An unrelenting perfectionist notorious for demanding multiple takes, William Wyler directed a string of great classic movies from the 1930s through the 1960s. Along the way, he won three Academy Awards for Best Director and reigned as the most nominated director in history with 12 nods.
Whether it was classic literary adaptations, stirring wartime dramas, sweeping romances, biblical epics or even the occasional Western, Wyler was a master of many genres and worked Hollywood's top stars. Here are seven classic movies directed by William Wyler.
Wyler earned his first of 12 Oscar nominations for Best Director for this mature drama about a marriage that falls apart when both husband (Walter Huston) and wife (Ruth Chatterton) realize they have grown apart. The film’s frank portrayal of infidelity was something of a surprise given how limited filmmakers were at the time because of the Production Code. Both Huston and co-star Mary Astor, who played the widow he falls in love with, deliver excellent performances, while Wyler helmed the first of several classics.
MGM Home Entertainment
Wyler steered his star Bette Davis
to her second win as Best Actress in Jezebel
, a pre-Civil War romantic drama about a headstrong Southern Belle (Davis) whose scandalous actions cost her the man she loves (Henry Fonda
). While not as sprawling as the three-hour epic Gone with the Wind
(1939), Wyler’s film was no less spectacular for its depiction of the Antebellum period and the sterling performances of its leads. The film was also noted for the behind-the-scenes affair between Wyler and Davis, and marked the first of three Academy Award nominations she received for her work with him.
Made in the greatest year
in Hollywood’s history, Wyler’s adaptation of Emily Brontë’s classic gothic romance featured Laurence Olivier
as the tortured Heathcliff and Merle Oberon as Catherine the foster sister who leads them both to misery and despair. Wuthering Heights
was the pinnacle of classic Hollywood’s sweeping romantic dramas, though the ending where Heathcliff and Catherine walking off hand-in-hand – a scene where neither the real actors or the director took part – put a false note on an otherwise stunning achievement. Still, the film earned eight Oscar nominations, including Wyler’s second for Best Director.
MGM Home Entertainment
Following nominations for The Letter
(1940) and Little Foxes
, Wyler finally won the Oscar for directing this stirring wartime drama starring Greer Garson as the titular matriarch of a family doing its level best to live their lives despite the chaos and destruction of war all around them. Their determination is never better exemplified than when Mrs. Miniver confronts a down Nazi pilot (Helmut Dantine) in her own kitchen. The film was hailed by both Roosevelt and Churchill for their propaganda purposes, though such sweeping sentiment feels rather dated in these more cynical times Still, Mrs. Miniver
was a hit and won six Academy Awards.
Wyler won his second Academy Award for this postwar drama about three servicemen (Frederic March, Dana Andrews and Harold Russell) struggling to readjust to their lives following their wartime experiences. March finds it difficult returning to the world of finance after befriending blue collar GIs; Andrews is a former bombardier suffering from nightmares while dealing with his unsatisfied wife (Virginia Mayo); and Russell lost both hands after his aircraft carrier was sunk. The film was a huge success with audiences despite an overall unwillingness to make postwar movies so soon after World War II. The gamble paid off, as Wyler’s film won eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.
Wyler helped turn little-known Audrey Hepburn
into a star with this thoroughly enjoyable romantic comedy that also featured Gregory Peck
in one his most charismatic roles. Rome never looked so inviting, as the waifish Hepburn and dashing Peck embark on a whirlwind Italian romance. Both leading roles were originally written for Cary Grant
and Elizabeth Taylor
, but Grant felt he was too old for the role and decline, while Hepburn won the part after an animated discussion with Wyler during her screen test. The rest is history.
MGM Home Entertainment
One of the greatest historical epics
of all time, Wyler’s Ben-Hur
was a stunning achievement of mammoth proportions that became the biggest hit of 1959 while sweeping the Academy Awards with a record 11 wins. Charlon Heston
starred as the titular prince-turned-slave who seeks revenge on his childhood friend (Stephen Boyd), only to find forgiveness through witnessing the crucifixion of Christ (Claude Heater). Grand in every way imaginable, Ben-Hur
stood the test of time as monumental film that marked the pinnacle of epic filmmaking in Hollywood. Wyler won his third and final Oscar for Best Director, putting him on par with Frank Capra
and one behind all-time leader, John Ford
, who won four. With his next film, The Collector
(1965), Wyler cemented his place as the all-time Best Director nominee with twelve nominations.