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Arthur Hiller (11/22/1923 – 8/17/2016), RIP

Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and Arthur Hiller on the set of 'The In-Laws'

Alan Arkin, Peter Falk and Arthur Hiller on the set of ‘The In-Laws’

If you went to the movies with any regularity in the 1970s and ’80s, you’ve likely seen or at least heard of a film by the late Arthur Hiller. Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada in 1923, Hiller made his bones in the realm of American television, having directed scores of episodes for more than thirty television series dating back to the mid-1950s. If your cathode ray tube diet included such staples as Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Route 66, The Detectives, and The Addams Family, you probably saw quite a lot from Arthur Hiller.

Hiller made the leap from television to the movies in the early sixties, but he didn’t really hit it huge in Hollywood until 1970, when he adapted both the Neil Simon comedy The Out-of-Towners, and also the ludicrously popular tragic-romantic weeper Love Story.

Arthur Hiller with Ryan O'Neal and Ali MacGraw on the set of 'Love Story.'

Arthur Hiller with Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw on the set of ‘Love Story.’

Hiller’s prolific filmography put him in the same league as equally respected contemporaries such as Sidney Lumet, Mike Nichols, and Woody Allen, who could all be depended upon to crank out quality star-studded films every year or so, sometimes two in a single calendar year—films not always of the same genre but always full of an unmistakable joie de vivre—yet not, perhaps, cinematic spectacles defined by a grandiose visual style. Hiller’s films are invariably modest human comedies rather than grand-scale epics, typically filled with well-drawn characters and in which humor is often mined from the most unassuming places.

There are quite a few of the director’s films made during my formative movie-going years that I have yet to catch up with, but chances are you’ve probably seen more Arthur Hiller films than you realize.

Following the phenomenal commercial success of Love Story, Hiller directed a string of diverse and popular films—another Neil Simon trifle Plaza Suite (1971), the Paddy Chayefsky-penned black comedy The Hospital (1971), the Don Quixote musical Man of La Mancha (1972), and the first Gene Wilder/Richard Pryor mash-up, the mystery-comedy buddy flick Silver Streak (1976).

These films’ solid commercial performance and generally positive critical acclaim made Hiller one of the most dependable filmmakers making popular movies during the early-Spielberg era. Then, in 1979, Hiller directed The In-Laws. Many fans consider the Peter Falk/Alan Arkin buddy caper to be Hiller’s most enduring classic, it’s frequently cited at the top of many “Best Comedies of All Time” lists. The movie’s loyal fans, myself included, can often quote extended dialogue passages from the film verbatim.

Hiller rounded out the 1970s with the killer bat thriller Nightwing (1979), proving he could do just about any genre.

Hiller’s steady output continued throughout the 1980s, with a spate of romantic comedies, social dramas, and sarcastic buddy flicks.

One of those social dramas is 1982’s Making Love, little-remembered nowadays because it’s not a particularly good movie and wasn’t a box office hit—one of Hiller’s very few misfires—but controversial in its day and holds a place in the annals of cinema history because it marks the first time Hollywood made and released a movie that addresses head-on the topic of being gay, and features a gay leading character (played by young Harry Hamlin just after he made Clash of the Titans, which surely could’ve only helped the film’s prospects then, and is probably the sole reason the movie has any cult following now).

I recall Teachers (1984) was marketed as some sort of Network-style indictment of the school system, but its melodramatic moments dull some of its edgier satire. The Lonely Guy (1984) was still early days for Steve Martin but the melancholy romance registered as somewhat of a serious departure for the “wild and crazy guy.”

Another popular Hiller favorite from 1987 is the female buddy adventure comedy Outrageous Fortune, with Shelley Long playing snooty straight fiddle to crass Bette Midler, at her uncensored and brassy best in the short stretch of her revitalized mid-’80s movie career before Disney muzzled her.

Outrageous-Fortune-DIHiller’s reunion with Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989) was the first Arthur Hiller movie I ever outright disliked.

From there, Hiller retreated to familiar waters with the In-Laws/Outrageous Fortune-influenced mismatched-buddy romp Taking Care of Business (1990), featuring the dubious pairing of not-as-funny-as-his-dead-brother James Belushi with the slumming-I-cannot-believe-he-so-desperately-needed-this-paycheck Charles Grodin. Afterwards, Hiller directed a multi-couple domestic drama in the Woody Allen vein called Married to It (1991) starring Stockard Channing and Beau Bridges, and, perhaps Hiller’s last notable film, the 1992 Babe Ruth period biopic The Babe starring John Goodman.


Hiller’s later efforts include a little-released Tom Arnold comedy called Carpool (1996), something titled National Lampoon’s Pucked with Jon Bon Jovi (2006), and the largely unseen Hollywood satire An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn, which was finally released in 1997 after languishing on the shelf for what seemed like years, and which is ironically credited to “Alan Smithee” because Hiller successfully lobbied to have his name removed from the finished movie.
the_lonely_guy-195570646-largeArthur Hiller was 93, and leaves behind an impressive legacy of human comedies.

Which one was your favorite?

The Wheeler Dealers (1963)
The Americanization of Emily (1964)
Promise Her Anything (1965)
Penelope (1966)
Tobruk (1967)
The Tiger Makes Out (1967)
Popi (1969)
The Out of Towners (1970)
Love Story (1970)
Plaza Suite (1971)
The Hospital (1971)
Man of La Mancha (1972)
The Crazy World of Julius Vrooder (1974)
The Man in the Glass Booth (1975)
W.C. Fields and Me (1976)
Silver Streak (1976)
teachers_xxlgThe In-Laws (1979)
Nightwing (1979)
Making Love (1982)
Author! Author! (1982)
Romantic Comedy! (1983)
The Lonely Guy (1984)
Teachers (1984)
Outrageous Fortune (1987)
See No Evil, Hear No Evil (1989)
Taking Care of Business (1990)
Married To It (1991)
The Babe (1992)
Carpool (1996)
An Alan Smithee Film: Burn Hollywood Burn (1997, as Alan Smithee)
National Lampoon’s Pucked (2006)

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