The Golden Age of Hollywood

William Wellman was unlike most of the other directors, in that they boasted of being tough old birds, and Wellman actually was. (Raoul Walsh was about the only other one who could make this claim.)

His spirit didn't exactly endear him to studio heads, but his track record certainly did: Wings, Nothing Sacred, A Star Is Born, Beau Geste, The Light That Failed, The Ox-Bow Incident, Story of G.I. Joe, Yellow Sky, Battleground, The High and the Mighty, Westward the Women . .

What are some of your favorite Wellman films?

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Wellman had a lot to say about The Public Enemy. (I think that's the one you mean. Curtiz did Angels.)

He went to Warner with a story called Beer and Blood, and Warner didn't want to make it, pointing out it had been done, as they'd already made Little Caesar. Hughes was making Scarface, etc. What was he going to do? Wellman stated he'd make the best one of them all. With that, he got the go-ahead.

Edward Woods was cast in the lead, with Cagney as his buddy. After about three days, Wellman called Warner, and said they'd done it wrong, and he was switching the parts. This was somewhat gutsy of him, due to the fact Woods was Louella Parsons' son-in-law. However, Parsons never said a word about it, and we all know how it turned out.

And Cagney, whenever he went out to eat, always had some smart aleck send him grapefuit. Fortunately, he enjoyed it.
I'm a big fan of The Ox-Bow Incident, which next to The Grapes of Wrath is probably the best film Henry Fonda made during his time at 20th Century Fox (it was Fonda who desperately wanted to star in it, for he had witnessed the awful mob lynching of Will Brown as a 14-year-old), about two drifters who encounter a lynch mob out for vengeance against a possibly innocent man. Another great film is the comedy Nothing Sacred, which features possibly Carole Lombard's funniest performance and a precursor to His Girl Friday in terms of razor-sharp films about journalism and human interest stories.

William Wellman is one of those directors during the studio era who wasn't exactly an auteur, but once you look at his filmography you realize just how many classics he made. It's good to remember them.
As noted in a documentary on Wellman, The Ox-Box Incident was made completely indoors, giving it a claustrophic look, which, considering the subject matter, was perfect. I think this was one of Fonda's best performances, and when he's reading the letter, the trademark of Wellman's hiding Fonda's eyes works perfectly.

Another of Wellman's films that is wonderful, but one that a person didn't get to see until recent years is Island In the Sky.
I agree with you Ilsa. I first saw "Grapes of Wrath" in high school as part of a English class on Steinbeck. I remember being totally riveted to it. Believe it of not, "Night Nurse" is on my list of films I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen yet.
Night Nurse
Midnight Mary
Nothing Sacred
The Public Enemy
A Star is Born
Roxie Hart
Lady of Burlesque

...he really was great...if none of his other films survive through the ages, Wings will.



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