When I was getting my journalism degree and before I learned that newsrooms are sad places where dreams go to die, I pictured/hoped that working as a journalist was like Superman (who wouldn't want to work at "The Daily Planet") the Ron Howard film The Paper or like one of my favorite classic films His Girl Friday. I wanted to work in the environment where everyone talks in quippy phrases, all actions are weighted with important consequences and everything went so FAST. Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell were great in His Girl Friday and it was directed wonderfully by Howard Hawkes that it has become one of my favorite screwball comedies from this era.
Why have I talked so much about my career aspirations and my love for a Howard Hawkes film in our series for Billy Wilder? The reason is simple, I used to not like The Front Page because I compared it to a film I loved in His Girl Friday. The Front Page was a remake of the stage play that was then turned into a film and then remade as His Girl Friday so this version is the 3rd movie of the same story.
Was it a movie that needed to be made? Not at all and that is where I always got off the train with the film in the past. There was no reason to remake it since they perfected it last time and it was always going to be in the shadow of the all time classic. Yet, I watched it again this time with fresh eyes and with a goal not to compare it to His Girl Friday but look at it within Wilder's career had taken him at this time. When I did this, I found the movie to be an amusing 1:45 of my time. It is not one of Wilder's greats or even on the tier below but anytime Lemmon, Matthau and Wilder team up so far I have had a good time.
This is another time where Matthau steals all the good moments and leaves poor Lemmon to always be the straight man. I love how Wilder uses Matthau, much like he did in The Fortune Cookie, as that loveable guy that you would never trust if he was in your own life. Watching Matthau scream into the phone with that exasperated tone always amuses me and some of the other journalists in the courthouse were fun little Wilder characters.
I also liked how this movie lets it be known that it is set in Chicago in the 20s and goes to town with the corruption of the city at that time and how jaded the reporters would have been to it all. I think this is also one of the better uses of color that Wilder has used because some of the settings and scenes popped.
Danny, is this an enjoyable movie and nothing more or am I now being too kind to the film?
Let's start out with the obvious about Billy Wilder's Avanti!: is there anyone in the world who would even think of calling Pamela Piggot 'fat'? She hardly qualifies as plump, but the characters in the world of Avanti! seem to find her positively enormous and kind of a bore. I find her well rounded, at the very least.
Last time I saw Avanti! I must have been in a grumpy mood, because I don't think any other movie I've rewatched through this series of reviews so badly needed a reevaluation. Part of me wonders if I was too young and inexperienced when I'd seen it, perhaps being a bit priggish or demanding. Nowadays it reminds me of something a tier below Amacord or Two for the Road, fitting in with those 1970's examinations of nostalgia and age.
But even a lower tier doesn't make it unpleasant. Wilder said he was trying to emulate Brief Encounter with the picture, and while this has nowhere the amount of power as that, it's a remarkably sweet bedroom farce that takes a laconic town and places a bellicose man against it. On the island's side, though, it also has a beautiful woman extolling its many simple pleasures; what's a man to do?
There's so much in Wilder's Private Life of Sherlock Holmes that seemed telling, and here, if it isn't a deep seated confession, it seems to also be a rather pointedly honest look at what it's like to have an escape, a deep pleasure that you can celebrate and enjoy.Whether that's an extramarital affair or simply your extended lunch break, who is to say. It's very much about the joie de vivre (not how Italians would put it, I'm sure), the ability to enjoy the moment for what it is and unseating yourself from so many of life's unceasing demands.
That message being delivered by such a wonderfully photographed film isn't lost, as the visceral pleasures of the island and its scenery and the simple but sweet jokes lacks any layer of irony or detachment. Avanti is about a place that is and was, but most notably a place that can continue to be loved, adored and enjoyed.
I know this is roiling your mind, Ryan, since it's the first question you've asked for the last four or five movies, but no, I don't think the film is horribly misogynist. Even the Sicilian woman with a gun is portrayed with a great deal of sympathy, even when she becomes a killer; her crossing herself would be a throwaway in many movies, but here is a beautiful glimpse of grace crossed with crazy.
The real question I must ask you for now, Ryan, is whether you felt the film was too long or just right? 2 1/2 hours is a big investment, and while the movie isn't an epic in any sense, I never felt it drag or become tiresome.
Your thoughts? Or do I have to say 'permisso' first?
Director Billy Wilder adds a new and intriguing twist to the personality of intrepid detective Sherlock Holmes (Robert Stephens). One thing hasn't changed however: Holmes' crime-solving talents. Holmes and Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely) take on the case of a beautiful woman (Genevieve Page) whose husband has vanished. The investigation proves strange indeed, involving six missing midgets, villainous monks, a Scottish castle, the Loch Ness monster, and covert naval experiments. Can the sleuths make sense of all this and solve the mystery?
I think The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is the movie that shows that Wilder is a man out of his era better than any of the other movies we have seen lately. While Kiss Me Stupid was a horrible film that tried to exploit the 60's sex and free love time period, at least there he tried to make a film for the time. With Sherlock Holmes he made a film that isn't bad at all, where the cinematography is very lush and the set design (especially their apartment) was wonderful, but it still feels like a movie made 15 years too late.
The original idea for the film was a roadshow film that was to be three hours long and include an intermission. Wilder was going to make a grand epic in the flavor of DeMille or Lean and shot the film that way, only to see that type of movie lose favor with the studios thanks to bombs like Dr. Doolittle and Around the World in 80 Days.
Instead of the three hour film, it was cut down to just over two hours, and you can feel that the movie is incomplete while watching. Some subplots are forgotten and some character moments seem to be thrown in haphazardly as almost a patch for missing footage. These types of things are not common in Wilder written films, and I would love to read the full screenplay to see if things gel better.
The movie has a lot of potential that it never reaches fully. The idea to have stories about Holmes less famous adventures unearthed long after the characters had died was a new spin. I liked how Wilder cast two lesser known actors in the main roles and Robert Stephens was a good Holmes and Colin Blakely played a very Wilder-eque version of Dr. Watson.
So to wrap up this introduction I have to ask you a question: considering how the movies tone fluctuates, would you classify this film as a mystery with comedic elements or a comedy with a mystery?
A cameraman (Jack Lemmon) is knocked over during a football game. His brother-in-law (Walter Matthau) is the king of the ambulance chasing lawyers starts a suit while he's still knocked out. The cameraman is against it until he hears that his ex-wife (Judi West) will be coming to see him. He pretends to be injured to get her back, but also sees what the strain is doing to the football player (Ron Rich) who injured him.
One of the greatest screen pairs in the history of film is Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and it all starts here at The Fortune Cookie. Before I was a big film fan I saw these two in Grumpy Old Men and loved them together and it wasn't until I got older that I saw some of their earlier team ups like The Odd Couple and this film we are talking about. I think that the two actors have such wonderful chemistry together that they were good even in the films were complete dogs like Out To Sea. I have said it a few times but it bares repeating that if Wilder would have gotten his way with casting Matthau in Seven Year Itch the movie would have been significantly better.
With the Fortune Cookie the pair (especially Matthau) makes a decent film into a very entertaining one. Matthau won an Academy Award for playing Willie "Whiplash" Gingrich and deservedly so because his future "Matthau-ness" was in full effect in this film. The dichotomy between the two here will be used repeatedly in the future with Matthau being the schemer and funny one and Lemmon playing the put upon straight man so well.
I have not said much about the plot of the film and that is because the main draw is seeing the Lemmon and Matthau show and Wilder smartly sees the chemistry and lets them do their thing. Yet there are three questions I want to ask you about this film.
1. I noticed there are a lot of shots of Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) looking in mirrors or having his reflection noticeably in shots. Much like the compact in The Apartment these shots are really underlying the internal strife of the main character. Do you think the symbolism was a little heavy in this film or did you barely notice it?
2. After Kiss Me Stupid snubbed its nose at women's lib, we now have Wilder's next film has three main female characters that are money grubbing ex-wives, wet blanket sisters and nosy mothers. We even have a scene where the ex-wife is crawling on all fours in front of Hinkle who then kicks her in the ass. Where did this awful streak for women in his films come from?
3. What do you think of the first African-American actor to have a main role in a Wilder film? Wasn't it a bit of fresh air that his role had nothing to do with his ethnicity and it is never brought up?
I expect answers to these three questions in a 2 page paper in MLS style and please cite your sources.
A few weeks ago I was reading John Gregory Dunne's The Studio, a book that covers a year behind the scenes at Twentieth Century Fox. It's 1967, and two executives discuss the worries they've got about their new ribald comedy. They admit, "We're just worried about the specter of Kiss Me, Stupid." That's three years after Kiss Me Stupid had been released, and Billy Wilder's movie had, miraculously, made movie studios wary of smut. If you've seen the movie at all, it's not that surprising.
It's a sexual farce at its most base, as a pair of couples swap partners for a night, and find their relationship strengthened. They also get rich and famous out of the deal, going to show what a crock that must be.
Dean Martin plays a sexed up version of himself, or at least a version of himself that he was selling to audiences in the early 60's. The black and white photography here is a liability as well, as it gives off a vibe of oil and filth rather than desolation and order that Wilder was aiming for. Kim Novak's the only one who really avails herself from most of the proceedings, doing a deeper voiced Marilyn Monroe with a cold and a unhealthy need for genuine affection. Ray Walston and Martin are such an unappealing pair of foils that it's hard to watch, and Walston's Spooner is a painful cartoon in many ways that's hard to watch.
It doesn't help that the sexual politics are those icky 60's version, where swinging is sacrosanct with moralistic purity and beautiful women are considered interchangeable. The women in this picture, Zelda and Polly, get the worst of it, with Polly asserting at one point that, "A woman without a man is like a trailer without a car!" Thank God feminism happened, as it puts this movie and any random Elvis outing on about the same ground.
Wilder tries to liven up Spooner's one note jealousy by showing that it can be transferred. Spooner isn't so much concerned with the love of his wife, it turns out, but possessing her. He's a tiny little man who wants control and order and that's why the ending doesn't work for me: he doesn't learn from it.
That's the worst part of all, I think, is that no one really learns anything from the mess. Everyone gets what they want, and no one is smarter in the first frame than they were in the last.
That being said, uh, the score isn't bad. Ryan, I leave it to you: am I being cruel? Or is this, as Cameron Crowe asserts, actually an underestimated gem?
Wilder tried. I think that's the worst you can say about Irma La Douce, which is kind of like Amelie for the Mad Men generation. There's a definite seediness that radiates throughout the movie, as we watch a hapless sap of a police man go from naivete personified to full blown pimp. The film's attempts to morally justify this radiate with bad taste, and you get the feeling that Wilder may not have any idea where to pull back on the harness.
It's colorful-- I read one review that said it was a musical in every sense except that there are no songs-- and the emotions are big and goofy. There are some fantastic gags, and, once again, imagining anyone but Jack Lemmon as the poor schlub, is almost unthinkable; MacLaine, too, sells Irma's belief in the wonders of prostitution to a brilliant degree.
What it also feels like is that Wilder wanted the opportunity to go back and redo Love in the Afternoon. We even get the same sort of opening, babbling on about the romance of France, up to and including the suggestive street cleaning vehicle. There are other interesting reversals as well, since this one involves Lemmon's disguise that destroys his life rather than save it, like in Some Like it Hot. There's so many things Wilder is trying to upend it gets completely ludicrous after a while, which at least fits in with the film's tone.
Which, again, is both smutty and extremely silly. The film goes off the wheels so quietly its hard to notice, which is almost genius. Eventually the film's unreality folds in on itself, giving us one of the funniest endings I think Wilder ever managed to pull off. It's an extraordinarily well made movie, I just think its veneer of fiction overtakes it and robs it of any real emotion.
Ryan, that brings me to the big question for you: I know how much you love The Apartment. Did it cheer you up to see Lemmon and MacLaine conspicuously copulate this go around?
MacNamara (James Cagney) is a managing director for Coca Cola in West Berlin in 1961, just before the Wall is put up. When Scarlett (Pamela Tiffin), the daughter of his boss, comes to West Berlin, MacNamara has to look after her, but this turns out to be a difficult task. After MacNamara has found out that Scarlett is seeing an East German communist named Otto (Horst Buchholz), he goes to extreme lengths trying to conceal this from the girl's father in order to save his job
One, Two, Three is the best Mel Brooks movie that Mel Brooks didn't make. This is not an insult to this film or Billy Wilder because there are few people that I love more than Mel Brooks firing on all cylinders. One, Two, Three is a movie that doesn't stop from the beginning to the end thanks to the manic performance of James Cagney. This movie's pace makes Some Like It Hot look like a leisurely stroll.
Is the movie as funny as Some Like It Hot or some other Wilder comedies? Not really but the movie has given you 4 more jokes before you realize the first one wasn't funny so it isn't as noticeable. This is a film that fights a war of attrition with the audience because only 1 out of every 5 jokes are funny but there has to be over 100 lines/gags/jokes in the film that Wilder and Diamond threw at the audience to see what would stick. I enjoyed the film but I wouldn't put it near the top of Wilder's library but it definitely keeps your interest.
The first thing I want to ask you Danny is, do you think this movie and the themes of the Cold War was ahead of its time? There are stories that mention how popular this film was after the fall of the Berlin Wall in Germany, did Wilder make it 30 years too early?
Insurance statistician C.C. "Bud" Baxter (Jack Lemmon) advances his career by making his Manhattan apartment available to executives in his company for their extramarital affairs. His boss, Jeff D. Sheldrake (Fred MacMurray), finds out and promotes Bud in return for the exclusive use of the apartment for his own affair. When Sheldrake's girlfriend turns out to be Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), a pretty elevator operator Bud likes, he is heartbroken, but accepts the arrangement.
"You know, I used to live like Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked among eight million people. Then one day I saw a footprint in the sand and there you were... It's a wonderful thing, dinner for two."
There it is, my favorite line from my favorite movie. It is a line that I tell my wife all of the time because it sums up how I feel about her. I think it is one of the most romantic lines ever written and Jack Lemmon NAILS it! People who read this website regularly might know me as the guy who likes action films and explosions but the reality is I am a true softy at heart and I believe that this movie is the most romantic film I have ever seen.
Sure the movie is about affairs, suicide attempts and fractured people trying to stay afloat and that is the reason it is so romantic, because the love story can rise above all of this crap and make the audience root for Baxter and Kubelik.
Just last week we talked about how great Jack Lemmon was in the wonderful Some Like it Hot and if he was a 10 out of 10 in that film, here he is a 12 out of 10. In a career of great performances this is his best and the role that he was born to play. On top of that line I mentioned at the beginning there are so many wonderful Lemmon moments in this film that I could write a thousand words just describing them. He does the sad sack put upon guy so well here but is also brilliant when he is happy in his little apartment with Kubelik. There are a few characters in film that I would like to have a beer with more than C.C. Baxter and in The Apartment you have a character that is very evident that has been a inspiration for most of director Cameron Crowe's characters, none more than Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything.
There is tons more I want to go over in this film including the look, the cast, "being a man" and much more but before I totally take over this discussion, I want to hear you rave about this film.
When two Chicago musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Jack Lemmon), witness the the St. Valentine's Day massacre, they want to get out of town and get away from the gangster responsible, Spats Colombo (George Raft). They're desperate to get a gig out of town but the only job they know of is in an all-girl band heading to Florida. They show up at the train station as Josephine and Daphne, the replacement saxophone and bass players. They certainly enjoy being around the girls, especially Sugar Kane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe) who sings and plays the ukulele. Joe in particular sets out to woo her while Jerry/Daphne is wooed by a millionaire, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). Mayhem ensues as the two men try to keep their true identities hidden and Spats Colombo and his crew show up for a meeting with several other crime lords.
This is it. The return of Billy Wilder, first class filmmaker. After a decade of thinning himself out with (mostly) halfhearted Broadway adaptations, two poorly designed tributes to friends, and one pretty good courtroom flick, something has clicked and he's back.
I think part of that has to do with the jazz soundtrack that pulsates throughout the film; if his last decade of films have sometimes felt moribund, Some Like It pulsates with sex and thrills. Setting the picture during Prohibition is inspired, and the more playful musical numbers that reflected the thinly veiled naughtiness of the times puts quite a bit more heat under it.
The big draw for me this go around is the cinematography. This is Charles Lang's fourth and final collaboration with Wilder after the immaculate looking A Foreign Affair, Ace in the Hole and Sabrina, and just by saying those titles the connections become apparent. Shadows and blacks simply look so much more divine under his eye, and he gives those films and this a sense of richness that most of Wilder's 50's films have lacked. Compare the rather blase muted greys that filled Love in the Afternoon and the sharp edges and tempered darkness that outlines every one of the curves here; it's night and day.
Not that I'm saying that Wilder's directing isn't a big part of why the movie works. His ability to flout the Production Code gives him the chance to craft some truly memorable images and stagings. The first scene where we see Curtis and Lemmon in drag sells that simple gag perfectly. The multiple introductions we get to Monroe's Sugar Kane function as both being loaded with sexual desire but also serving as counterpoints to our hapless heroes. It's not so much as she's such a woman (which she is), but that they're so awful at it.
Watching it this time (the umpteenth time, mind you), I was trying to be a little more aware of how Monroe's character was treated. There's been plenty of romantic comedies over the years that function as a male revenge fantasy, where they play the woman for the fool and use that to win their heart. Where this one works is that we see Kane attempt to do the same thing back at Curtis. Both construct a series of lies to try and win the other's affection, with Curtis finally coming clean in the end because his lies are so much larger.
When we talked about The Seven Year Itch a while ago, you thought it was a dirty movie without any merit; Some Like It Hot reads like a maturation of that film's callow themes. Instead of one man with a rich fantasy life, we follow four, all of whom believe that pursuing one another in spite of each other's actual feelings will result in happiness. They play each other for suckers time and time again, and it's both hilarious and kind of sad. It's only when they remove their disguises and admit who they really are that they find some measure of happiness.
So, Ryan, did you think one of my first points of discussion about Some Like It Hot would involve how they're all terribly broken people? Or should I just have written, "Jack Lemmon. Period." and sent it to you?
Esteemed criminal lawyer Sir Wilfrid Robarts (Charles Laughton) has just returned to practice after suffering a heart attack and is supposed to be on a diet of bland civil suits. But the case of Leonard Vole (Tyrone Power), a charmer accused of murdering a rich middle-aged widow, proves irresistible --- particularly when Sir Wilfrid meets the accused's wife, the remarkable Christine Vole (Marlene Dietrich). Christine will appear as a witness: not the defense, but for the prosecution.
Witness for the Prosecution is about justice and obsolescence. Have I mentioned that before? It's also a surprisingly good time, mostly spurred on by actor Charles Laughton and his irrepressible grouchiness.
We'd talked about the remake a few months back, and that had left me worried. As much as I love Diana Rigg, as much as I adore Deborah Kerr, it was first and foremost a TV movie and as much as I love TV movies, it was still an average one at that.
Wilder's wheelhouse is a bit darker than that, and his macabre sense of humor works much better. The flashbacks here to Leonard Vole's earlier days as a soldier and as a wacky inventor do help sell him as a bit more innocent, as Tyrone Power wonderfully captures an American sort of 'gee-whiz'ery that expertly hides all his darker leanings.
I really want to touch on the scene in the bar in Berlin where Leonard meets Christine. I couldn't help but be struck by the thought that Marlene Dietrich, again a torch singer, is playing someone very close to her character of Erika Von Schluetow from A Foreign Affair. Sleazier cabaret and a less sleazy woman, I suppose, but this felt like Schluetow broken down and crushed. This makes her innately sympathetic, which helps a great deal as most of the film has her as an unsympathetic robot who seems to be playing her own vicious game.
Her mass assault at the hands of the soldiers is an excellent example of Wilder's cynicism, with the Americans drunk on the power of conquerors and attempting to return to old pastimes. Leonard's the same way, though he covers it up a bit better. He manipulates, cajoles, and smugly plans to ditch the woman who he knows will save his hide. The American ditching the German out of his own greed while the British, who walk around with the utmost pomposity, see their own sense of justice trampled upon. Not the most uplifting of stories.
I also said when we were discussing the TV movie that I didn't feel that the movie stood up, already knowing the twist. I have some thoughts on this now, but how do you feel about it, Ryan?