The Films of Billy Wilder Archives - Page 2 of 7 - Can't Stop the Movies
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Wilder – The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)

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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?

PrivateLifeofSherlockHolmes1Ryan COMMENTARY w/ RatingI 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?


Wilder: The Fortune Cookie (1966)

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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.

The Fortune Cookie 1966Ryan COMMENTARY w/ Rating
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.


Wilder: Kiss Me, Stupid (1963)

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Dino (Dean Martin), the charming and lecherous Las Vegas singer, stops for gas on his way to Hollywood in Climax, Nevada. The oily gas station attendant is Barney Millsap, a would-be lyricist who writes pop songs with Orville Spooner (Ray Walton), the local piano teacher. By disabling Dino's car, Barney contrives a scheme to have Dino sing one of their songs on an upcoming TV special. To entertain Dino, Barney contacts the village tart, Polly (Kim Novak), employing her to pretend to be Orville's wife, Zelda, for a night. She doesn't like Dino, but does love being Orville's surrogate wife. Dino goes to a bar, where he meets the real Zelda, and they spend the night together while Polly spends it with Orville.

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


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: Irma La Douce (1963)

Comedy about a Parisian policeman (Jack Lemmon) who becomes the lover (and unwilling pimp) of a carefree street-walker (Shirley Maclaine). After falling in love with her, the officer conspires to limit her occupation by taking on an alter-ego, "Lord X", (Jack Lemmon) to serve as her sole client. Adapted from a successful musical.

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


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?


Wilder: One, Two, Three (1961)

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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 1961 Ryan COMMENTARY w/ Rating
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?