These days, as I have mentioned in the recent past, I’m getting immersed more and more into silent movies. I’m just fascinated by how all the filmmakers of the silent era developed the industry and how it evolved. So, it was a blessing to watch the wonderful “Wild Bill, Hollywood Maverick - the Life and Times of William A. Wellman.” And what a fabulous life it was, all fantastically documented in this delightful film.
Well-directed by Todd Robinson, the movie goes through Wellman’s life from beginning to end, starting with his birth on February 29, 1896, in Massachusetts, and how he spent his early years as a decorated fighter pilot during World War I. It was there that he got nicknamed Wild Bill. Some time later, famous actor Douglas Fairbanks, impressed by Wellman’s talents, got him an acting job in “The Knickerbocker Buckaroo,” but Bill realized that he did not liked acting. He then moved to being a mailman at the Goldwyn Studio, then assistant director, and, finally, director. After helming some silent films, Bill directed “Wings” (1927), which cost 2 million dollars to make, and was very successful. This movie established him in Hollywood, but, due to his temper and antipathy for the studio, he was banned to attend the premiere of the film, as well as the first academy award ceremony, in which “Wings” won the best picture Oscar. Despite his disdain for the studio system, Wellman directed some of the best movies in Hollywood history, such as “The Public Enemy” (1931), “A Star is Born” (1937), “Nothing Sacred” (1939), “Beau Geste” (1939), “The Ox-Bow Incident” (1943), and many more. He also made five films with John Wayne, and, in a 35- year career, his films received 32 academy award nominations – 4 for Best Picture and 3 for Best Director. He also was recipient of the DW Griffith Award for Lifetime Achievement. The documentary includes interviews with some of the people associated with Wellman at one time or another, such as Robert Stack, Robert Redford, Nancy Reagan, Buddy Rogers, Sydney Poitier, William Wellman Jr., Clint Eastwood, Tom Laughlin, Robert Wise, and more.
William Wellman was a rare breed of director, and he was able to survive and thrive in Hollywood, despite his strong character, and not being part of the town’s politics or social scene. He was described as a man of strong convictions, deep loyalties, arrogant, with distaste for authority, honest, and with an explosive temper. In fact, Wellman, as well as Raoul Walsh and John Ford were known as “the” tough directors. In the end, he got tired of Hollywood, just saying, “I’m not retiring; I’m quitting.” Furthermore, in his deathbed, he told his son, “Bill, don’t feel sorry for me – I have lived the life of a 100 men.” This is a fellow that I definitely would have liked to have met. “Wild Bill, Hollywood Maverick” is a true pleasure and a glorious look to a grandiose career. (USA, 1996, color & B/W, 93 min)
Reviewed on February 9, 2014 by Eric Gonzalez for KINO