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Wilder, Billy


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#41 clydefro

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Posted 19 May 2012 - 10:43 PM

Wilder really liked adultery on film, an interest I don't quite share with him. It popped up over and over in his career (from Double Indemnity to The Apartment, with Kiss Me, Stupid perhaps the most challenging example). The critic Dave Kehr doesn't seem to like Wilder and he's brought up his predilection for showing women as prostitutes but I tend to find both themes (prostitutes and adultery) to basically be emblematic of Wilder's cynicism. These are instances of sinful behavior, of which Wilder explored more than perhaps any other Hollywood director of his time.

While I don't necessarily find The Seven Year Itch to be a good film overall, it certainly has its moments. No other filmmaker really utilized Marilyn Monroe's persona as well as Billy Wilder did. He embraced her iconic sexuality in those two films they did together in a way that either no one else was as willing to do or no one else was allowed to do. Even Hawks didn't use her anywhere near as effectively. Wilder was also pretty smart in tapping Tom Ewell for the lead role here. It's been a few years since I've seen the film, but as I recall there's really no way the usual Wilder sort of protagonist (a weak-willed yet redemptive opportunist as often embodied by Holden or Lemmon or even MacMurray) could have done this role. It had to be someone who was willing to be completely overshadowed by Monroe so that the viewer could live vicariously through him. So that aspect worked.

It's worth noting, however, that the mid-fifties weren't Wilder's strongest creative period and that's why I tend to rank his output during this time as a notch below his two major filmmaking peaks. There were twin disruptions in Wilder's career around this time. One was the break between writing collaborators, with Charles Brackett joining him for much of the key Paramount stuff and I.A.L. Diamond later being his partner on the Mirisch Company films. The other was the commercial disaster of Ace in the Hole that caused Wilder to play it safe from an audience-pleasing standpoint for much of the fifties. The Seven Year Itch was part of this and, like all of his films during this period, was an adaptation of a popular work. I think Wilder was probably aiming for a hit, which he got, and as such it doesn't register much for me as being a key or personal work.

#42 Duke Togo

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Posted 20 May 2012 - 10:23 PM

I haven't seen The Apartment or Kiss Me, Stupid, but the portrayal of adultery in Ace in the Hole is perhaps one of the coldest I've ever seen.  The way Mrs. Minosa's advances seem to disgust Douglas' character so much was probably a relief to the audience, even if he did seem to instigate them dishonestly, and I would say it was necessary to sell his last little go at guilt and redemption, meek as it may have been.

I can pretty much isolate my enjoyment of The Seven Year Itch to Ewell's dramatic monologues and inner-workings.  He really surprised me, though this is the first time I've seen him.  I actually enjoyed him more when rambling on than in any of his ridiculous day dreams, but he was pretty hilarious in the Here to Eternity bit.  I certainly agree that his part works better without a major personality actor.  I would love to see someone like Elisha Cook Jr. delivering these lines.

#43 clydefro

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Posted 27 June 2012 - 08:01 PM

Possible spoilers for those who haven't seen The Lost Weekend.


I finally got around to The Lost Weekend, one of the two films that won Billy Wilder an Oscar for direction, as well as for Ray Milland's performance and best picture. I liked the movie, though I definitely don't rank it among Wilder's very best work, despite the sharp, intelligent writing and Ray Milland's really wonderful performance. Despite all that was right with the film, there are some pretty glaring issues, I thought. The worst of these is the sharp U-turn of the ending, which really feels like a cop-out after the 95 minutes of darkness that preceded it. I know Wilder wouldn't have been allowed to resolve the film with a suicide, but the complete 180 that Milland's character makes in the course of about 30 seconds at the end of the film is just wildly unbelievable. Really, up until this point the film is really pretty emotionally accurate with its portrayal of alcoholism - even if it does tip into the side of melodrama and general over-the-topness several times.


I'm not a huge fan of Milland's performance but I'd otherwise agree with you. It had been years since I'd seen this movie because I didn't have very fond memories of it or find anything to get me excited about a rewatch. But I'm reviewing the two MoC Wilder releases now and I found that this still doesn't impress me. In contrast to so much of Wilder's work, this is just too tangled in its own era. It's a downbeat film without anything to really latch onto. There's no bite or sorrow or even agony. Milland is just an alcoholic whose life doesn't even really add up and I don't think there's much there beyond that to interest the viewer.

I'll be writing more or at least linking to my forthcoming review in the MoC thread.

#44 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 02 October 2015 - 03:52 PM

The Front Page (1974: Billy Wilder):
 
This is based on the same source material as Howard Hawk’s His Girl Friday, which itself was a remake based on the Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur play (I have not seen the 1931 version of The Front Page by Lewis Milestone.)  I do prefer the Hawk’s version, though I have seen that movie several times and most recently a few weeks ago.  Hawk’s changed the Hildy Johnson character into a woman (originally a man in the play and in the first movie) where here that character is back to being a man acted by Jack Lemmon with Walter Matthau in the Cary Grant role of Walter Burns the newspaper editor whose life is the paper.
 
Most of the acting is quite good. Lemmon and Matthau work quite well together.  The only casting choice which did not seem to work for me was Carol Burnett as Mollie Malloy.  She just did not seem to work the dramatic scenes well.  You get to see an earlier acting performance from Susan Sarandon.  But so much of the film will be quite familiar to those who have seen His Girl Friday.  The major differences, not counting the Hildy Johnson role, are cursing, words that could not have been used in the previous film, using a more effeminate character and a few plot changes like actually naming the city of Chicago and using the real newspapers that were mentioned in the play.  Some of these changes were not necessarily good, especially the changes with the murderer Earl Williams.  But the gist of the plot: newspaper person (Hildy) wanting to get married, gets seduced by boss (Walter) back into the newspaper profession while the escape of Earl Williams is the catalyst to make all of this happen.
 

I found one scene interesting where Matthau light's a cigarette in his mouth, smokes a puff and then gives it to Lemmon.

 

So while this is a fun film and has two great acting from the grumpy old couple, it does sometimes feel perfunctory when watching it.  It too often feels like a lesser imitation of His Girl Friday which is not what I would expect from the director of Sunset Boulevard and Stalag 17.  
 
Billy Wilder on The Front Page by Roger Ebert (May 26, 1974): I was surprised I found this link.  But a fun read on the film.  I did not see a review from Ebert on the film though.


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