It's a bit curious that director William Wellman isn't better known. Where his contemporaries John Ford and Howard Hawks will elicit smiles and nods from causal film viewers, you have to be a movie buff to know that the same man who directed the winner of the very first Academy Award for Best Picture also directed such diverse films as A Star is Born and The Public Enemy. The 1995 documentary Wild Bill - Hollywood Maverick goes a long way towards correcting that, examining the director's films as well as his innovations and willingness to buck the studio system. Previously available on Warner's Forbidden Hollywood Collection, Vol. 3, the documentary is now available as a stand-alone disc from Kino.
William Wellman was a daring and audacious man who volunteered to fly for the French during WWI before the
He was sent back to the States to recover and trained pilots as the war drew to a close. One day he crashed a party that Douglas Fairbanks was hosting at Pickfair by landing a plane on Pickfair's polo field and climbing out in full uniform. It was a stunt that impressed the guests, and Fairbanks who arranged for Wellman to get a job at a studio. The rest, as they say, is history.
This documentary does a good job of cataloging Wellman's films as well as illustrating why he was such a well-respected actor among his peers. Through film clips and interviews with a who's who of Hollywood Wellman's contribution to the world of film is clearly examined. The number of top actors and actresses that are interviewed for the film are astounding. These include: Martin Scorsese, Nancy Reagan, Clint Eastwood, Harry Morgan, Gregory Peck, Sidney Poitier, Burgess Meredith, Robert Mitchum, Richard Widmark, Robert Stack, Jane Wyman, and Robert Redford, just to name a few.
The film also discusses his personality. Many of the actors who are interviewed relate that he was an intimidating person who was quick to anger and not afraid to tell people how he felt. The interesting thing is that just about all of them go on to say that he was also sweet and kind.
The most entertaining parts of the documentary are the anecdotes concerning Wellman's friction with studio heads. Once he was given a horrible script to direct, so he loaded the bed of a truck with manure and dumped it into the first floor office of the executive who assigned him the project. He climbed on top, threw the script down and told the astonished man "that's what I think of your script."
Of course action like that made him some powerful enemies and he wasn't well liked in some circles. He was such a persona non grata at
The main complaint I have about this documentary is that they give away major plot points to some of the movies they examine. In some cases it's unavoidable, like when discussing The Ox-Bow Incident, where the ending is part of the reason the film is so well regarded. That's not always the case though, and I was a bit disappointed that they didn't try to make the movie a bit more spoiler-free.
The stereo soundtrack is fine. The people being interviewed are easy to understand and the clips from the movies are decent.
The full frame image is decent too. There is a bit of aliasing in some of the titles that are put up on the screen, but aside from that it looks fine.
There are also two trailers included for Wellman movies: A Star is Born and Nothing Sacred.
Wellman was a top-notch director creating some excellent pictures. If you're not familiar with the man or his body of work, this documentary is a great place to learn about him. Recommended.