Wilder - Fedora (1978) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Wilder – Fedora (1978)

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Fedora, an aging and reclusive film star, dies in Paris, struck by a train. At her funeral, a film producer (William Holden) thinks back over the past two weeks and the part he might have played in her death. He'd gone to Corfu to track her down, pushing himself into her island villa, where she lived with a nurse, an old countess, and the plastic surgeon who's success at keeping her looking young is amazing. We see her mental stability fail as the producer offers her a script for "Anna Karenina;" soon she's locked away in a Parisian asylum and the producer is in the hospital with a concussion. His reverie ended, the countess takes up the narration and completes Fedora's story.

Fedora (1978)Ryan COMMENTARY w/ RatingIn contemporary terms, Fedora reminds me a lot of Casino. Both movies are from famous and acclaimed directors who are playing in the same genre of some of their biggest and beloved hits. Casino was a three hour epic about gangsters and card sharks in Vegas and had a top notch cast and direction but is always set aside because "it is not as good as Goodfellas." The same thing could be said of Fedora, which is a close sibling of Wilder's own masterpiece Sunset Boulevard. It is very evident that Wilder was trying to capture that lighting in the bottle with Fedora and came up short, but 99.999% of all movies come up short when compared to the 1950 noir. I still enjoyed Fedora much more than I thought I would and would put it on the same level as Private Life of Sherlock Holmes where it is a good movie but could have been great with a bit of work.

Fedora has a tone that almost feels dream like and this greatly helps the film because it is a bonkers plot. I dig most William Holden films and this one is no different. Much like Sunset Boulevard, Holden plays a character who is a jaded Hollywood type who never became that big. He once again gets tangled with a crazy bunch of people in a majestic house and thankfully can sell the big bunch of crazy that goes on around him.

I think this movie caught Wilder's eye because it was a throw back and a obituary for the type of films he made in his heyday. While it was set in the present day of the early 70s, the over the top acting, pace and feel of the movie was something more akin to the 40s. The question I have for you is would you end it all if you couldn't be with that dream boat Michael York?

Danny no longer writes for Can't Stop the Movies, and can be reached at his fantastic site Pre-Code.com

Fedora3DannyCommentaryBannerShortI see where you're going with this, Ryan, though I don't think I'll follow you. Wilder's Fedora (NOT, I repeat, NOT Greta Garbo) is interesting because it talks about the ruinous effects of beauty and fame, but makes no incisive points about either.

I think the film's structure works against it in the first place. The twist that the film takes works thematically with what Wilder is doing, but it's ludicrous that so many people weren't able to see past it. Worse, the flashback in the third act is built on a number of ideas that make the characters become a series of plot contrivances.

Speaking of the thematics, where as Boulevard was about how the young replace the old, Fedora is more concerned about how the older exploit and destroy the young. This idea still rings true today, but that's beside the point; is it as dynamic or telling? I think the film loses Antonia at some point in the film, and her whole demented bunch come across as bad Scooby Doo villains than real people. By the time that Dutch's Anna Karenina meets her end, she's become a useless pawn in a game of checkers.

I guess between the lousy narration and the scope of the rest of the film, I couldn't shake the feeling that Wilder was trying to make Sunset Boulevard on a bigger scale, enveloping the whole world in the nastiness on display by bringing them all in. However, where Boulevard ends with Desmond beckoning, here Dutch just walks away. It's not even in disgust, but admiration; by the 70's Fedora got everything she ever wanted, up to and including watching her own funeral. It's not satire, just the story of a monster.

All that being said, Ryan, how do you feel this movie felt about the Countess? Condemnation or admiration? And how did you feel when you saw the wall of Michael York, and how similar is it to the one in your own bedroom?

Fedora2Ryan COMMENTARY w/o RatingSome of the things that you mentioned are the reasons I kind of dug the film. I can't think of a better way to describe her posse than as Scooby Doo villains and that is why I liked them. The whole Michael York plot was funny (that might just be me though because I can't see him as a sex symbol)and I enjoyed how the mansion seemed like it should belong to the main baddie for a Roger Moore Bond Film. With Sunset Boulevard, Wilder was able to put the macabre humor in it without diminishing the movie and that is where Fedora does not succeed because I feel like I am laughing at the movie much more than with it. To answer your question about the Countess,you have to respect her for getting exactly what she wants, even it is a horrible thing to do. I hope she wasn't supposed to be seen as sympathetic because I did not feel anything for really anyone in the film.

Last question for you Danny, was it just me or did William Holden look REALLY old in this film? Was that on purpose since the film is about aging and trying to cheat death or did he have a hell of a bender before shooting this film?

Fedora4DannyCommentaryBannerShortWell, Holden was a well known alcoholic, but it's still hard to believe this was the movie he made immediately after Network. The man was turning to gravel.

Even with that said, I wish the rest of the cast were as capable. Most of the cast seems dubbed at best, cardboard at worse. Marthe Keller as Antonia is a mess of extreme overacting; you never feel sympathy for her, even when her life is at stake.

And Fedora is overreaching. Wilder tries to take Sunset and make it fresh and crazy, adding a Eurotrash vibe while making it an expose of the studio system that he couldn't have made with a lick of censorship in place. People often say-- and Wilder himself said it-- that he was a studio director first and foremost, and the dissolution of the studio system and the Production Code left him in a jam. He didn't have a safety net, and I can't escape the conclusion that here is one of the prime examples of him simply floundering.

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The Films of Billy Wilder

Posted by Danny

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