In 1960, Billy Wilder’s The Apartment garnered kind words from the New York Times (“gleeful, tender and even sentimental”) and Time (“funniest film made in Hollywood since Some Like It Hot” ). It was nominated for ten Oscars and won five. In 2015, this beloved film received an A+ from IndieWire, while The Guardian called it “absolutely brilliant.” Yet as I rewatched it, the film’s dark humor has transitioned into an almost-gallows humor, often uncomfortable in the implications as they reflect where we are today – which is to say, the film encapsulates a criticism of modern society that we seem to have only amplified.
Tag: Billy Wilder
Ace in the Hole opens on a young Kirk Douglas behind the wheel of a convertible, carelessly engrossed in a newspaper, as the New Mexico desert sun drenches the setting through the blazing light of the black-and-white imagery. When the camera pans to reveal a tow truck pulling the car, Billy Wilder’s fingerprint jumps off the screen – no shot is wasted and there’s always something more to see in every scene. Wilder’s wry sense of humor sometimes disguises the somber themes in his work, similar to Wilder’s direction in Sunset Boulevard, the comedy and leading man draws the audience into a false sense of comfort before exposing the darker intentions at the core of those sentiments.
The world of insurance sales will never be as sexy and suspenseful as it is in Billy Wilder’s DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). The renewal of auto insurance, a transaction that nowadays can be completed in minutes from the relative safety of a smart phone, sets off a series of events punctuated by murder and dripping with deceit, seduction, and betrayal in this Hollywood classic. Co-written by Wilder and mystery novelist Raymond Chandler, DOUBLE INDEMNITY is viewed by many as the first and best American film noir. Studio stars Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson each took the dual professional risks of playing against type in the film adaptation of a story long viewed as “too taboo” for the screen. Their performances bring life to a razor-sharp script that set the gold standard for film noir, artfully introducing now-clichéd narrative devices like subjective voiceover narration, uncannily accurate detective speculation, and (perhaps most memorably) flirtatious, rapid-fire double entendre. Wilder and Chandler’s script, and particularly Stanwyck’s smoldering performance, keep the audience riveted in suspense for 100-plus minutes, despite the presence of a framing device “spoiling” MacMurray’s fate in the opening scene of the film.
SUNSET BOULEVARD accomplishes the difficult task of being an intriguing story primarily focused on endings and false starts. The film begins with the conclusion, protagonist and narrator Joe Gillis floating dead in the pool, immediately followed by a flashback of Joe giving up on his dying career as a film writer. His first meeting with former Hollywood starlet Norma Desmond occurs over the corpse of her dead pet chimpanzee – a vacancy soon to be filled by Joe himself. Norma had already witnessed the cessation of her career on screen, predicated by the overall demise of silent pictures. SUNSET BOULEVARD depicts the collision of these endings and its aftermath, including a doomed resistance movement lead by Joe and Norma to jumpstart their flagging occupations which results only in tragedy and a sense of inevitability.
Film is a visual medium, but if there was anyone who could make an audience feel the scales tip more toward the written word, it is writer/director Billy Wilder. And of all the amazing motion pictures Wilder created or contributed to in his career from the 1930s to the 1980s, there is perhaps no greater example of his linguistic brilliance than the delirious screwball comedy BALL OF FIRE (1941), a supreme example of the pre-war Hollywood studio system firing on all cylinders and a fabulously satisfying entertainment in which much of the humor is based on the different ways a single language can be used by different people to the point of hindering, rather than facilitating, communication.
DOUBLE INDEMNITY holds a special resonance for me; it is the very first movie my father took me to at the drive-in theater.
In 1940s and ’50s America, gender roles were firmly defined and divided; in families, girls kept company with their mothers, learning how to cook, to sew, to dress up pretty; boys stayed mostly with their fathers learning how to spackle a window, swagger, ice fish and spit. So it was that Friday nights in the summer, I found myself in our overlarge, green Plymouth, next to my handsome dad — a big, brown paper bag between us, peckered all over with buttery grease stains, filled to the very top with homemade popcorn. This is where I learned to love the movies.
By Amy Tetreault
Some Like It Hot – dir. Billy Wilder – 1959 – Original Theatrical Trailer
Some Like It Hot was uncouth and hilarious in 1959. These days it’s … somehow still hilarious, but also somewhat refreshing.
Sure, the comedy features overplayed modern Hollywood staples like men dressing in drag, popular starlets showing skin, abrasive sexual innuendos and explosive car chases, but it’s also significant to note that it’s one of the first comedies featuring men dressing in drag, one of the most popular starlets ever showing skin, clever and carefully delivered sexual innuendos, and perpetually classic Chicago mobster scenes.
By Christine Bamberger
Silk Stockings has often been cited as one of the last great MGM musicals, and indeed it was the last to emerge from the prestigious Arthur Freed unit at the studio. It was the final romantic lead role for Fred Astaire (age 58 when it was released), and the last time Cyd Charisse, 36, would dance in a movie musical. It does not possess the dynamism of Astaire’s work of the thirties or even The Band Wagon, made only four years before, and is sometimes described as reflecting the tiredness of the genre. Still, it exhibits plenty of verve thanks to the distinctive direction of Rouben Mamoulian, whose last film this was. The director began work on a film version of Porgy and Bess and on Cleopatra, but was replaced on both projects, whereupon he returned exclusively to stage work.