Wilder and Wilder: The Films of Billy Wilder

Wednesday, January 15 at 2pm

IRMA LA DOUCE

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1963) 147 min. 35MM. With Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi.

In this endlessly endearing staple by the scathingly funny and whipsmart screenwriter/ director Billy Wilder (one of Hollywood’s all-time greatest), gendarme Jack Lemmon falls for hooker Shirley MacLaine and eventually disguises himself as a wealthy aristocrat in a bid to become her sole client. Replete with colorful costumes and delectable Hollywood renderings of Parisian streets, the lavish production design provides the perfect stage for this frothy story (adapted from Quad Cinema program notes).

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Wednesday, January 22 at 2pm

THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1942) 101 min. 35MM. With Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Robert Benchley.

Wilder’s first film as a director brilliantly posits Rogers as a disillusioned New York career woman “who masquerades as a pigtailed l2-year-old innocent in order to avoid paying full adult fare on the train home to Iowa. Very funny stuff as she meets [Ray] Milland’s protective major, and finds ambiguous refuge in his sleeping compartment… she is forced to accompany him to the military academy where he instructs, and becomes mascot to a horde of hopefully lecherous cadets. Pretty irresistible… with Rogers doing a beautiful job of dovetailing sexual provocation and demure innocence.” – Time Out (London)

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Wednesday, January 29 at 2pm

SOME LIKE IT HOT

Billy Wilder (U.S 1959) 120 min. DCP.  With Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon.

If cleavage comedy aroused the fifties, Some Like It Hot brings on the falsies. Wilder cross-dresses his comedy, freely mixing slapstick antics with screwball frantic, and a crime caper dragging down a musical farce. On the lam from the Chicago mob, jazz musicians Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon get gigs in an all-gal group, featuring the singer Sugar Kane (Monroe), and head, incognito, for Florida. Tony and Jack, now Josephine and Daphne, find themselves surrounded by jazzy women, but dressed in kind. The gender gags are pitchperfect as the band heads south, playing along with this most modern of arrangements. Ranked #1 by the American Film Institute’s 100 Years… 100 Laughs and rated “C” (Condemned) by the Catholic Legion of Decency (Steve Seid, Pacific Film Archive).

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Wednesday, February 5 at 2pm

NINOTCHKA

Ernst Lubitsch (U.S. 1939) 110 min. 35MM. With Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Sig Rumann.

Ninotchka, a no-nonsense Soviet envoy (Garbo), is sent to check on three adorable Communists who are supposed to be selling off jewels confiscated from the ex-Grand Duchess of Russia. To Garbo’s disgust, they have been taken in by the delightful ways of Parisian capitalism by way of Melvyn Douglas, who attempts to buy back the jewels but eventually becomes more interested in seducing Ninotchka. In many ways the ultimate Lubitsch picture… Ninotchka was [also] the “first film with any airiness at all to discover that Communists are people and may be treated as such in a story.” Billy Wilder co-wrote the screenplay, which is filled with incredibly human one-liners. And Garbo in her first comic role is nothing less than perfect (adapted from Chicago Film Society program notes).

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Wednesday, February 12 at 2pm

THE LOST WEEKEND

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1945) 101 min. 35MM. With Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Philip Terry.

An uncompromising look at the devastating effects of alcoholism, this landmark social-problem film seamlessly combines documentary realism with expressionistic flourishes to immerse viewers in the harrowing experiences of an aspiring New York writer willing to do almost anything for a drink. Made despite opposition from the studio, the Hays Office, and the liquor industry, The Lost Weekend was ranked as one of the best films of the decade, winning Academy Awards for Best Picture, Direction, Screenplay and Actor (Milland), as well as sharing the top prize at the 1946 Cannes Film Festival. Inducted into the National Film Registry in 2011 (Library of Congress program notes).

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Wednesday, February 19 at 2pm

A FOREIGN AFFAIR

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1938) 116 min. 35MM. With Marlene Dietrich, Jean Arthur, John Lund. 

Against the backdrop of a ruined postwar Berlin, another conflict is just heating up, as Marlene Dietrich’s cabaret singer with rumored Nazi ties vies with Jean Arthur’s Iowa congresswoman-on-a-fact-finding-mission for the affection of American officer John Lund. Wilder’s penultimate collaboration with co-writer Charles Brackett is a black comic delight full of crackling, piquant dialogue, and Dietrich’s knowing slow-burn has never been better (Metrograph program notes).

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Wednesday, February 26 at 2pm

ACE IN THE HOLE

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1951) 111 min. 35MM. With Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur.

A ruthless, down-on-his-luck reporter (Douglas), relegated to a dead-end job at a small-town paper, finds himself at the center of a sensational story and manipulates the people involved to prolong his moment in the sun (Brattle Theater program notes). Playing with Death Mills (1945), Wilder’s compilation of documentary footage filmed after the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen extermination camp.

“[Ace in the Hole is] a lurid pulp indictment of exploitation, opportunism, doctored intelligence, torture for profit, insatiable greed, and shady journalism.” – Nathan Lee, Village Voice