George Roy Hill Essay - Critical Essays

Hill, George Roy


George Roy Hill 1922–

American film director.

Hill's most successful films characteristically exhibit a playful, robust brand of American adventurism where male camaraderie is central to tone and plot. The main characters in many of Hill's movies are eccentric or socially reprehensible individuals who challenge accepted values and standards, often using considerable style and humor to accomplish their questionable activities.

Hill directed two of the biggest box office attractions of all time, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting. The films present the escapades of outlaws, in the former, and con men, in the latter, in such an endearing fashion that they recruit the audience wholeheartedly into the "bad guys" camp. Hill won the Academy Award for Best Director for The Sting. Hill has displayed a penchant for directing films of nostalgic eras, such as the "roaring twenties" in Thoroughly Modern Millie and The Great Waldo Pepper, but he has also demonstrated his ability to manage such contemporary subjects as violence in professional sports in his controversial film Slap Shot.

Hill has directed film adaptations of two contemporary novels which many critics believed were not good candidates for the screen. His version of Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five won the special jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1972. The World According to Garp, based on the popular John Irving novel, has received mixed reviews.

Richard Whitehall

[Period of Adjustment] is a fine example of the schizophrenic cinema, teetering uneasily between cinema and television, the forerunner of a completely new genre perhaps (the tele-cinema?). It could just be that George Roy Hill has not shaken off his television influences, but this feature looks exactly as if he were trying to please two separate audiences—the cinema audience now, and the box watchers when at some future date the 1963 film catalogue is sold to the TV channels. It will, I think, look more at home on the small screen than it does on the large one. There have been a number of notable recruits from the television to the film studios but, on the available evidence, George Roy Hill isn't one of them.

The small-sized compositions cramped in the centre of the screen fit uneasily into the larger playing area; there is too much inter-cutting of static close-ups; it's all too studied, somehow, all too telegenic. Sometimes, it is true, Hill gets bitten by the movement bug and we have two men standing at either end of a room passing a football between them as they talk, with the camera following the movement of the ball. This isn't what Sergei [Eisenstein] thought cinema should be, nor [Jean] Renoir either and, visually, I found the film a constant irritant like a mote of dust under the eyelid.

Richard Whitehall, in his review of "Period of Adjustment" (© copyright Richard Whitehall 1963; reprinted with permission), in Films and Filming, Vol. 9, No. 6, March. 1963, p. 38.

Stephen Farber

Richard Morris's script [for Thoroughly Modern Millie] … is clever enough, though it merely strings together jokes on flat-chested rich girls, Harold Lloyd movies, innocents in the big city, Victorian melodrama. Somebody spent a lot of time researching all of the expressions from the twenties that sound ever so cute now, but nobody worried much about wit…. In its parody of old-fashioned movie Romance Millie is especially delightful, and promising…. But this is only one target of the movie's burlesque, and not all of them are so rewarding. As musical spectacle the film disappoints. The songs themselves—mostly retrieved from the period and nicely lampooned—are pleasant, but the choreography is insipid, and both the color photography and settings are thoroughly ordinary. George Roy Hill's direction is consistently unimaginative. (pp. 61-2)

Stephen Farber, in his review of "Thoroughly Modern Millie," in Film Quarterly (© 1967 by The Regents of the University of California: reprinted by permission of the Regents), Vol. XXI, No. 1, Fall, 1967, pp. 61-2.

Judith Crist

'I never met a soul more affable than you, Butch, or faster than the Kid,' a friendly sheriff notes [in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid], 'but you're still nothing but a couple of two-bit outlaws on the dodge'…. The dodging is beautiful under George Roy Hill's direction. The man who made youthful poetry out of the New York scene in The World of Henry Orient turns a potent camera eye on the awesome vastnesses of the West, catches a quick tourist's view of New York and Coney Island and a voyage to Bolivia in wonderfully giddy rotogravure montages and—wonder of wonders these 'blood ballet' days—uses his past mastery of slow motion to absolutely stunning effect. Where the slow-motioning of death has been used with purely blood-wallow profusion in an abomination like [Sam Peckinpah's] The Wild Bunch, Mr. Hill uses it brilliantly on one occasion, when Butch kills for the first time—and we experience the slow death and drawn-out scream with his eye and ear. Sundance shoots and his victims drop like figures in a shooting gallery; for Butch there is the horrifying initial moment—and it signals the turn of the tide, the surfacing of the malaise that has been beneath the fun of the game…. But in the hands of [Paul] Newman and [Robert] Redford … and [screenwriter William] Goldman and Hill, it's a glorious game, an affectionate one—and one made meaningful. (p. 339)

Judith Crist, in her review of "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (reprinted by permission of the author), in New York Magazine, Vol. 2, No. 39, September 29, 1969 (and reprinted in Filmfacts, Vol. XII, No. 15, 1969, pp. 338-39).

Tom Milne

[Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid] is a feast of self-indulgence…. [The film] is so anxious to present its characters as characters, and to let the spectator get an eyeful of their scenic surroundings, that the image of … desolation which lies behind [it] tends to become obscured.

'What happened to the old bank? It was beautiful.' These are the first words one hears from Butch Cassidy as he cases the joint for robbery, only to find it a veritable barrage of locks, bolts and shutters; and a moment later, intervening in a gambling quarrel, he warns the Sundance Kid, 'I'm over the hill—it can happen to you. Every day you get older, that's a law.' He means it as a joke, of course, but as in The Wild Bunch times are changing, the fences are closing in, and Butch Cassidy and his Hole in the Wall gang are finding it more and more difficult to live. Prepare to meet thy doom runs like a refrain behind the film, occasionally brought out into the open ('It's over and you're both gonna die bloody, and all you can do is choose where'), but mostly ignored by Butch and Sundance. They (legitimately) and the audience (less legitimately) are having so much fun that the message is never delivered.

Like Bonnie and Clyde, Butch and Sundance pursue their life of crime without malice or forethought, and there is an irresistible insolence in the way they assume that friendship is its own protection. They also see themselves as doing what comes naturally, as much for the fun of it as anything else …, but where Penn gradually...

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Steve Dimeo

Occasionally the film version of a novel is successful enough to make a comparison between the two helpful in understanding the strengths of both…. [Such is the case for] George Roy Hill's adaption of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Slaughterhouse-Five.

While [screenwriter Stephen] Geller has imposed a sense of order to improve the visual adaptation, director George Roy Hill … has wisely chosen to eschew any sense of sensationalism in what could have been misconstrued by some as nothing more than another, if somewhat bizarre, science-fiction film. The movie has a fluttering circle of white light grow out of the skies and pause outside Billy's bedroom window; then he is promptly pixilated off the screen. In the book Vonnegut describes the abduction as involving a saucer one hundred feet in diameter, complete with an imprisoning cone of purple light and zap gun as well. The Tralfamadorians in the movie are conveniently invisible because they exist in the fourth dimension…. Even the rifle that kills Billy is only a rifle in the movie, not the laser-gun Lazzaro aims in the book. Aside from obviously saving money on the special effects … avoiding the spectacle of real saucers …, which would have satisfied sci-fi buffs looking for visual tricks à la Douglas Trumbull or Ray Harryhausen, keeps our attention riveted without distraction on the more important story of Billy Pilgrim's pilgrimage in character. (p. 4)

Billy Pilgrim's character, of course, is the most important feature in both the film and the book, and Hill's interpretation … seems to be as just as it could be. The only danger is that in Billy's obvious passivity to the uncontrollable events that befall him he comes off as a bit too simple, at least compared to Vonnegut's treatment. (p. 5)

The movie may also oversimplify the underlying symbolism of the reason he is abducted to Tralfamadore late in 1967. The saucer comes for the second time after his wife dies from the exhaust of her Cadillac when she hurries in melodramatic mawkishness to the hospital where Billy is recovering from the plane accident. The chronological placement of his abduction suggests that his need for the consolation of life on another planet with the movie star Montana Wildhack … stems from his wife's death. But it is rather doubtful he could be grieving much for her when he admits later that what he misses most about his wife is her pancakes. The grief has a much broader base than the broad base of his wife. (pp. 6-7)

Significantly, when Billy's asked if he's happy on Tralfamadore, Vonnegut records, "'About as happy as I was on Earth,' said Billy Pilgrim, which was true."… But the Tralfamadorians and his strange family life with the naked Montana in the human zoo there give him the wherewithal to accept his life in its entirety. His mother's question in the old people's home asked only in the novel "How did I get so old?"… compares in a way with Billy's own remark later in the book—"Where have all the years gone?"… These are standard questions we all ask ourselves at one time or another, but the difference here is that Billy has been able to put time in a new perspective, whether the experience on Tralfamadore be interpreted as dream, symbol, or actuality…. [In] a way Slaughterhouse-Five is an exorcism of adverse experiences; Vonnegut implies as much when he confesses in the first chapter and once in the context of the story that he is Billy Pilgrim and actually underwent most of the same experiences. It is noteworthy that the novel ends with a symbolic scene in spring-time…. [Images] of spring intertwined with death imply rebirth, and the movie, without resorting to the symbolism of Vonnegut's conclusion, communicates that sense when it leaves us...

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Lee Atwell

The recent George Roy Hill-Paul Monash production of Slaughterhouse-Five impressed me as one of the most advanced and systematic achievements in deployment of Space-Time and recalled especially the theme and style of [Alain] Resnais's last film, Je t'aime, je t'aime (1968). Although Hill confirmed to me that he has never seen the Resnais film … the formal treatment of the story is structurally and thematically close to the earlier Resnais work. (p. 3)

Anyone familiar with the nuances of Resnais's filmic expression will be prepared for Je t'aime and its constant detours in time. But to encounter a similar, integrated development of Space-Time in an American commercial film, by...

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Gordon Gow

George Roy Hill, who directed the coy long-windedness of Thoroughly Modern Millie as well as regaling us with such a jubilant tone poem as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, hovers here between the funny and the touching and the glum. Slaughterhouse-Five, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is like a simplified Resnais film. Almost from the outset we are informed that the non-hero Billy Pilgrim has 'come unstuck in time' and keeps jolting back and forth among his past and future experiences. When he was a very young prisoner during the Second World war, the fire bombing of Dresden had a traumatic effect upon him. Peacetime brought surburban conformity in the States, with a plump and witless...

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Neil D. Isaacs

Peace, free will, and art are … the essence of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five; but George Roy Hill's movie of the same name is redolent of different juices entirely. Hill's burden was heavy: he not only had to reconceive the story according to his own filmic lights, he had to reverence the details of the fiction as so many cult objects for his projected audience. And his artifices do not suffice to carry the load.

His failure is similar to that of Mike Nichols with Catch 22. [Joseph] Heller's text was so cluttered with cult objects that Nichols' reconception of the story in film form, with abundant optical and structural gimmickry, was topweighted with the demands of the literary...

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John Coleman

He may never make the auteur circuit (something devoutly to be wished), but George Roy Hill is a director to be reckoned with, a clever fellow capable of fluffing up the thinnest stuff into a plausible tangle, a kind of cinematic back-combing, for amusement—Period of Adjustment (1963), Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967)—and, better yet, totally alert to the potential of a really useful script. His Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid latched on to the mostly excellent words of William Goldman: his The Sting neatly repays its debt to a script of unusual brevity, wit and purpose by David S. Ward. You could say that Mr Hill has gone Butch again, engaging the same charmers—Paul...

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Jon Landau

[The Sting] is intended to form the basis for "pure entertainment," but Hill, Redford and Newman's idea of a fun picture is to skirt any form of moral, intellectual or human dilemma, focusing our attention instead on the mechanics of their scheme and the good-natured but unexplained camaraderie infusing their relationship. In that light, Hill's preoccupation with production values winds up serving as a smoke screen for his own lack of viewpoint. (p. 56)

It's hard to understand why Hill concentrates on the mechanics of the con to the exclusion of other considerations when he so obviously lacks the one skill essential for that kind of directing: the ability to break an action down into its...

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Stanley Kauffmann

About an hour into The Sting I began to understand it. Not the plot, which is clear enough, but the raison d'être. This Paul Newman-Robert Redford vehicle is set in the thirties, and I couldn't really understand why. Unlike (say) Bonnie and Clyde, the story isn't tied to the period. Why do it that way?… Audiences, I guess, aren't as nostalgic for the decade itself—most of them are too young to have known it—as they are for films of the decade. This isn't a film about the thirties as much as it's an attempt to make a thirties film. It's the Antiques Made to Order business. (p. 252)

Recurrently, to the point of galloping tedium, articles appear telling us how American films have...

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John Simon

The Sting works endearingly without a single hitch. George Roy Hill's film concerns conmanship in Chicago in the thirties, and the exploits of a few independent confidence men banding together against a big gang boss and his henchmen. This is one of those precarious movies in which murder must look absurd or funny—except in one case, where it has been taken seriously—and it is to Hill's and his scenarist's, David S. Ward's, credit that they just about carry off this colossally queasy task. It must be said right away that certain plot elements in these cinematic rodomontades are bound to be unbelievable; the question is merely to what extent the filmmakers, con artists in their own right, can carry off the...

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Andrew Sarris

[One] cannot begin to talk about "The Great Waldo Pepper" without dragging in the previous outings of George Roy Hill (directorial analysis), Robert Redford (star iconography), male-oriented movies (feminist sociology), airplane movies (genre analysis), and for Richard Corliss perhaps even a study of William Goldman's screenwriting stylistics, not to mention Henry Mancini's rainbowish melodies, and the sterling cinematography of Robert Surtees. After all this and more, it is not hard to see why some critics seem to be playing three-dimensional chess while their readers are still engrossed in checkers.

What to do? Nothing really…. It is too early … for me to make a final judgment on George Roy...

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Gordon Gow

We know that George Roy Hill has a versatile directorial range: Toys in the Attic, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting have been richly varied. So maybe the news that in his personal life he has been hooked since childhood on aerobatics, and that he has been not only a wartime pilot but a peacetime barnstormer, ought not to come as a surprise. Yet somehow it does. And so does his latest film [The Great Waldo Pepper], which has obviously been made with true affection and pays tribute to the idols of his youth, as well as to such venerable aviation films as Wings (William Wellman, 1927) and Hell's Angels (Howard Hughes, 1930). Solemnly and...

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Tom Milne

When The Great Waldo Pepper opens with the now obligatory nostalgia of an evocative montage of period photographs, it looks as though one is in for another no-holds-barred assault on the box-office. As it turns out, George Roy Hill keeps his penchant for whimsy well under control, only once, and quite acceptably—the winning smile near the beginning which tells us that Waldo won't really be so mean-spirited as to fail to keep his promise of a free ride to the boy who has laboured all afternoon on his behalf—fringing the cuteness which marred Butch Cassidy and The Sting. [Roger] Corman's The Red Baron, of course, dug much deeper into the mystique of daredevilry and deathwish associated...

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Vincent Canby

George Roy Hill's unruly, funny new comedy, "Slap Shot,"… dramatizes the age-old contest between good and evil as clean vs. dirty, and it's dirty that wins, hands (and pants) down.

"Slap Shot," which follows the fortunes of the [Charlestown] Chiefs through their last, dizzy season, was written by Nancy Dowd…. She's a young woman who appears to know more about the content and rhythm of locker-room talk than most men….

I don't know enough about professional hockey to judge how accurate a picture "Slap Shot" is, but it does seem a stretch of the imagination to ask us to believe in this day and age, that neither the Chiefs' manager nor coach would have known that a dirty, violent...

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Pauline Kael

Nothing in movies is surefire anymore, yet George Roy Hill, who directed … two of the ten biggest money-makers of all time, will probably have a third with his new Slap Shot. The picture is set in the world of minor-league ice hockey, and the theme is that the public no longer cares about the sport—it wants goonish vaudeville and mayhem. Hill's last picture, The Great Waldo Pepper—a box-office failure—was bright and clear; it had the coolness of a schoolboy reverie. This time, he's heated up his technique. Slap Shot is darker-colored and grainier; it's faster, noisier, more profane, and more brutal than previous Hill productions…. Slap Shot never slows down. You're aware of the...

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Andrew Sarris

First, the good news: Slap Shot is the funniest hockey movie since Walt Disney's Hockey Homicide with Goofy at his meanest and most murderous. For a change, the female leads … are given parts with zing and feeling, and men hunger after them. A marvelous trio of moronic zanies … come on like the Marx Brothers, though mostly Chico, and the production zips along with unflagging pace. So far, so good. Why then do I remain uneasy enough to keep all my critical options open? Perhaps I find something fundamentally hypocritical in the way that director George Roy Hill and scenarist Nancy Dowd poke fun at hockey macho in a movie that is itself raunchy and violent, which is to say that Hill and Dowd are not...

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Vincent Canby

Paris in the spring. A beautiful, brilliant, American student named Lauren meets and falls in love with Daniel, who is French and as brilliant as Lauren. They both read [Martin] Heidegger and share a fondness for American films, especially those, like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting," that were directed by George Roy Hill. Though they act as if they were sophisticated, they are naïve at heart. When Daniel takes Lauren to see her first porn film, she runs out in tears. She hadn't expected it to be "like that." "That," says Daniel, "isn't love."…

Lauren and Daniel are, I think, meant to be comic and appealing in their mixture of innocence and worldliness. Yet Mr. Hill's "A Little...

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Robert Asahina

[A Little Romance] is a downright simple-minded adult's fantasy of young love….

Three things redeem [its] foolishness. The first, surprisingly, is Hill's direction, which never condescends to the material. Somehow, he manages to maintain just the right note of romantic humor that had virtually disappeared with the musical comedies (like [Vincente Minnelli's] Gigi) of the '50s. Hill's single lapse is his fondness for showing clips from his previous works.

The second is the acting of [Thelonious] Bernard and [Laurence] Olivier. Both have difficult roles; perhaps only a loveable old curmudgeon is harder to portray than a loveably obnoxious kid. Since the script is so...

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Andrew Sarris

George Roy Hill's A Little Romance seems to be an international remake of The World of Henry Orient, a slightly underrated mixture of lyrical adolescence and extramarital hi-jinks. Here, Diane Lane and Thelonious Bernard play two young lovers with high IQs who combine puppy love under the Bridge of Sighs with conversations about Heidegger…. Bernard is not merely a young lover; he is also an avid movie buff with a particular passion for George Roy Hill's works, several of which are excerpted in A Little Romance…. A Little Romance abounds with heavy-handed caricatures lumbering around its two elfin sprites. George Roy Hill and scenarist Allan Burns may simply have lost their deftness with...

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David Ansen

As any reader of John Irving's popular novel knows, a lot happens in "The World According to Garp"—assassinations, attempted assassinations, grotesque mutilations, grotesque self-mutilations, a dog biting a man, a man biting a dog, rape, marital infidelity…. A high percentage of these bizarre events has been preserved in George Roy Hill's ambitious attempt to bring "Garp" to the screen, but what the movie cannot do is supply the glue that binds them together—Irving's jaunty, muscular narrative presence, which goes to the mat against life's absurdities to emerge bloodied but unbowed.

A lot of people felt that "Garp" couldn't be made into a movie. A lot of people were right. Take away the prose,...

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Michael Sragow

[With his film version of The World According to Garp, director George Roy Hill] hasn't created a movie as potent as the original literary myth—that is, he hasn't done what Milos Forman did with One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. But he hasn't trashed the novel, either, as Forman did Ragtime. Indeed, he's retained enough of the book's vitality and humor to make this film far more enjoyable than most other prestige literary adaptations, including [John Fowles's] The French Lieutenant's Woman. The big difference is that if Garp sees life "as an X-rated soap opera," George Roy Hill sees it as a soft R.

There will be two audiences for this movie—those who've read the book...

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Stanley Kauffmann

[The World According to Garp] begins with the infant son of the dead tail-gunner being tossed into the sky; it ends with the grown Garp dying in the sky, in an ambulance helicopter, and then there's a repeat of the opening infant shot.

This is one of several attempts by Hill and his colleague Tesich to evolve patterns from the novel and to underscore ones that already exist in the book. Examples: Garp's college girl friend, Helen, sees another girl practicing fellatio on him; later, years after Helen and Garp are married, his car accidentally rams another car in which she is practicing fellatio on a student of hers. Early in the film, a sniper is shot out of a tree before he can shoot Garp's...

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John Simon

The Germans have a word for it: Edelkitsch, noble trash. Some recent fictional examples of it are [Erica Jong's] Fear of Flying, [D. M. Thomas's] The White Hotel, and [John Irving's] The World According to Garp…. The movie of Garp, written by Steve Tesich and directed by George Roy Hill, seems to me both more simple-minded and better than the novel. If this sounds like faint praise, it is meant so. Still, as movies go these days, it may not be all that faint after all.

Garp … concerns well-born Jenny Fields, a nurse and fierce feminist, who wants a child but no husband, and so, during World War II, conceives by a dying ball-turret gunner, Technical...

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Edward Shores

Hill's films can be seen as a continuing critique of the ideas which have shaped and still support the American culture. He questions such traditional concepts as the nobility of individual heroism, the role and nature of the family, and the American obsession with success. These concepts are a small part of a core of ideas that can be termed "conventional morality," wisdom that, whatever its origins, comes to be accepted as given by the members of a culture. The configuration of this morality is ambiguous, but a suggestive and subjective outline can be drawn. The conventional wisdom with which Hill's films deal holds that the forces of good invariably triumph over the forces of evil; that righteousness is rewarded...

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