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William WylerThe Life and Films of Hollywood's Most Celebrated Director$
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Gabriel Miller

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780813142098

Published to Kentucky Scholarship Online: January 2014

DOI: 10.5810/kentucky/9780813142098.001.0001

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Discovering a Vocation and a Style

Discovering a Vocation and a Style

The Shakedown (1929), The Love Trap (1929), Hell's Heroes (1930), A House Divided (1931)

(p.27) 1 Discovering a Vocation and a Style
William Wyler

Gabriel Miller

University Press of Kentucky

This chapter summarizes Wyler's early years in silent films, noting his work as a “gofer” on The Hunchback of Notre Dame (with Lon Chaney) and as an assistant director on the silent version of Ben-Hur. The chapter also touches on the various two-reel and five-reel silent westerns he directed. Wyler's themes and versatility are examined in two late silent works, The Shakedown, an early example of the gangster film, and The Love Trap, a social comedy with feminist and societal overtones that touches on unemployment, class, and the exploitation of women. Most of the chapter concentrates, however, on Wyler's first important works, Hell's Heroes and A House Divided. The first was Universal's first all-sound film and was made almost entirely on location. Based on the popular novel, The Three Godfathers, Wyler's version minimizes the original's sentimental and religious overtones to fashion a grim story about sacrifice, suffering, and death. A House Divided, a variation on O’Neill's Desire Under the Elms, is Wyler's first thematic examination of a love triangle. Both films feature early signs of Wyler's patented visual style — both are stark, grim, and realistic.

Keywords:   Ben-Hur, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Love Trap, The Shakedown, The Three Godfathers, Hell's Heroes, A House Divided

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