The name Arthur Hiller doesn’t really spring to mind when I think about great directors. However, when I heard the news he passed away last night at age 92, I looked him up on the IMDb. Much to my surprise, Arthur Hiller was responsible for some of my favorite funny films. Hiller wasn’t a distinct stylist or auteur, just a skillful handler of actors with a deft touch for comedy. In remembrance of the man, here are a few of my favorite Hiller-directed films, in chronological order:
PENELOPE (1966): I covered this movie in-depth at this link about a year ago. It’s a silly, saucy comedy starring Natalie Wood as a neglected housewife who robs a bank. A quintessentially 60’s flick with comic support from Peter Falk, Dick Shawn, Jonathan Winters, and a good turn by Arlene Golonka as a hooker. It’s definitely worth your time if you haven’t discovered it yet.
THE TIGER MAKES OUT (1967): Another movie that could only be a product of the 60’s. Husband and wife team Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson star in this howler about an isolated mailman plotting to kidnap his dream girl, and winding up snatching a middle-aged housewife. The pair play it over the top, which makes for a whole lot of fun. Dustin Hoffman makes his film debut here.
SILVER STREAK (1976): The first screen pairing of Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor was a box-office smash. The Hitchcockian plot involves murder on a train trip from Chicago to Los Angeles, with Jill Clayburgh, Patrick McGoohan, and Ned Beatty all on board. The scene where Pryor helps Wilder disguise himself as a black man is pure comedy gold. Highly recommended!
THE IN-LAWS (1979): Frantically funny with Peter Falk and Alan Arkin in rare form. Arkin’s a deranged ex-CIA agent who puts Falk through the wringer on a road trip from hell. Another big hit for Hiller, and an uproarious good time! See this one and avoid the 2003 version.
TEACHERS (1984): This underrated comedy-drama features Nick Nolte as a burned-out teacher in an urban battle zone of a school mentoring young Ralph Macchio. Richard Mulligan is hilarious as an escapee from the nut house who mistakenly becomes a history teacher! JoBeth Williams is Nick’s former student and current love interest, and the cast includes Judd Hirsch, William Schallert, Art Metrano, and early appearances by Laura Dern and Crispin Glover. The distinctly 80’s soundtrack features Bob Seger, Night Ranger, ZZ Top, and a hit theme song by .38 Special. Another film worth discovering.
Arthur Hiller is most remembered today for the 1970 tear-jerker LOVE STORY, but his comedy films are what I’ll remember him for the most. Thanks for the laughs and rest in peace, Mr. Hiller.
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