Wyler. He only has three films in the TSPDT top consensus 1000. I’ve got that many in the top 500 and a whopping 8 in the top 100 of their respective decade (which since I do not have a top 1000 yet is about as close as I can get to approximating).  Wyler’s strength is his depth because I’ve never thought of including one of his films in my top 100 or even top 200 (in fact his first film does not show up until #436). So, it may seem odd that he’s on this list at #88 but there is a ton of depth here and Wyler is really married to mise-en-scene. He made a few early films with director of photography Gregg Toland (5 actually) who did famous deep focus work with Welles of course. Even after that his films like Detective Story have a wonderful deep focus and then of course Ben-Hur  is known for the staging and framing of the entire film including the legendary chariot race scene (in which the editing is incredible) which is, of course, magnificently directed.  Since the 1970’s his reputation has diminished. Many critics find his films overproduced, impersonal, and simple Hollywood prestige pictures (many, it seems like most, of his films were nominated for best picture, and a ton of his actors and actresses won or were nominated for Oscars). However, I feel like his 30+ year marriage to mise-en-scene is enough to give him more than caretaker status to a lot of great films—even if he’s not a style-plus director.

Ben-Hur stands on its own as a superior film– but also proves that Wyler’s dedication to the entire frame– the mise-en-scene– could go beyond the b/w work with Gregg Toland

Best film:  Detective Story. It is Kirk Douglas’ second best performance behind Paths of Glory (Douglas and Lancaster where like the Clooney and Pitt pair back in the two and somehow history seems to overlook these two exceptional actors) and the crisp black and white deep focus is really something to behold.

total archiveable films: 19

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a gorgeous shot from Jezebel– one of the 3 archiveable collaborations between Better Davis and Wyler

top 100 films:  0

top 500 films: 3 (Detective Story, Ben-Hur, The Best Years of Our Lives)

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great shot here from The Best Years– the deep focus work here, the framing of figures, and I admire the work with the line formed off the piano leading into Frederic March


top 100 films of the decade: 8 (Dodsworth, Wuthering Heights, Jezebel, The Best Years of Our Lives, The Little Foxes, The Letter, Detective Story, Ben-Hur)

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blocking characters here in Detective Story and using the frame, instead of the edit, to tell a story

most overrated: At #206 on the TSPDT consensus list the choice, sadly, has to be The Best Years of Our Lives It’s probably best known now as the film that incorrectly beat out it’s a wonderful life for best picture. It’s an exceptional film but I have it at #442.

perhaps Wyler’s most artistic single shot– wall-art here in The Best Years of Our Lives

most underrated:    I hate not to pick a new movie here but it has to be Detective Story. I have it at #436 and the TSPDT consensus doesn’t have it in the top 1000.

depth of field, the use of Douglas’ hand — great blocking– Detective Story

gem I want to spotlight:     The Little Foxes. Starring Bette Davis and shot by Toland. Gorgeous black and white deep focus action is on display on many depth layers and the Aaron Sorkin-like biting dialogue is on fire while Davis does great work per usual in this era.

this is from The Little Foxes and would be another candidate for Wyler’s greatest single shot

stylistic innovations/traits:  Wyler is dedicated to an aesthetic: mise-en-scene. Wyler is married to it– and because it comes out in various ways (deep focus black and white with Toland, on his own with deep focus in late 40’s and early 50’s, Ultra Panavision 70mm with Ben-Hurt). I believe many may read this and incorrectly overpraise Toland for his part in the Wyler filmography. They only made 5 films together (Wyler has 19 in the archives overall) and Toland also worked on other films without great masters like Welles, Ford and (I’d argue) Wyler—they’re like The Bishop’s Wife- fine but not special. I’d argue there’s as much difference between Kane and The Little Foxes as there is from The Little Foxes and The Bishop’s Wife. So,I think it goes beyond being a product of Toland’s work as his DP or a collaboration of efforts in Ben-Hur. If you combine that stylistic visual consistency with the performances and the filmography I think you have a great Hollywood auteur worthy of examination, study and praise.

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from Ben-Hur— Wyler, unlike most directors during this era and since- new exactly what to do with the larger format- here in Ultra Panavision 70mm

top 10

  1. Detective Story
  2. Ben-Hur
  3. The Best Years of Our Lives
  4. The Little Foxes
  5. The Letter
  6. Dodsworth
  7. Wuthering Heights
  8. Jezebel
  9. Roman Holiday
  10. Funny Girl
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from The Letter – the genre is melodrama– not detective or noir and we’re in 1940– not 1946– pretty impressive early work for Wyler

By year and grades

1936- Dodsworth HR
1936- These Three HR
1937- Dead End R
1938- Jezebel R/HR
1939- Wuthering Heights HR
1940- The Letter HR
1940- The Westerner R
1941- The Little Foxes HR/MS
1942- Mrs. Miniver R
1946- The Best Years of Our Lives MS
1949- The Heiress  
1951- Detective Story MS
1953- Roman Holiday HR
1955- Desperate Hours R
1958- The Big Country R
1959- Ben-Hur MS
1965- The Collector R
1966- How to Steal a Million R
1968- Funny Girl HR




*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film

MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film

HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film

R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives