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. 1948) 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

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Wednesday, March 4 at 2pm

STALAG 17

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1953) 121 min. DCP. With William Holden, Robert Strauss, Otto Preminger.

William Holden won an Oscar for his complex portrayal of the hero/anti-hero of Billy Wilder’s black comedy, “a singularly sophisticated movie from Paramount, where Wilder made a number of his trenchant assaults upon accepted values in society…. Stalag 17 was the very opposite of the familiar thesis established by wartime prison-camp movies, which constantly made the upbeat point that duress brings out the best in a man; here we were asked to realize that more likely it would have brought out the worst. Hardened by war, the GI played by William Holden makes a wry contrast to stereotyped Hollywood soldiers… [The film’s final twist] was no great surprise to those who caught the bitter essence of the movie.” – Gordon Gow, Hollywood in the Fifties

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Wednesday, March 18 at 2pm

LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1957) 130 min. 35MM. With Audrey Hepburn, Gary Cooper.

The first collaboration between Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond plays like a spiritual sequel to the pre-Code romantic comedies of Wilder’s mentor, Ernst Lubitsch. Maurice Chevalier returns to the American screen after a decade-long absence to play bedroom detective Claude Chavasse. When Chavasse’s daughter Ariane (Hepburn) intervenes to save an American playboy (Cooper) from the bullets of a cuckold’s gun, a grand romance is born. The age difference between Hepburn and Cooper is considerable, but the scenario never tips over into squick territory because the masterful screenplay continually emphasizes Ariane’s agency and wit, as well as her “certain quelque chose, as they say on the Left Bank” (Chicago Film Society Notes).

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Wednesday, March 25 at 2pm

ONE, TWO, THREE

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1961) 108 min. 35MM. With James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffen.

The trademark Billy Wilder one-liners fly fast and furious as spouted by James Cagney — playing a West Berlin-based Coca-Cola executive trying to crack the Communist market — in this breakneck satire of American corporate imperialism. Among the outlandish gags: the Stasi using the novelty tune “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini” as a torture device (BAMcinématek program notes). 

“At once hysterical and ironic, sophisticated and vulgar… One, Two, Three celebrates as it satirizes American cultural imperialism.” — J. Hoberman, The Village Voice

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Wednesday, April 8 at 2pm

BUDDY BUDDY

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1981) 98 min. With Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Paula Prentiss.

Wilder’s final film depicts a hitman who comes to a hotel to shoot an a witness out of his window – but is disturbed in his work by a guest next door, who is trying to commit suicide. As an IndieWire retrospective of the wise and witty director’s oeuvre puts it, “In theory, [Buddy Buddy] was a home run: Wilder had a script, a remake of a French hit, with longtime collaborator I.A.L. Diamond, who worked on many of the director’s best pictures, and it reunited with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, with whom he’d had much success.” Wilder, speculating on the film’s critical and commercial failure, later said that the film “was not the kind of comedy I had an affection for… Here is the problem. The audience laughs, and then they sort of resent it. Because it’s negativity. Dead bodies and such. If you hold up a mirror too closely to this kind of behavior, they don’t like it.”  

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Wednesday, April 15 at 2pm

THE EMPORER WALTZ

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1948) 106 min. With Bing Crosby, Joan Fontaine, Roland Culver.

This riff on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court stars Bing Crosby as a traveling phonograph salesman from Newark, New Jersey, who attempts to carve out a new market in Emperor Franz Joseph I’s Vienna. Shot immediately after the war and the dark desperation of The Lost Weekend, The Emperor Waltz sends up every cliché of Wilder’s Austrian childhood: “waltzes, Tyrolean hats, cream puffs,” he would later note, as well as quack Freudian analysis. Wilder always dismissed the film as a musical trifle, but Crosby gives a wonderful comic turn, and performs a fine rendition of his soon to-be major hit “The Kiss in Your Eyes” (Museum of Modern Art program notes).  

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Wednesday, April 22 at 2pm

THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES

Billy Wilder (U.S. 1970) 125 min. 35MM. With Robert Stevens, Colin Blakely, Genevieve Page, Christopher Lee. 

Opening with a lengthy boondoggle designed to establish Sherlock Holmes’ sexual proclivities and, in true Wilder fashion, leaving the question wide open, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes is riddled with false clues. Wilder and screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond play with a typically hyperbolic adventure involving twenty-four canaries, eight Trappist monks, six midgets, and guest appearances by Holmes’ own Machiavellian brother Mycroft and the queen of all Victorian heroines, Victoria herself. Here is a film that revels in its artifice, and in the bold theatrics under which all — Holmes, the helpless heroine, and perhaps even the ingenuous Watson — hide their private lives (Pacific Film Archive program notes).