Rodgers and Hammerstein composed it, we all know Julie Andrews sang it, cool John Coltrane jazzed it with his saxophone and Al Jarreau scats and jives, in quite possibly my dearest rendition. Of course, I’m talking about the song My Favorite Things. Which brings me to an obscure way round to introduce this review. A book!
But first. The song.
Raindrops and noir lit femme fatal kittens
Bright coloured bruises by red punching mittens
Brown paper packages from bank heists and stings
These are a few of my favourite things
OK! I know it doesn’t rhyme like Rodgers and Hammerstein. Just maybe, you noticed the three lines slightly changed? To fit three certain noirs from the director’s filmography. At first I tried to fit his sci-fi films. To add things filled with virus’s….. but hey we’re living that crazy right now! I wondered whether to explore strange new worlds through star filled galaxies. Even remembering back to a visit from a unique looking Yorkshire-man! A man who’d been where no man has gone before. However, noir fitted but my love of his science fiction tales could have easily been a few of my favourite things.
What’s the Wolf Loony talking about this time you ask? Well I’m sure you’ve worked it out, hey the title gave it away. These are some of my favourite things, genres and exciting movies I do so adore and they are all made by one man….. The legendary director Robert Wise.
Robert Wise smashed out brilliant movies with a power strike fist just like Stoker. POW! So many hits in the wonderful differing genres of movies I so love. Film noir, crime thrillers, a war story, science fiction and maybe, I won’t admit it in public, hey keep it on the down low, on the Q.T. Shhhhh but maybe a musical or two! Don’t wanna ruin me street cred you see….. OK now’s it’s your time Miss Andrews….. Sing it Julie.
My first Robert Wise film was Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). I didn’t know Star Trek had history. I was 8 and mesmerised. Taken on a visually stunning epic odyssey sat in the dark. I was in my very own spaceship as I flew through the big screen before me. I was joined by Kirk, Spock and Bones along with a strange beguiling baldy lady. We were all seeking out new life and new civilisations together. Oh course I didn’t know who Robert Wise was then, or the next time. Sat watching The Sound Of Music (1966) and West Side Story (1961) with my Mum eating cake and tapping her feet. I didn’t even know who he was when racing through the ocean’s with my Dad watching Run Silent Run Deep (1958). Not even when the words “Klaatu barada nikto” saved the world from annihilation in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). You know what? It wasn’t until my late teens brought The Andromeda Strain (1971) into my life that I clocked his name. Up to then I was completely oblivious to Robert Wise. However every time I watched these films, again and again, his magic would etch it’s way onto me.
Flash forward to starting this film based hobby of mine. A hobby that would effectively became a joyful way to discover and learn. So it was destiny for mine and Robert Wise’s paths to cross. As I learnt about film noir from the countless must watch noir lists I stumbled across, The Set Up (1949) would be punched near the top. I watched it, reviewed it, fell instantly in love with it. Research brought with it that name, Robert Wise. Clicking on his filmography a whole world opened up to me like a flash back to my memories. The Enterprise experience at the cinema, to that gigantic iconic Gort, to being locked down levels deep in the ground and to the sound of the song bird, Miss Julie Andrews. Wow! Robert Wise was always there in my life.
As the months past by Odds Against Tomorrow (1959) would blow my mind. So deep, so moving, so raw. Then Born To Kill (1947) would shock me. So dark, so disturbing, so savage. Lucky for me, Robert Wise was super productive. He has an immense catalogue of work. As I carry on my journey of discovery I get the perfect companion. A book. And a wonderful book at that.
Robert Wise The Motion Pictures by J.R. Jordan.
Along came a lovely message. “Would I like to do an unbiased review of this book?” I jumped at the chance.
A week or so later I’m sitting at home working my way through all the films that I’d already seen. You see the book is compiled in an easy to read chronological order format. Focusing on his first film, the Val Lewton produced, The Curse of the Cat People (1944) right through to his final project in 2000, a TV movie drama with Peter Falk called A Storm in Summer. The book covers every film from start to finish. So it’s perfect to pick up and jump into.
Another great aspect of the book is it being broken up in to five distinct sections, film phases of his career. First the RKO Radio Picture days. Then his most productive era, The Fifties. The sixties brings, Primetime! Then there’s the best title out the five sections. The Science And Surrealism Of The Seventies which leads on to the final chapter. Just two films, in Twilight.
Hey it’s also got pictures! Lots of pictures dotted throughout. Breaks up the text nicely and gives you a visual accompaniment along the way. Another nice touch are the quotes that start each film title. All from unrelated sources but fit in perfectly with the film. Like this one for Star Trek The Motion Picture.
“The cosmos is within us. We are made of star-stuff. We are a way for the universe to know itself.” – Carl Sagan
At first I thought he had somehow got the immortal swordsman from Highlander to do the forward but I was wrong. It is, in fact, American film and television character actor Gavin MacLeod. He recalls memories of working with Steve McQueen under the watchful direction of Robert Wise in The Sand Pebbles (1966).
Better still is the introduction from Robert’s nephew, Douglas E. Wise. A beautiful personal reminisce about his beloved Uncle Bob. It was also nice to learn a little about Douglas. He had obtained his debut film credit when becoming a second assistant director on his Uncle’s film, Star Trek The Motion Picture. It was a joy to read he became the first assistant director for four more Star Trek films in the saga. And keeping in the science fiction world, Douglas would work on the epic space opera Babylon 5. I so loved that series.
Robert had made a staggering 40 films! With a dash of added shock and shame I counted the one’s I’d seen. 12! Only 12! To be fair from the ones I had seen, most are very dear to me. Part of my film life’s journey.
It dawns on me with great excitement that I now have 28 more of the great man’s films to see. The ones I’ve pushed to the top of the essential list are The Sand Pebbles (1966), Somebody Up There Likes Me (1956), Executive Suite (1954) I Want To Live (1958) (that one sounds right up my street). Plus for some great sounding noir fix The Captive City (1952) and The House on Telegraph Hill (1951) I imagine these two will give my noir junkie fix a boost.
Each time I watch another, like seeing Richard Burton on Friday playing a Scot and leading a band of brave Aussies against Field Marshal Rommel in The Desert Rats (1953), it’s a joy. I even managed to fulfill a promise to Mikes Take On The Movies that I would see The Body Snatcher (1945). I did last night. Oh my, how fantastically sinister was Boris Karloff’s Cabman John Gray! So off I go once again to pick up Joe Jordan’s wonderful book for another fix of great insightful information about the production. Luckily I have lots more films to watch so I’ll be reaching for the book shelf over and over.
You can find Joe’s book Robert Wise The Motion Pictures by J.R. Jordan on Amazon or other good book retailers.
Many thanks for reading my Robert Wise film discovery journey and thank you, Joe, for the superb book. I wish you great success with it.
Keep enjoying those square shaped screens, finding new movie gems and learning along the way. All the best ….. Mikey Wolf.