One briskly paced movie after another is the legacy of W. S. Van Dyke II, with our ending comments collectively being: “fun had by one and all.” ‘Entertainment’ would have been an appropriate middle name for this man who brought all of the drama, action, comedy, music (yes, musicals too), sword-play, word-play (sharper than the sword) and adventure, all as carefully managed and thoughtfully directed, as a well groomed Van Dyke beard. His work began in silence, with his uncredited work in the Silent masterpieces, The Birth of a Nation and Intolerance: Love’s Struggle Throughout the Ages, (working with another man of great initials D. W. Griffith), as assistant director and second assistant director respectively. Producer, writer (15 credits in the silent era), actor (Intolerance and Oliver Twist, 1916, Eskimo, 1933, uncredited for the talkie) need to be added to his resume.
Directing over 90 films in 25 years the prolific Van Dyke was affectionately known as ‘One Take Woody,’ one can guess that his ‘One Take’ method was adapted from his years in the Vaudeville circuit where there were no ‘second takes.’ Van Dyke was nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Director: The Thin Man, 1934 and San Francisco, 1936; also he received a nomination for Marie Antoinette at the Venice Film Festival, 1938.
Thoughtfully, thoroughly, we must honestly consider that Van Dyke’s contribution to the golden era of Hollywood is significant, with his star beginning to rise with the advent of sound, with such early triumphs as: Tarzan the Ape Man, 1932, and probably what is the best example of comedy and mystery melded together in Hollywood history, The Thin Man, 1934; of course the rest of the Thin Man entries are well crafted, easily recognizable as part of a mini-series, each thread in the Thin Man tapestry expertly woven, as though the filming were simultaneous: After the Thin Man, 1936, Another Thin Man, 1939, and Shadow of the Thin Man, 1941; I am not sure if any other director ever got more out of William Powell and Myrna Loy than director Van Dyke.
Jeanette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy found their stride with Van Dyke, his style well fitted to film their antics, highlighting their vocal talents in: Naughty Marietta, 1935, Rose-Marie, a beautiful operetta in the 1936, followed by Sweethearts in 1938, New Moon, 1940 (uncredited), Bittersweet, 1940 and I Married an Angel, 1942.
Along the way Van Dyke proved particularly adept at handling couples: the aforementioned Powell & Loy, MacDonald & Eddy; Clark Gable & Joan Crawford (his least successful duo), Johnny Weissmuller & Maureen O’Sullivan, Norma Shearer & Tyrone Power and Robert Taylor & Jean Harlow. Actresses Loy and MacDonald seemed at their best under his direction, Robert Young, Jimmy Stewart, Robert Taylor, Spencer Tracy, Robert Montgomery and Clark Gable all equally as comfortable with his skills, but, it was Myrna Loy and William Powell who shone brightest by the illuminating talents of director W. S. Van Dyke.
Any and all lasting tribute to Mr. Van Dyke really comes from his audience, how (from the casual to ardent) the movie fan accounts the films of Van Dyke; to that end, simply take a look at the fan-ratings on the Internet Movie Data Base website and see the value that is placed on the films of this picture-producing-paladin.
By C. S. Williams