Kino Lorber // 1995 // 93 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis // June 26th, 2013
"If anyone doubts my loyalty to my country, I'll punch him in the nose, and I don't care how old he is." -- William Wyler
Though William Wellman (Story of G.I. Joe) got the nickname, "Wild Bill," during his stint as an aviator during WWI, he maintained it in Hollywood for good reason. His inflammatory style of directing his actors and crew and his determination to buck the entrenched studio system made him the kind of renegade that people feared, but also wished they could be. It wasn't just his legendarily foul mouth and short temper, though; Wellman was a supremely talented director who could step into any genre, be it westerns, war, or musical comedy, and construct a hit movie. Twenty years after his death, his son, William Wellman, Jr. collaborated with director Todd Robinson (Lonely Hearts) to make a documentary tribute to his father.
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick is your basic appreciation piece about one of cinema's great directors. Throughout the 1930s, he made a host of great pictures, from The Public Enemy to Night Nurse to the original A Star Is Born, his big expose on the shallow Hollywood world, Wellman made compelling films his way during a time when everything was the studio's way.
He was unique, explosive, and an extremely interesting character and all of this is espoused by a host of screen legends. While Alec Baldwin narrates events from the director's life, Clint Eastwood, Robert Mitchum, Robert Redford, and plenty more give their thoughts on Wellman's directorial style and relay funny stories about his antics that were well known in the day, but may be forgotten now. Even Nancy Reagan makes a couple of appearances, so there are plenty of luminaries thrown around to talk about the man.
As a documentary, it's fairly insubstantial. It's more of a biography of his time as a director, and a decent one. It's worth watching, but as a stand-alone film, it's inessential. The interviews are fun and the history is valuable, but it's not much of a film. It's still worth watching, though.
Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick arrives on DVD from Kino Lorber in a subpar edition. The film has been presented previously on other discs as a special feature, and it appears that's essentially how Kino looked at this release. The 1.33:1 transfers a shaky early digital look, with badly blurred lines and inconsistent colors; in a film featuring only talking heads interviews and old film clips, when the old footage looks better than the new, the problem is evident. The sound is average; it does what it needs to, but nothing more. There are no extras on the disc.
The success of Wild Bill: Hollywood Maverick is entirely dependent on the personality of its subject and the reverence of those talking about him. In this regard, the film is perfectly good and enjoyable to watch, but given the underperforming visual presentation, I can't really recommend buying the disc. Better to watch it when it inevitably airs on Turner Classic Movies before or after one of Wellman's fantastic features.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Kino Lorber
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1995
MPAA Rating: Not Rated