Since the mid ’80s or thereabouts director Arthur Hiller, who has died at the age of 92, had been derided or dismissed as a mild-mannered, milquetoasty, go-along technician who never pushed for the exceptional because he never had it in him. Well, from 1964 to ’79 that was simply not true. His two finest efforts — the brilliant, bitterly comedic The Americanization of Emily (’64) and The Hospital (’71) — were creme de la creme collaborations with the great Paddy Chayefsky. I don’t care what anybody says about Hiller today, next week or 50 years on — his critics can never take those films away from him.
Yes, the voice was all Chayefsky, but Hiller made those films snap, crackle and dance. He shot and cut them with smooth economy and efficiency and coaxed superb performances out of each and every actor high and low (George C. Scott, Diana Rigg, James Garner, Julie Andrews, James Coburn, et. al.). Hiller and Chayefsky were as one.
And there was also Hiller’s Love Story (deplored by the cognoscenti but a major, culture-quake hit of its time), The Man in the Glass Booth (’75), Silver Streak (’76 — a lightly agreeable comedy-thriller aboard an LA-to-Chicago train which introduced the pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor) and The In-Laws (’79 — just released last month as a Criterion Bluray).
I knew Hiller slightly and spoke to him, oh, maybe five or six times from the early ’90s to mid aughts, and he knew, trust me, that Emily and Hospital were his crowning achievements and that he hadn’t exactly distinguished himself in the ’80s and ’90s, but at least he mattered during that 15-year period.
Incidentally: I’m still chuckling at an observation by critic Andy Klein that Clint Eastwood‘s Flags of Our Fathers is “The Americanization of Emily without jokes.”