THE GOLDWYN YEARS
In the 1930s, Wyler began a long, productive and sometimes stormy relationship with notorious producer Samuel Goldwyn. Though Wyler often had to fight the producer, the films he made for Goldwyn were striking. The first was THESE THREE (1936), which, although it had to jettison the lesbian theme of the Lillian Hellman play on which it was based, is a fine drama. Then came DODSWORTH (1936), a beautifully achieved work, with particularly fine performances by Walter Huston, Mary Astor, and Ruth Chatterton. It remains a potent examination of a disintegrating marriage more than 65 years after it was made.
Another of their collaborations, THE WESTERNER (1940), is a glittering black-and-white Western sparked by the vital interplay between Walter Brennan (as that most attractive of evil men, Judge Roy Bean) and the slow-speaking but quick-witted Gary Cooper. The scenes between Cooper and Brennan have an extraordinary naturalness.
Some commentators suggest the extensive use of deep-focus images in Wylers movies originates with the great photographer Gregg Toland. Toland worked on seven of Wylers eight films for Goldwyn, and undoubtedly his photography in them is superb. However, similar powerful diagonal, deep-focus compositions can be found in THE LETTER (1940), photographed by Tony Gaudio; and there are beautifully composed deep-focus staircase shots in THE HEIRESS (1949), photographed by Leo Tover, after Tolands premature death.
The photography in THE GOOD FAIRY (1935) is even more telling. This rarely seen gem was released well before Wyler worked with Toland. A delightful comedy with a witty script by Preston Sturges, it is acted with comic grace by Margaret Sullavan, Herbert Marshall, Frank Morgan, and Reginald Owen. Photographed by Norbert Brodine, it is filled with deep-focus shots and Wylers trademark diagonal compositionsand it features a beautiful receding mirror shot (even more striking than that produced by Orson Welles and Toland, five years later, in CITIZEN KANE).
Wyler was married twice once, briefly, to Margaret Sullavan, the star of THE GOOD FAIRY; then from October 23, 1938, until his death, to actress Margaret Tallichet, with whom he had five children.
In the Goldwyn years, Wyler also made two non-Goldwyn movies. The first, JEZEBEL (1938), is built around Bette Daviss bold, powerful, and, at times, subtle performance. The second, THE LETTER, has an even more powerful performance by Davis as she captures the underlying sexual desperation of an unfaithful wife. It also has a riveting opening sequence in which the still of a Malaysian night is shattered by the sound of a shot, and a man stumbles onto the veranda of a white house. The man is followed by Davis holding a gun. She keeps firing until there are no more bullets, and his body is still.
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