A Year: Day to Day Men: 10th of September, Solar Year 2018

Lost in Thought

September 10, 1914 was the birthdate of American film director Robert Wise.

Robert Wise initially sought a career in journalism and attended Franklin College, a small liberal arts college in Indiana, on a scholarship. In 1933 due to his family’s poor financial situation, he moved to Hollywood where his younger brother had gone several years earlier. His brother David found him a job at RKO Studios where he eventually became an editor.

Wise began his career at RKO as a sound and music editor. As he gained experience, he became more interested in editing film content, rather than sound, and started working for RKO film editor William Hamilton. Wise assisted Hamilton on Alfred Santell’s “Winterset” and later on the 1937 “Stage Door” and the 1939 “The Story of Vernon and Irene Castel”. Wise received his first screen credit for a feature film, shared with Hamilton, for editing on “Fifth Avenue Girl” released in 1939.

At RKO Robert Wise worked with Orson Welles on “Citizen Kane” and was nominated for the 1942 Academy Award for Film Editing. Orson Welles had used a deep-focus technique on his film, in which heavy lights are employed to achieve sharp focus for both foreground and background in the frame. Wise later use this technique in films he directed. Wise also worked as editor on Welles’ next film “The Magnificent Ambersons”, and shot additional scenes for the film.

At RKO, Wise got his first credited directing job in 1944 while working for Hollywood horror film producer Val Lewton. He replaced the original director on the horror film “The Curse of the Cat People”, when it fell behind schedule. The film was a well received horror film which made a departure from the genre at that time. Wise used, as in many of his future films, a vulnerable child or childlike character to challenge a dark, adult world. He began a collaboration with Lewton that led to the production of the 1945 horror film “The Body Snatcher” starring Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi.

In the 1950s Robert Wise proved adept in several genres, including melodrama in “So Big”; westerns in “Tribute to a Bad Man” starring James Cagney; epics in “Helen of Troy”; and science fiction in “The Day the Earth Stood Still” which became one of the most enduring sci-fi films ever made, and among the first produced by a major studio.

Robert Wise has been viewed as a craftsman, inclined to let the story concept set the style of the film. He meticulously prepared his films, putting an effort into the research and detail of his projects. While doing research,  he would often scout background shot locations for his second-unit crews. Directing more than forty films in his career, Robert Wise won Academy Awards for Best Director and Best Picture for both the 1961 “West Side Story” and the 1965 “The Sound of Music”. He also directed and produced “The Sand Pebbles” which was nominated for 1967 Best Picture.

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