William Hornbeck - Writer

Editor. Nationality: American. Born: Los Angeles, California, 23 August 1901. Military Service: Served in the Pictorial Service of the Signal Corps (edited the Why We Fight series): Lt. Colonel. Career: Lab assistant at Keystone studio, eventually supervising editor of Sennett comedies; 1934–40—in charge of editing for Korda films in England; 1946—assistant to vice-president in charge of studio operations at Republic; 1960—supervisor of editorial operations, and, in 1966, vice-president, Universal; 1976—retired. Award: Academy Award for A Place in the Sun , 1951. Died: In Ventura, California, 11 October 1983.

Films as Assistant Editor:


A Small Town Idol (Kenton); Molly O' (Jones)


The Crossroads of New York ( For Love or Money ) (Jones); Susanna (Jones)


The Shriek of Araby (Jones)

Films as Editor (Features):


Home Talent (Sennett) (co)


The Extra Girl (Jones)


His First Flame (Edwards)


The Good-Bye Kiss (Sennett)


Midnight Daddies (Sennett)


Hypnotized (Sennett) (co)


The Scarlet Pimpernel (Young)


Lydia (Duvivier)


It's a Wonderful Life (Capra)


Singapore (Brahm); Magic Town (Wellman) (montages)


State of the Union ( The World and His Wife ) (Capra)


The Heiress (Wyler)


Riding High (Capra)


A Place in the Sun (Stevens); Something to Live For (Ste-vens) (co)


Shane (Stevens) (co); Act of Love (Litvak)


The Barefoot Contessa (Mankiewicz)


The Girl Rush (Pirosh)


Giant (Stevens)


The Quiet American (Mankiewicz)


I Want to Live! (Wise)


A Hole in the Head (Capra)

Films as Editor (Shorts):


Saturday Afternoon (Edwards); Soldier Man (Edwards)


Run, Girl, Run (Goulding); Love at First Flight (Cline); The Swim Princess (Goulding); Smith's Army Life (Goulding); Smith's Holiday (Goulding); Smith's Farm Days (Whitman); Smith's Restaurant (Whitman); His Unlucky Night (Edwards); Taxi for Two (Lord); Caught in the Kitchen (Whitman); A Dumb Waiter (Edwards); Motor Boat Mamas (Edwards); A Taxi Scandal (Lord); Hubby's Latest Alibi (Whitman); A Jim Jam Janitor (Edwards); The Burglar (Whitman); Hubby's Week End Trip (Edwards); Taxi Beauties (Lord); His New Stenographer (Whitman); Clunked on the Corner (Edwards); Smith's Boby's Birthday (Whitman)


Uncle Tom (Whitman); Taxi Spooks (Lord); Button My Back (Whitman); Ladies Must Eat (Edwards); Foolish Husbands (Whitman); The Rodeo (Goulding); Matchmaking Mamma (Edwards ); Taxi Dolls (Lord); Pink Pajamas (Whitman); The Night Watchman's Mistake (Edwards); The New Aunt (Rodney); The Old Barn (Sennett); A Close Shave (Edwards); Motoring Mamas (Whitman); Don't Get Jealous (Whitman); Caught in a Taxi (Lord)


I Surrender Dear (Sennett); One More Chance (Sennett)


Dream House (Lord); Billboard Girl (Pearce)

Films as Supervisor:


Sanders of the River (Z. Korda); Moscow Nights ( I Stand Condemned ) (Asquith); The Ghost Goes West (Clair); Things to Come (Menzies)


Forget-Me-Not ( Forever Yours ) (Z. Korda); The Man Who Could Work Miracles (Mendes); Rembrandt (A. Korda); Men Are Not Gods (Saville)


Dark Journey (Saville); Elephant Boy (Flaherty and Z. Korda); Storm in a Teacup (Saville and Dalrymple); Knight without Armour (Feyder); The Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel (Schwarz); Paradise for Two ( The Gaiety Girls ) (Freeland); Over the Moon (Freeland); 21 Days ( The First and the Last ; 21 Days Together ) (Dean)


The Divorce of Lady X (Whelan); The Drum ( Drums ) (Z.Korda); Prison without Bars (Hurst)


Q Planes ( Clouds over Europe ) (Whelan); The Revel Son (Brunel); The Spy in Black ( U-Boat 29 ) (Powell); The Four Feathers (Z. Korda); The Lion Has Wings (Powell, Hurst,and Brunel)


The Thief of Bagdad (Berger, Whelan, and Powell)


That Hamilton Woman ( Lady Hamilton ) (A. Korda)


Jungle Book ( Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book ) (Z. Korda); Prelude to War (Capra); The Nazis Strike (Capra andLitvak—short in Why We Fight series)


Divide and Conquer (Capra and Litvak—short in Why We Fight series); The Battle of Britain (Veiller—short in Why We Fight series); Know Your Ally: Britain (Veiller); Tunisian Victory (Capra and R. Boulting)


The Battle of Russia (Litvak) (co); The Battle of China (Capraand Litvak) (co)


War Comes to America (Litvak); Two Down and One to Go! (Capra—short)

Film as Editorial Consultant:


Suddenly, Last Summer (Mankiewicz)


By HORNBECK: articles—

The Velvet Light Trap (Madison, Wisconsin), Summer 1983.

American Cinematographer (Hollywood), Summer-Fall 1983.

On HORNBECK: articles—

Film Comment (New York), March-April 1977.

Film Dope (Nottingham), November 1982.

Obituary in Variety (New York), 19 October 1983.

The Annual Obituary 1983 , Chicago, 1984.

American Film (Washington, D.C.), December 1985.

* * *

Frank Capra called William Hornbeck "the greatest film editor in the history of motion pictures," and in a 1977 poll 100 of his peers named Hornbeck the best editor in the film industry, two great compliments for a man relatively unknown to most filmgoers. In a tribute to Hornbeck after his death, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences distributed a program note that said, "If William Hornbeck had been anything other than a film editor, he would have been proclaimed by the world at large to be what his associates always knew him to be—a true Hollywood legend." Although the general public is not familiar with his name and few film books refer to him, he was unquestionably one of the true pioneers of his chosen field of film editing.

Hornbeck's career is remarkable for its influence and longevity. He began at the bottom as a winder of film when hardly more than a child, and worked up the ladder of the business slowly and thoroughly, learning every phase of film cutting. He became the head of the Mack Sennett department before he was even 20 years old, cutting 52 comedies a year. In the 1930s he was head editor for Alexander Korda in England, in charge of such famous films as The Scarlet Pimpernel , The Ghost Goes West , That Hamilton Woman , and The Thief of Bagdad . (His influence in those years comes not only from these classic films, but also from his teaching such men as David Lean the art of film cutting.) In the 1940s he assumed the responsibility for editing the famed Second World War Why We Fight series, and followed that decade with an Oscar-winning career editing such film classics as A Place in the Sun , Giant , The Heiress , It's a Wonderful Life , The Barefoot Contessa , Shane , and I Want to Live! His final years were spent as an executive at Universal Pictures in the 1960s, where he remained until his retirement in 1976. Although he did not take screen credit, he polished and completed many successful Universal films during that period, among them Topaz , American Graffiti , and Earthquake .

Taken as a whole, Hornbeck's career is like a miniature history of the motion picture. His remarkable range of experience on shorts, documentaries, and features of all types turned him into a consummate craftsman—a man who understood film and its communicative process perhaps better than anyone else.

The Hornbeck style was eclectic and flexible. ("If you had rules for editing," he said, "you could put it in a book and anyone could become an editor.") His editing technique is simple: it serves its story, and the intent of the director, according to what is most appropriate; it is superbly crafted; it is humanistic in tone. Two films Hornbeck cut for George Stevens, Shane and A Place in the Sun , illustrate these tendencies. In two films made within a short time span, Hornbeck used two entirely different styles. In Shane , during a lengthy fight in a saloon, the story presents the fascinated young boy (Brandon DeWilde) watching his hero, Alan Ladd, defeat the badmen. The action of the fight is cut so that the audience is returned several times to the sight of DeWilde watching the fight. Since the response of the boy to the gunfighter hero is one of the basic thematic concerns of the film, rapidly cutting him into the dynamic action of the saloon fight maintains the integrity of the fight but also grounds it firmly in the point of view of the child. Later in the same film, DeWilde "participates" in the final gunfight by warning the hero at a crucial moment. Hornbeck's cutting on sound (the cry of the boy's warning) again effectively illustrates the point of the boy's desire not only to watch the hero, but to be the hero. A hard punch on a villain's jaw by Alan Ladd is followed by a cut to the boy crunching down hard on a candy stick. The crack of the candy replaces the sound of the jaw punch, and again unites action to thematic purpose. (These masterful examples of Hornbeck's work were chosen by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to illustrate the technique of editing at one of their annual Oscar shows.)

On the other hand, Hornbeck's Oscar-winning film A Place in the Sun shows a totally different approach, one appropriate to that film's romantic and passionate nature. Instead of rapid cutting, Hornbeck uses slow dissolves, in which the intense close-ups of the very beautiful Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift attempt to express their love for one another. Eerie cries of loons overlap many images, as Hornbeck helped Stevens create a mannered but exquisitely emotional viewing experience.

A true pioneer and a major international influence on film editing, Hornbeck and his work should be remembered for its quality and influence, as well as for his contribution in terms of training a whole generation of young editors in both England and America.

—Jeanine Basinger

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