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LawrenceA

And Your Favorite Billy Wilder Film Is...?

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In emulation of Tom's Hitchcock thread, and at the request of Sgt."Broken Fingers" Markoff, I'll start this thread to discuss the work of Billy Wilder. Here's a list of his directorial efforts in chronological order, starting with his American directing debut:

  • The Major and the Minor (1942)
  • Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
  • Double Indemnity (1944)
  • The Lost Weekend (1945)
  • Death Mills (1945, Army film)
  • The Emperor Waltz (1948)
  • A Foreign Affair (1948)
  • Sunset Boulevard (1950)
  • Ace in the Hole (1951)
  • Stalag 17 (1953)
  • Sabrina (1954)
  • The Seven Year Itch (1955)
  • The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
  • Love in the Afternoon (1957)
  • Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
  • Some Like It Hot (1959)
  • The Apartment (1960)
  • One, Two, Three (1961)
  • Irma la Douce (1963)
  • Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
  • The Fortune Cookie (1966)
  • The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
  • Avanti! (1972)
  • The Front Page (1974)
  • Fedora (1978)
  • Buddy Buddy (1981)

 

My personal favorites are Sunset BoulevardDouble IndemnityAce in the HoleWitness for the ProsecutionStalag 17The Lost Weekend, and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, in that order.

I've never cared for Wilder's comedies, including The Apartment (merely okay for me), Some Like It Hot (meh), and One, Two, Three (I intensely disliked this one). 

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While Sunset Boulevard is arguably Wilder's "masterpiece", my second favorite movie of all time and thus making it my favorite Billy Wilder movie has always been The Apartment

(...I've always loved how Wilder's comedies are always tinged with such a wry and knowing cynical bent about the human condition, but yet in most cases still provide us with a measure of hopefulness about it in turn)

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My first one was " The Major and The Minor ", as a kid.

My last one was " Fedora ", as a young adult wanting the Golden Age of Hollywood to comeback.

( Henry Fonda adds such realism in a cameo.)

 

But my favorite one will always be " Sunset Boulevard ". There's something so bizarre, yet comfortable, with listening to William Holden doing that narration as a dead body.

No matter how many times I've seen this movie, I just die when Erich  Von Stroheim informs Holden that he was Norma Desmond's first husband and great director, while today he's been reduced to being a servant, her Butler.

 

I suppose the silent movie fans really love it when she  entertains playing cards with the silent movie stars like Buster Keaton and she imitates Charlie Chaplin.

Gloria Swanson seems like she's over the top in this movie because Norma Desmond is totally bonkers.

As a kid I was totally amazed at how well CB DeMille played his scenes. He really was a good actor!

And I always give Franz Waxman a lot of credit for the success of this movie, especially with that terrific music at the climax.

It's undoubtedly the best film about Hollywood juxtaposition past and present-- though a lot of people think that the Minnelli film" The Bad and the Beautiful " is equally representative of the industry.

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I like many of Wilder's films, but I sometimes dare to agree with Andrew Sarris, who puts Wilder in his "Less than meets the eye" group, which is probably a bit excessive. I guess my Wilder favorites would be Witness for the Prosecution, Irma la Douce, and Some Like It Hot. 

I know that a few of Wilder's films are worshipped, but not by me. Among those are Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity, which would not make it to my top 500 list.

I like Wilder as a writer of films such as Ninotchka, Hold Back the Dawn, and even the at times exasperating Arise, My Love. I'd like to see a festival of the early films for which he wrote screenplays, including the German ones.

And I'm very fond of him as a person, when I've seen him on interviews, etc.  He reminds me of my old dentist.

 

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The impressive thing about Billy Wilder is the range of his films, despite the fact that his career ended with a series of comedies. Double Indemnity is surely one of the most corrosive of all film noirs, The Lost Weekend holds up as one of the best (if not the best) of post war social "message" films and Sunset Boulevard, some calling it a dark comedy, one of the more acidic, certainly memorably bizarre portraits of seedy Hollywood. Oh, yeh, there's also the high voltage drama of Witness for the Prosecution, perhaps the least typical of all Wilder films, and, for my money, the best court room thriller the screen has ever given us.

But having said that Billy Wilder is the director of what is probably my favourite film comedy, SOME LIKE IT HOT, and I would have to go with this drag act farce as my favourite film of the director's career. Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis are both inspired in their roles as a pair of musicians on the lam from gangsters who dress up (literally) to hide themselves in an all girl band.

Neither actor would ever be as funny again. Marilyn Monroe gives one of her most endearing performances as the girl who says she always gets "the fuzzy end of the lollipop" and who can forget the great Joan Shawlee in what may be her best remembered role as "Sweet Sue." Her cry out to her manager, "BEANSTALK!" whenever she's upset about something is one of the film's recurring small highlights. Joe E. Brown, Pat O'Brien and George Raft, in gangster self parody form, round out one of the great casts of the movies.

somelikeit-hot.jpg

 

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Great idea for a thread, Lawrence. I'm guessing the consensus favorites would be Sunset Boulevard, Double Indemnity, and Some Like It Hot, and those are my top three. Like Lawrence, I'm not overly fond of The Apartment: the mixture of comedy and drama doesn't work for me, though Lemmon and MacLaine are great.

It's my understanding that Irma la Douce was Wilder's highest-grossing film. Yes, really.

 

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On 1/11/2019 at 8:44 PM, LawrenceA said:

I've never cared for Wilder's comedies, including The Apartment (merely okay for me), Some Like It Hot (meh), and One, Two, Three (I intensely disliked this one). 

Fresh in my mind from another thread, I'm sticking up for One, Two, Three as my pick--A perfect example of what the Three Stooges displayed in "You Nazty Spy", namely that our most powerful Yankee weapon is to hit a banana-cream pie in the face of fascist dictators.  

The Zuckers' "Hot Shots, Part Deux" proved that you could go gleefully lowbrow against Saddam Hussein, but Billy Wilder had Nikita Kruschev to deal with in 1961.  And even if the Farrelly Brothers had done a Cold War comedy, they couldn't have gone more enthusiastically inappropriate and politically-incorrect than Billy Wilder manages to take Russia and East Berlin apart, and James Cagney is yankee-doodle-dandy enough to keep up with the brassy speed of Wilder's farce.  😆

(Some Like It Hot is okay, but it needed an actress fast enough to keep up with Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis--Marilyn is nice, but speedy sardonic zingers aren't her comic specialty.  At least Seven Year Itch fell more within her speed for comedy.)

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The only way I can answer this question is to cheat and say that my favorite Billy Wilder “film” is his “unholy trinity” of SUNSET BLVD, DOUBLE INDEMNITY and ACE IN DER HOLE. I know that’s not playing fair, but those three are about as noir as it gets and about as perfect as any film could ever hope to be. In an odd way they almost seem like episodes in an especially brutal anthology series.

Very close on the heels of these three though, I’d have to say that I also absolutely love FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO, Which moves me deeply every time I see it, and (yup) EIN! ZWEI! DRIE! (Aka ONE, TWO, THREE), Which I would definitely include in my top five favorite Wilders and I’m always a little bit surprised That it doesn’t have more fans here (You’re not the only one who doesn’t like it Lawrence.)

It’s funny as hell to me though, and it might actually be my favorite James Cagney performance

”SCHLEEEEEEMAAAAH!!!!!”

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Also, as someone with Bipolar DIsorder, ONE, TWO, THREE *really* appeals to the manic side of my personality. 

(It speaks my language)

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Y'know, out of that list of true gems, it's impossible  for ME to pick out just ONE "favorite".  Maybe a few(very) that I don't like AS MUCH as most others, but that's the best I can do. 

And also, since even THAT would be difficult for me, I'll just pass....

;)

Sepiatone

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It’s waaaaaaaaaay easier to pick my least favorite WILDER film, But it’s a hard film for me to talk about without using expletives.

i reeeeally don’t like it.

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8 hours ago, kingrat said:

 

It's my understanding that Irma la Douce was Wilder's highest-grossing film. Yes, really.

 

You can thank me for that. It's the only Billy Wilder film I ever saw at the show (in a double bill with Tom Jones).

By the way, Lou Jacoby played the role that Wilder had promised to Charles Laughton when his actor friend was dying of cancer. I don't know whether Wilder knew that Laughton wouldn't survive the disease but it must have done the old acting trouper's heart good to know that a good role in a major film production was awaiting his recovery. Jacoby's good in the film but Laughton might have made the role of the wily bartender a memorable one.

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4 hours ago, EricJ said:

 

Fresh in my mind from another thread, I'm sticking up for One, Two, Three as my pick--A perfect example of what the Three Stooges displayed in "You Nazty Spy", namely that our most powerful Yankee weapon is to hit a banana-cream pie in the face of fascist dictators.  


😆

 

Count me as a fan of One Two Three, as well. Cagney is a marvel, playing the role of the West Berlin Coca Cola manufacturer with the same hardness and ruthlessness in this comedy that he had with some of his gangster roles. Maybe the film is faster than it is actually HA HA funny but it definitely keeps me entertained.

Cagney may well have the fastest dialogue delivery of his career in this film. He later wrote that Horst Buchholz's irritating attempts at scene stealing had him genuinely disliking the actor during the production (I don't think those feelings had softened much over the years afterward either).

The film's closing scene (below), by the way, with the Pepsi bottle popping out of the Coke machine, was Wilder's way of trying to appease Joan Crawford, who had been bombarding him with complaints during the film's production about any film so heavily endorsing a competitive pop product of hubby's company.

one-two-three-end-title-still.jpg

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What a great idea for a thread! Brilliant!

Its easy to select my #1 fave Wilder: 'Ace in the Hole'. Composing a 'Top Ten', now that would be another matter and probably quite difficult.

Y'know, I'd like to hear what folks think of 'Kiss Me, Stupid'. Hope it gets some analysis and dissection. Its one Wilder flick I didnt sit still for, didnt watch all the way through to the end. Curious to know if I really missed anything worthwhile there.

Its almost easier to select and winnow out his failures than his successes. 'Witness' --the strengths of 'Witness' surely come from Christie, not Wilder. Right? Best thing about the film? Dietrich. I'd never nominate it as best courtroom thriller, as Tomjh does. 'Anatomy of a Murder' gets that distinction (at least from me it does).

'Irma' --fails with me. I'm not a fan of Shirley MacClaine so half the film's charm is lost on me.

As TJH says, Wilder's range is boggling. How does an Austrian come to our shores and observe Americans more sharply than we can observe ourselves? He don't even talk good English!

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8 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Y'know, I'd like to hear what folks think of 'Kiss Me, Stupid'. Hope it gets some analysis and dissection. Its one Wilder flick I didnt sit still for, didnt watch all the way through to the end.

A lot of people love to hate Kiss Me Stupid.

I admit it's been years since I last saw it but I tend to think of it as a flawed but decent comedy. It goes on way too long and Ray Walston is irritating in the lead role. WHERE WAS JACK LEMMON? (especially with his wife as part of the cast).

On the other hand, Dean Martin is a hoot in a role that was clearly self parody as a boozing, womanizing celebrity who's a bit of a charming snake, and Kim Novak is most appealing as Polly the Pistol. Those two performances alone make the film worthwhile for me.

I know a lot, though, question the film's morality.

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Thanks. I had forgotten all about it for years until for some reason I happened to look it up last night. The production trivia is sure curiosity-inspiring to say the least. Its almost incomprehensible to even think of a Wilder movie flopping. I know there's an uproar as well about pederasty in 'The Major and the Minor'.

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11 hours ago, TomJH said:

The impressive thing about Billy Wilder is the range of his films,

Agree! 

I've got to mention that I show SOME LIKE IT HOT as an introduction to "old" film for the uninitiated. It is a highly engaging film with a great story arc sprinkled with fun comedy everyone gets something out of. It's a great introduction to what made Marilyn a "star" as well as priming the pump for any Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon films. Plus, it's the dreaded B&W.

Come to think of it, I showed trifecta Some Like It Hot, Sunset Blvd and Stalag 17 to TikiKid when she was still pretty young, like 16. She loved them ALL, even Blvd which contains some really adult themes way over a 16 y/o's head.

MrTiki & the kid infuriate me by always guessing "who dun it" and Stalag 17 was the first movie that stumped the kid, at least.

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"The Lost Weekend" for me.

Ray Milland is excellent in the lead and won a well deserved Oscar as the bitter writer with a booze problem.

The supporting cast is great-Jane Wyman as the long suffering fiancee, Howard da Silva as the tough but sympathetic bartender, Doris Dowling as the good time gal with funny abbreviations ("natch" "ridic") and Frank Faylen as the creepy nurse. 

The on location shots in New York are great, it puts you right into 1940s of the time. Many scenes are still shocking and powerful today such as in hospital alcoholic ward and the bat and mouse hallucination. The haunting weird music score is great too.

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2 hours ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Its almost easier to select and winnow out his failures than his successes. 'Witness' --the strengths of 'Witness' surely come from Christie, not Wilder. Right? Best thing about the film? Dietrich.

 

 

elsa-lanchester-charles-laughton-witness

"Did you hear that, Sir Wilfred? You're NOT the best thing in the film!"

 

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Sure, I hear you...but honestly I didn't think Laughton did anything other than his usual 'Laughton stuff'. He didn't seem to be taxed, asked a lot of, or put under any strain or demand to play a grouchy barrister. Seems pretty standard to all his other 'routine' performances. Of course, a great actor makes acting look easy but I just dont see any particular exertion on his part. How hard was it for Leo McKern to play 'Rumpole of the Bailey', years later? These guys are made for these roles.

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24 minutes ago, Sgt_Markoff said:

Sure, I hear you...but honestly I didn't think Laughton did anything other than his usual 'Laughton stuff'. He didn't seem to be taxed, asked a lot of, or put under any strain or demand to play a grouchy barrister. Seems pretty standard to all his other 'routine' performances. Of course, a great actor makes acting look easy but I just dont see any particular exertion on his part. How hard was it for Leo McKern to play 'Rumpole of the Bailey', years later? These guys are made for these roles.

Wilder allowed Laughton free rein (in contrast to some other actors in the film) to play his scenes for full dramatic impact. When I saw Ralph Richardson's more low key performance as Sir Wilfred in the TV remake I missed the bigness that Laughton brought to the same scenes and even dialogue, at times.

The role might be ready made for an actor of Laughton's caliber but I think you cannot deny his brilliance in the part. At the same time, in contrast to the power of his performance in the courtroom scenes, he has those smaller impish moments when, acting almost like a little boy, he gleefully tries to fool his dominating nurse as he finds inventive ways to get cigars or brandy into himself.

I'm not taking anything away from Dietrich or any other cast member in Witness for the Prosecution because I think they're all effective in their roles. But, for my money, Laughton's flamboyant performance is the one that truly lingers in the memory. This actor was largely wasted in a lot of parts rather beneath him in his final years. I'm pleased that Witness provided him with a great role worthy of his tremendous acting talents.

witness4-1100x662.jpg

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Most of Wilder's titles are fully well-deserved and important American classics. Similar to Hitchcock. A very small proportion of them don't particularly do anything for me, although they are at all times, good clean entertaining enjoyable fun. But even starring all the wonderful actors as they always do, flicks like 'Sabrina' or 'Spirit of St Louis' are somehow just never going to wow me. Or feel 'personal' to me.

But after 'Ace in the Hole', I'd rank my special pleasures in this order:

Stalag 17 (could watch it a hundred times and never tire of it)

A Foreign Affair (the hilarity of this one, all too often neglected)

Five Graves to Cairo (lots of subtle perks)

 

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Just realized I've never seen 'Emperor Waltz' (1948) :o

(H'mmm! This is gossip I haven't heard!) :)

Am I in for a treat? I like der Binger...

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I watched about half an hour of Kiss Me, Stupid, laughed exactly once, and decided that was it for me. Rated G for Goshawful. It does have its fans, however.

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