Run Silent Run Deep (Wise, 1958)

run-silent-run-deep

Robert Wise’s Run Silent Run Deep takes military stoicism seriously, relishing the interactions of strong male characters who live and die intrinsically linked to the greater national cause. Simple on the surface, but not simplistic, Wise’s directing never glosses over the sacrifice these men make out of respect for each other and their country. Most submarine films suffer from a lack of visual or narrative imagination, however Wise transcends this problem by favoring tension built from character interaction over visuals, taking the viewer through the meticulous rythmn of naval procedure. Clark Gable’s wise Commander Richardson relentlessly prepares his men to attack a lethal Japanese destroyer at the height of the Pacific Campaign, drilling them to the brink of mutiny, however Burt Lancaster’s Executive Officer Bledsoe interjects, pushing his ego aside for the greater good. Run Silent Run Deep isn’t revolutionary, but it displays a master director doing what he does best – telling a good story. Robert Wise might be the greatest anti-auteur, a juggernaut of Hollywood seamlessness who depends on earnestness and seriousness to compliment a character-first structure, where even the slightest mannerisms turn out to be incendiary.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (Wise, 1979)

startrekthemotionpicture1979dvd

I’ve never been a Star Trek fan. The original 1960’s show is campy at best and painfully inept at worst. But I wasn’t prepared for this. Wooden acting, silly effects, and terrible exposition infect Robert Wise’s ridiculously earnest cinematic opening act, making it literally unwatchable at times. Re-visiting Star Trek almost thirty years after its release doesn’t help, since it feels about as dated as a film can get. I know Kahn is regarded as the real starting point for the saga, but that’s no excuse for this boring endeavor. An aside: if you’re into five minute approach sequences that seemingly drag on forever, then this is the Star Trek for you. Hopefully J.J. Abrams’ re-visioning will ease my pain.

The Andromeda Strain (Wise, 1971)

the-andromeda-strain-1-1024

Michael Crichton, the very influential (at least to me and my brother) author of Jurassic Park, The Terminal Man, Sphere and countless others, passed away on Election Day after a private battle with Cancer. In memory of Crichton’s talents, I decided to check out Robert Wise’s adaptation of one of his first and best novels, The Andromeda Strain. As with most Wise films, the practical and restrained art of storytelling outweighs flashy gimmicks and styles (although a few split screen sequences do stand out). Wise’s no-nonsense approach fits well with Crichton’s specific jargon, producing a fascinating and odd genre bending experience that can be best described as a Science Fiction Procedural. You’ll be missed Mr. Crichton.

The Body Snatcher (Wise, 1945)

Robert Wise collaborates once again with producer Val Newton for a creepy entanglement of guilt and murder in 1830’s Edinburgh. The story of morally ambiguous scientists crossing ethical boundaries for the good of medical research isn’t highly shocking, but the eerie environment, as with most of Newton’s low-budget mini-masterpieces, hides dark intentions under layers of grisly shadows. Boris Karloff’s standout performance as the tormenting grave robber steals the show.

Born to Kill (Wise, 1947)

A raging, brutal Noir, with characters more paranoid than usual in this sort of twisted affair. When Lawrence Tierney and Claire Trevor both play a suspicious role in a double homicide, each spirals in contrasting directions. But as with all great Noir, fate intertwines them back together, producing a prolonged punishment of changing desires and filthy intentions. Far superior to Wise’s other exercises in style (The Set-Up , Odds Against Tomorrow), Born to Kill crawls with shadows and angst, popping off snappy dialogue at will, creating performances of breaking psychosis. When fate finally comes crashing down, after almost 90 minutes of build-up, the send-off is both tragic and just, violent and poetic.

Executive Suite (Wise, 1954)

After flat out disliking The Haunting and being underwhelmed by The Set-Up and Odds Against Tomorrow, I’d made up my mind about Robert Wise. His seemingly simplistic conquests of genre iconography weren’t for me. Yes, The Day the Earth Stood Still is a masterpiece, but of the Wise films I’d seen, nothing else struck me as canon material. That is, until now. Executive Suite, Wise’s fascinating condemnation of modern day corporate tactics reveals a business world Billy Wilder would have loved, where men and women evolve and devolve in terms of story and inherent moral conflict. With a stellar cast which includes William Holden, Barbara Stanwyck, Walter Pidgeon, and Frederic March, Wise assembles countless moments of tense character study framed by pertinent critiques of the “business as usual” approach still on display by companies today, where the bottom line trumps human emotion. Written by Ernest Lehman, Executive Suite boasts an amazing POV opening sequence (no score introduces character or used at all for that matter) of a businessman CEO named Avery Bullard who inadvertently dies, then sets off a chain of events which send the rats beneath him scurrying for power. His power has swayed over all involved, and the genius of the film shows how each character must break free of the dead man’s legacy in order to start anew. Will it be Holden’s creative Vice President, who’s in it for the common man and scientific innovation, or March’s money man who will take over the company? I never thought business dealings like these would produce such profound moments of heightened response, but Wise crafts each scene to seamlessly groove to the next, creating a hypnotic and slippery slide toward salvation. Executive Suite is hands down the best film about ethics I’ve seen since The Sweet Smell of Success, so it’s no surprise both are built upon two of the greatest scripts ever conceived. Wise’s film is a masterpiece, one that’s so devoted toward developing character in terms of story and setting, you never want it’s joys to end. Mr. Wise, I judged you too soon.