his own with the talented Newman.  The movie became most talked about due to its liberal use of profanity.

Without a doubt A Little Romance was Hill's sweetest film.  Too bad that it wasn't very successful.  It's one of those delightful little movie nuggets that is so fun to discover when you didn't even know you were looking.  Diane Lane was only 13 years old, in her movie debut, who runs off with 14-year old Thelonious Bernard for a happy journey around Europe, often with Laurence Olivier in tow.   Dripping in charm.

I didn't particularly like The World According to Garp when I first saw it and I don't know why.  I saw it a bit later, determined to give it a try, and it worked.  I am a fan of John Irving's period piece about a man who considers himself  Mr. Big Deal as a writer and his unusual mother whose publicly espousing feminine values brings her and her son more fame than they bargained for.  Robin Williams, Glenn Close, John Lithgow and Mary Beth Hurt were casting perfections for this lyrical, amusing film.

Ten films I like by the same director is pretty damned impressive.  I know actors who didn't make 10 films I admire.  I am not sure why Hollywood really never opened its arms to Hill, but they never really did.  It may be that directors are often pigeon-holed into a certain kind or style of a film, like, say, Alfred Hitchcock or John Ford.  It could never really be determined what kind of a director Hill was.  I say this man gave us variety and almost every film he made had the Hill polish.  He always acquired the best actors, the best writers and the best technicians.  He was the first director to hold the distinction of having two films in the top grossers of all time (Butch Cassidy and The Sting).

He usually battled the critics.  He would lash out when they poorly reviewed his films, which were mostly enormously popular with the public.  George Roy Hill died in 2002 at age 81.

Woman of Many Faces



  1. Nope, didn't know his name, but certainly know some of the films. I never knew the same person directed Butch Cassidy and The Sting! Legendary!

    Your comments about what kind of director Hill was make me think a little bit of Ang Lee. Well, other than not being embraced by Hollywood. I think they like him. :) I always wonder what is an Ang Lee film? I look at his credits and see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility, The Hulk, Brokeback Mountain and the Life of Pi. I was just telling Kyle I have no idea what to expect from him next!

  2. Great comment. This is, of course, exactly why I decided to write about some directors. And you, of course, are right on about Ang Lee, who will one day be a subject of one of my posts.