Walter Wesley Hill (born January 10, 1942 in Long Beach, California) is an American film director, screenwriter, and producer.
Hill is known for male-dominated action films and revival of the Western. He said in an interview, "Every film I've done has been a Western," and elaborated in another, "The Western is ultimately a stripped down moral universe that is, whatever the dramatic problems are, beyond the normal avenues of social control and social alleviation of the problem, and I like to do that even within contemporary things."
Growing up in southern California, Walter Hill was asthmatic as a child and, as a result, missed several years of school. He spent much of his time daydreaming, reading comic books, and listening to radio serials. Hill said his father and grandfather were "smart, physical men who worked with their heads and their hands" and had "great mechanical ability." His paternal grandfather was a wildcat oil driller. Hill worked in the oil fields as a roustabout on Signal Hill near Los Angeles during summers of the latter part of his high school years and several more years while in college. During one summer, he ran an asbestos pipe-cutting machine and worked as a spray painter in the John Bean factory in Lansing, Michigan. He later majored in history at Michigan State University.
Hill began his career in the training program of the Directors Guild of America, graduating to work as second assistant director on The Thomas Crown Affair in 1968. He went on to work as the uncredited second assistant director on Bullitt in the same year. In 1969, he was the second assistant director on a Woody Allen film, Take the Money and Run, but said he remembers doing very little except passing out the call sheets and filling out time cards.
Hill's first screenplay, a Western called Lloyd Williams and His Brother, was optioned in 1969 by Joe Wizan, but it was never made. At one point, Sam Peckinpah expressed interest in filming it after The Getaway (1972) which became the first of Hill's screenplays to be produced as a film. Peckinpah ended up doing Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid instead.
Peter Bogdanovich's ex-wife Polly Platt, a film editor, had read Hill's script for Hickey & Boggs and recommended him to co-write The Getaway with Bogdanovich.They worked on the script together in San Francisco while Bogdanovich was directing What's Up, Doc? They had completed 25 pages when they went back to L.A., whereupon Steve McQueen fired Bogdanovich without reading any of their work. Hill started from scratch and wrote his own script in six weeks.
Hill went on to write a pair of Paul Newman films, The Mackintosh Man and The Drowning Pool. By Hill's own admission, his work on The Mackintosh Man "wasn't much" and he did it for the money. In addition, he and director John Huston disagreed on how closely to stick to the book on which it was based. Producers Larry Turman and David Foster asked Hill to adapt Ross MacDonald's novel The Drowning Pool for Richard Mulligan to direct as a sequel to a previous Newman film, Harper. The producers did not like the direction Hill took with his script, so he left the project to write Hard Times for Larry Gordon at Columbia Pictures.
Hill read Alex Jacob's screenplay for the Lee Marvin film, Point Blank and considered it a "revelation" in terms of style and format. He decided to tailor his own scripts in that manner, as he described it, "extremely spare, almost Haiku style. Both stage directions and dialogue." Hill wrote Hard Times, the first draft of Alien, The Driver, and The Warriors in this style.
Hill met producer Lawrence Gordon in 1973. He agreed to let Hill direct a film if he wrote a screenplay for him. Hill made a deal to write and direct for scale and in turn got a shot at directing.The result was Hill's 1975 breakthrough film, Hard Times, made on location in New Orleans for just $2.7 million in 38 days. James Coburn played a fast-talking promoter of illegal street fights in 1930s New Orleans and Charles Bronson played the boxer protagonist.
Hill's second film as a director was The Driver starring Ryan O'Neal as a laconic getaway driver for hire and Bruce Dern as a driven cop pursuing him. No character in the film has a name; they are merely The Driver, The Detective, and so forth. Hill originally had wanted to cast McQueen, but he turned down the role because he did not want to do another car movie.
In 1979, Hill directed The Warriors - a story of violent street gangs which arguably became his most popular film due to its ongoing cult following. It spawned a spin-off television show that aired in the mid 1980s on ABC called The Renegades, as well as a video game, action figures and talk of a Tony Scott remake.
In 1980, Hill directed his first official Western, The Long Riders, which cast real-life acting brothers (the Keaches, Carradines, Quaids and Guests) as historical outlaw siblings (the James, Younger, Miller and Ford brothers).
A year later, Hill took a Western approach to Southern Comfort, an intense Deliverance-style thriller about a group of U.S. Army National Guardsmen (including Keith Carradine, Powers Boothe and Fred Ward) on weekend maneuvers in the Louisiana bayou who find themselves fighting for survival in the swamps after offending some local Cajuns. The film was seen by many as an allegory for America's involvement in Vietnam.
In 1982, Hill enjoyed a major box office success by teaming a young Eddie Murphy with Nick Nolte for the film 48 Hrs.. It was Murphy's first film. Clint Eastwood was originally lined up to play the cop and Richard Pryor the convict, but Eastwood wanted to play the criminal instead and dropped out of the project with Pryor following suit soon afterward.
Hill was the co-producer and one of the originators of the blockbuster Alien series of films. He co-wrote the story for Aliens, the second film in the series.
In 1984, he directed a stylish "rock 'n' roll fable", Streets of Fire. While initially a box-office failure, it gained a greater following in subsequent years (as many of Hill's films have). He directed Pryor along with John Candy in the much more mainstream 1985 comedy Brewster's Millions, following this with Crossroads, an atmospheric, non-violent Hill film about a young blues guitarist (Ralph Macchio) and a legendary harpist (Joe Seneca) on a road trip.
In 1987, he returned to hard-edged action with Extreme Prejudice, a contemporary Western based on a story by John Milius and Fred Rexer, which starred Nolte, Boothe, Michael Ironside and Clancy Brown. A tale of childhood friends who are on both sides of the law, it includes a showdown that lovingly pays homage to Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch.
Hill returned to the buddy-cop genre with Red Heat (1988), a sort of Glasnost-era reworking of 48 Hrs. with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a stoic Soviet cop who travels to Chicago to catch a Russian drug-dealer (Ed O'Ross). Schwarzenegger is partnered with a wisecracking American cop (Jim Belushi), who is as laid-back and mouthy as his Soviet counterpart is taciturn and humorless.
Hill ended the '80s with Johnny Handsome (1989). An unusual crime story starring Mickey Rourke, Morgan Freeman and Lance Henriksen, it was a cynical, downbeat tale that the director saw as a re-examination of the film noir genre.
Hill began the '90s with the only sequel he's directed to date, Another 48 Hrs., with Murphy this time top-billed over Nolte. However, the sequel to his biggest commercial success was thought by many critics to be merely a retread of the original and was considered a disappointment at the box office.
In 1992, Hill directed a film originally called Looters about two firemen who cross paths with criminals while searching for stolen loot in an abandoned East St. Louis tenement building. However, the L.A. Riots broke out shortly before the film's release and the studio delayed its opening, eventually changing the title to Trespass.
Hill began to focus his energies on Western-themed tales. His film biography of Geronimo, entitled, Geronimo: An American Legend, with a screenplay written by John Milius, was well received by the critics, but fared poorly at the box office. A second biopic - this time of the titular Wild Bill - had little critical or commercial success, although Hill would return to the same themes and same characters, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, the next decade with the TV series Deadwood.
His 1996 effort Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, a Prohibition-era Western update of Yojimbo (and thus reminiscent of that film's inspiration, Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, and its western incarnation, A Fistful of Dollars) saw him return to his earlier style to some extent: a gruff antihero and a heavy focus on stylized action.
Hill then directed the 2000 film Supernova. When the studio did not agree with his vision, they brought in Francis Ford Coppola to re-cut the film. This caused Hill to credit himself with the pseudonym "Thomas Lee" (a variation of Alan Smithee), and chose not to be associated with the finished product. Hill called his original version a much darker take than the final product. In 2002, Hill directed the prison boxing film Undisputed starring Wesley Snipes, Ving Rhames and Peter Falk.
The 1990s also saw him retain a producer credit for Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection.
Recent work Edit
Recently, Hill's directional work for the pilot episode of the TV series Deadwood has seen him return to favour in critical circles to some extent, earning him an Emmy in 2004 and a DGA award in 2005. He continued his work with westerns by directing the mini series Broken Trail, which became the highest-rated movie made by a cable network when it premiered on AMC.It also earned him yet another Emmy when it was awarded for Best Mini-Series.
Walter Hill is filming in Boston scenes for the SpikeTV pilot "War of '04." The cast of the two-hour pilot, which is being produced by Ultimate Fighting Championship president Dana White, includes Matthew Marsden and Kevin Chapman, Michael Mulheren, David Patrick Kelly, William Lee Scott, Tim Murphy, Todd Bryant, and Mircea Monroe.
Hill married Hildy Gottlieb, a talent agent at International Creative Management, in New York City at Tavern on the Green on September 7, 1986.
- Hickey & Boggs (1972) (screenplay)
- The Getaway (1972) (screenplay)
- The Mackintosh Man (1973) (screenplay) (with William Fairchild)
- The Thief Who Came to Dinner (1973) (screenplay)
- The Drowning Pool (1975) (screenplay)
- Hard Times (1975)
- The Driver (1978)
- Alien (1979) (Producer)
- The Warriors (1979)
- The Long Riders (1980)
- Southern Comfort (1981)
- 48 Hrs. (1982)
- Streets of Fire (1984)
- Brewster's Millions (1985)
- Crossroads (1986)
- Blue City (1986) (screenplay)
- Extreme Prejudice (1987)
- Red Heat (1988)
- Johnny Handsome (1989)
- Another 48 Hrs. (1990)
- Trespass (1992)
- Geronimo: An American Legend (1993)
- Wild Bill (1995)
- Last Man Standing (1996)
- Supernova (2000) (as Thomas Lee)
- Undisputed (2002)
- Dog and Cat (1977)
- Tales From The Crypt (1989-1991)
- Perversions of Science (1997)
- Deadwood (2004)
- Broken Trail (2006)
- Walter Hill at the Internet Movie Database