Billy Wilder: Controversial Director & Screenwriter

Adored by Actors and Audiences Alike

We’re Ready For Our Close-Up, Mr DeMille…

William- Billy- Wilder was an Austrian-born American filmmaker (b.June 22, 1906 – d.March 27, 2002), lawyer turned journalist turned screenwriter in Germany who fled the rise of the Nazi Party to Paris where he began directing films, and landed in Hollywood where his diverse talents anchored his destiny as a film icon.

Such was the industry’s love and reverence for Wilder that giving the acceptance speech for the 1993 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Spanish filmmaker Fernando Trueba said: “I would like to believe in God in order to thank him. But I just believe in Billy Wilder… so, thank you Mr. Wilder.”

My Ten Favorite Wilder Movies

Wilder may have departed this terrestrial life in 2002, but he left our World some of the best movies to come out of Hollywood in the past century with titles such as my 10 favorites…

With 27 directorial credits and 84 screenplay credits to his name, Wilder continues to be regarded as one of the most brilliant and versatile filmmakers of the Hollywood Golden Age of cinema, who also gave us an impressive range of genre, from drama to comedy and everything in between. He was the first person to earn multiple Oscars for the same film many times over; e.g. The Lost Weekend (1945) & Some Like It Hot (1959) – Best Director & Best Screenplay – are just a couple.

Of Those, My Top Three Favorites Are…

#3 The Front Page (1974) One out of ten films Odd Couple (1968) Lemmon & Matthau made together. Here we have Jack Lemmon as reporter who loves his job and his fiance’, Hildy Johnson, his long patient fiance’ Peggy played by Susan Sarandon, and Walter Matthau as the ruthless, hardened reporter Walter Burns in a remake with a twist of the 1940 film His Girl Friday starring  Cary Grant as Walter, and Rosalind Russell as Hildy, directed by Howard Hawks. Laughed through the older version, but it couldn’t beat the wonderful cast, comedic performances and stronger anti-death penalty message of the newer one.

And…

#2 Sabrina (1954) The elegant classic set on a Rhode Island estate belonging to the Larrabees, about a girl who lives with her father their chauffeur in the quarters over the estate’s garage, her transition from infatuated teen to woman and her finding love where it was least expected. Starring Humphrey Bogart as industrial magnate Linus Larrabee, William Holden as his incorrigible playboy bother David Larrabee and Audrey Hepburn as Sabrina, the daughter of the Larrabee’s chauffeur Fairchild, played by John Williams.

Both Wilder’s Sabrina and Love in the Afternoon (1957) with Hepburn playing opposite lead Gary Cooper drew some criticism about how believable a romance between Hepburn and Bogart or Copper could be. The movies were studio cast swan songs for the fading romantic appeal of both men – I like Bogart’s work but never considered him as being sexy… Funny at times, yes, sexy, no.

The 1995 remake with Julia Ormond as Sabrina, Greg Kinnear as David, and Harrison Ford as Linus is far more stunning visually being in color and Ford was a more appealing leading man, but Ormond and Kinnear in no way could replace Hepburn and Holden… *Sigh*… I’ve watched this film at least a hundred times and have yet to tire of it – never will…

Drum Roll Please…

#1 Some Like It Hot (1959) About two struggling musicians in Chicago, Tony Curtis as saxophonist Joe/Josephine and Jack Lemmon as the bass playing Jerry/Daphne, that inadvertently witness the Valentine’s Day Massacre and to escape the mob they go on the lamb passing as women in an all girl band whose seductive singer Sugar is played by Marilyn Monroe. Her erratic behavior on set is legendary and has been talked about ever since, with much of it being spoken by Wilder himself– she would be dead three years later in 1962 from a drug overdose, but who still managed to make Sugar Kane Kowalczyk one of the most remembered in movie history.

Hands down the funniest movie, not to mention how controversial it was in its time! It was a gargantuan deal that the leading men had to be in drag as women. The film was condemned by the Catholic League of Decency (CLD) for being “seriously offensive to Christian and traditional standards of morality and decency,” something Curtis would once again experience in 1960 when Spartacus was also condemned by the CLD.

Wilder waited to deliver the most outrageously shocking line of this film until the final scene…

If you haven’t seen it – Watch it! If you have – Watch it AGAIN!

Until next time…

I’m Outta Here! ~ Zadie G

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