Billy Wilder

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Scharphedin2
Joined: Fri May 19, 2006 7:37 am
Location: Denmark/Sweden

#1 Post by Scharphedin2 » Tue Apr 03, 2007 2:06 pm

Billy Wilder (1906-2002)

Image

I make movies, for amusement. That's
the difference between a bound book
and a thing to be continued in the
Saturday Evening Post. In other words,
you just do it for the moment. It is not
to be bound. There are only a few pictures
worthy of that, here and there, from other
people ... I just do not like to think in kind
of inspired language that we're not making
pictures, we are making cinema.


Filmography

Mauvaise graine (1934) Image Entertainment (R1)

The Major and the Minor (1942) Carlotta (R2 FR) - as double feature with Five Graves to Cairo / Suevia (R2 ES) / Universal (R2 UK) – as part of Ginger Rogers Collection only / Madman (R4 AU)

Five Graves to Cairo (1943) Carlotta (R2 FR) - as double feature with The Major and the Minor / Suevia (R2 ES) / Madman (R4 AU)

Double Indemnity (1944) Universal (R1) / Universal (R2 UK)

Death Mills (documentary short, 1945) view online

The Lost Weekend (1945) Universal (R1 & R2 FR)

The Emperor Waltz (1948) Universal (R1) – as double feature w. Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

A Foreign Affair (1948) Universal (R2 FR) / Universal (R2 UK) – as part of Marlene Dietrich 18 Movie Collection only

Sunset Boulevard (1950) Paramount (R1 & R2)

Ace in the Hole (1951) Criterion (tba)

Stalag 17 (1953) Paramount (R1 & R2)

Sabrina (1954) Paramount (R1 & R2)

The Seven Year Itch (1955) 20th Century Fox (R1 & R2)

The Spirit of St. Louis (1957) Warner Brothers (R1)

Love in the Afternoon (1957) Warner Brothers (R1)

Witness for the Prosecution (1957) MGM (R1* & R2)

Some Like It Hot (1959) MGM (R1*) / MGM (R2)

The Apartment (1960) MGM (R1* & R2)

One, Two, Three (1961) MGM (R1* & R2)

Irma la Douce (1963) MGM (R1* & R2)

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) MGM (R1* & R2)

The Fortune Cookie (1966) MGM (R1* & R2)

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) MGM (R1* & R2)

Avanti! (1972) MGM (R1* & R2)

The Front Page (1974) Universal (R1)

Fedora (1978) Suevia (R2 ES)

Buddy Buddy (1981)

* included in Billy Wilder DVD Collection (MGM)


Forum Discussions

Ace in the Hole (Criterion)

Billy Wilder all over the place

Criterion and Paramount

Double Indemnity

James Stewart Signature Collection

Some Like It Hot

Sunset Boulevard


Web Resources

Billy Wilder: About Film Noir - Robert Porfirio (Film Noir Reader 3, 1975)

Billy Wilder (Reel Classics)

Billy Wilder: An Austrian Legend - Hyde Flippo (The German-Hollywood Connection)

Billy Wilder: The Chiaroscuro Artist - Anna Dzenis (Senses of Cinema, 2002)

Billy Wilder's Rules of Good Filmmaking - Nihar Patel (NPR, 2006)

Billy Wilder - Richard Armstrong (Senses of Cinema, 2002)

Comedy and identity in Some Like It Hot - Daniel Lieberfeld AND Judith Sanders (Journal of Popular Film and Television, 1998)

Lady in the Dark - Richard Armstrong (The Film Journal)

A sequence from Avanti - Alain Masson (Australian Journal of Media & Culture, 1990)

Scapegoating, the Holocaust, and McCarthyism in Billy Wilder's Stalag 17 - Sander Lee (Senses of Cinema, 2000)


Books

Billy Wilder in Hollywood by Maurice Zolotow (Limelight, 1988)

Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe (Faber and Faber, 1999)

On Sunset Boulevard: the Life and Times of Billy Wilder by Ed Sikov (Hyperion, 1998)

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Jeff
Joined: Tue Nov 02, 2004 9:49 pm
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#2 Post by Jeff » Sat Sep 08, 2007 5:25 am

In the [url=http://www.criterionforum.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=138802#138802]Ace in the Hole[/url] thread, Magic Hate Ball wrote:Just finished watching [Ace in the Hole]. First Billy Wilder movie ever, and I hope the rest are just as good. A little bit scattered at times, but good. One of those really interesting movies I like like Grapes of Wrath or Citizen Kane, the kind that makes you drop everything to watch.
Then DrewReiber wrote:Not all of them are, no. I took a Billy Wilder class a few years ago and 'Ace in the Hole' was easily one of my favorites, so if you liked that one I'll recommend a few more. My other personal favorites were 'The Major and the Minor', 'Sunset Boulevard, 'Stalag 17', 'Witness for the Prosecution', 'The Apartment', and 'One, Two, Three'.

I would also recommend avoiding a number of his works, but I'm sure that will just draw ire from his bigger supporters on the board. As such, I'll just risk my life on one title and say that 'Spirit of St. Louis' is possibly one of the most hilariously moronic and contrived films I've seen in years. It's most redeeming quality is that James Stewart spends an uncomfortable amount of time talking to an animated insect.

If you see any of the ones I mentioned, please stop by and drop another review on the board. Thanks.
Calling out The Spirit of St. Louis won't draw any ire from me. Wilder's had his fair share of misfires (as any prolific director is bound to). He also has just about one of the most well-rounded, rewarding, and downright entertaining oeuvres of anyone to step behind the camera.

I'm jealous of Hate Ball's Wilder virginity. He has so many great films ahead. To Drew's fine recommendations (The Major and the Minor, Sunset Boulevard, Stalag 17, Witness for the Prosecution, The Apartment, and One, Two, Three -- all of which are excellent), I would add Double Indemnity, Some Like It Hot, Avanti!, and The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. And while they're all flawed, I find a lot to like about Five Graves to Cairo, The Lost Weekend, Fedora, The Fortune Cookie, Kiss Me Stupid, Irma La Douce, Sabrina, The Seven-Year Itch, and Love in the Afternoon too. The rest is a mixed bag even for us Wilder completists.

If you're just getting started, the absolute essentials (along with Ace in the Hole) are The Apartment, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, and Some Like It Hot.

Be sure you also check out some of Brackett and Wilder's screenplays for Lubitsch, Hawks, and Leisen. Ninotchka, Ball of Fire, and Midnight have Wilder's fingerprints all over them.

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souvenir
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#3 Post by souvenir » Sat Sep 08, 2007 10:15 am

I think you've named every movie Wilder directed in Hollywood except four Jeff! Of those, two of which I've not seen, I think A Foreign Affair is also worth mentioning. It's crippled a bit from a somewhat unknown lead actor (John Lund), but Dietrich and Jean Arthur are both good and those scenes of bombed-out Berlin are harrowing for a 1948 romantic comedy/drama.

I also have to defend The Spirit of St. Louis. Like Wilder's other pictures between Ace in the Hole and Some Like It Hot, it seems primarily designed to give the audience fairly light-hearted entertainment and little else. Any problems in the film are mostly inherent to the material. Making a 33 1/2 hour solo flight dramatic and interesting must have been a difficult task, but I think showing the literal construction of how the flight got off the ground, so to speak, is the film's greatest asset. It's a movie about aviation and the flight more than a Lindbergh biopic.

In that a sense, I think it's riveting and the recent DVD release makes the film look incredible. Stewart is too old (but who else could have done a better job at the time?) and, like most of Wilder's films, it runs a little longer than it needs to, but I find it far from a misfire.

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Jeff
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#4 Post by Jeff » Sat Sep 08, 2007 10:53 am

souvenir wrote:I think you've named every movie Wilder directed in Hollywood except four Jeff!
I looked -- you're right! I suppose I am the Wilder apologist that Drew was referring too. If you include Spirit of St. Louis (which is not one of my favorites), the list comes to five. I haven't seen Buddy, Buddy in years though, and I own The Front Page in spite of the fact that it's been done better (twice). The Emperor Waltz and A Foreign Affair are just disappointing in light of the rest of Wilder's body of work. Now I think we've covered just about everything except Mauvaise Graine (which is a different beast altogether).

There! That's everything. Oh, here's "Death Mills".

djali999
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#5 Post by djali999 » Sat Sep 08, 2007 10:58 pm

My mate and I recently watched One, Two Three and I just have to state how much I love, love, love that film. The script is perfect, Cagney is really astonishing and Wilder is really on top of his game here... keeping a 35 minute long scene of people running in and out of offices and shouting things at each other rolling is an astonishing feat by any standard.

Although my mate is at best bemused by it, I keep cracking up as the film goes on. At a certain point, watching these absurd characters you've been introduced to over the past hour really cooking and interacting and getting fed up is almost too funny to handle, and just when you think the film's gone too far, that it can't possibly get funnier or sillier, it continues to go way beyond that.

I was in Drew's class and this one caused us impossible to please film students to go bonkers - the whole class - it's so much funnier than you could possibly expect. I laughed 'till I was almost sick.

SkipMcCoy
Joined: Sun Sep 02, 2007 6:41 am

#6 Post by SkipMcCoy » Tue Sep 11, 2007 9:07 am

Has anyone seen the Spanish Region O release of FEDORA? The movie was almost impossible to track down for many years - hard to credit, given that it's a kind of flawed but fascinating gothic thematic sequel to Sunset Blvd. I managed to lay hands on the old Laserdisc a few years ago and did a DVD transfer from that, but I was wondering whether the quality of the new transfer made it worthwhile laying out for the import DVD. (No extras to speak of, which is a shame given how rich the material is.)

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Magic Hate Ball
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2007 6:15 pm
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#7 Post by Magic Hate Ball » Sat Oct 20, 2007 6:15 pm

Well, I've plodded (and by "plodded" I mean "aquired one by one from the library, with steadfast determination") through three more Wilder films: Sunset Boulevard, The Apartment, and The Fortune Cookie. I loved Sunset, I really liked Apartment, and I enjoyed Fortune Cookie. Ace In The Hole sticks somewhere in between the first two.

Also, imagine my surprise when The Apartment started and it was in 2.35:1 b/w. I've never actually seen that before, so it was a bit of a surprise. It seems underused, though, which is too bad, you can get a lot of interesting compositions with really wide black and white. Also, the more I think about The Apartment, the more I like it, the more I think about The Fortune Cookie, the less I like it, and the more I think about my trip to Hearst Castle yesterday the more frightening Sunset Boulevarde becomes.

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tryavna
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#8 Post by tryavna » Sat Oct 20, 2007 7:15 pm

Magic Hate Ball wrote:Also, imagine my surprise when The Apartment started and it was in 2.35:1 b/w. I've never actually seen that before, so it was a bit of a surprise. It seems underused, though, which is too bad, you can get a lot of interesting compositions with really wide black and white.
Not as rare as you might think. We recently had an interesting thread about just this topic, and I didn't realize just how common it seems to have been in the 1960s, though it would appear to have been more in use outside of Hollywood.
and the more I think about my trip to Hearst Castle yesterday the more frightening Sunset Boulevarde becomes
How fun! Now would be a good time for you to re-watch Citizen Kane, too....

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lacritfan
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#9 Post by lacritfan » Mon Jun 09, 2008 12:47 am

"Billy Wilder Speaks" on Turner Classic Movies - Wed, June 11, 6:45pm ET.

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domino harvey
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#10 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jun 30, 2008 6:27 pm

So I finished working my way through the MGM Billy Wilder set this past week, and I was left with a really muddled impression of Wilder's abilities. Some thoughts:

Clearly the Apartment is the best title here. In fact, I'd go so far as to say it's a perfect film. All the little traits that don't always work so well for Wilder in his later comedies work brilliantly and all the parts are wonderfully cast and performed-- something not always a given in Wilder's films. Irma la Douce was probably my next favorite title in the set, and if Lemmon (who otherwise is wonderful in the film) wasn't so completely obnoxious as Lord X, I might rank it even higher. Jacobi as Moustache stole the film. The delightful art decoration and color was top drawer, and the massive running time gave the film a lackadaisical pace that was quite inviting. Avanti! too features a similar pace, and though I'm not as ecstatic about the film, it's cute and has a certain charm.

Witness For the Prosecution was a crackerjack legal thriller hinged on Laughton's scenery-chewing. It was a competent, interesting film... but nothing I'd revisit. The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes was a curiosity that worked better when it stopped trying to be funny (Watson and Holmes as lovers? Eyerolling Emoticon Goes Here). I know it was a compromised film but I'm not sure it could have been successfully salvaged sans intervention. The actor who played Holmes was well cast.

Kiss Me, Stupid was surprisingly good, particularly Novak who usually does nothing for me. Dean Martin was predictably game at (brutally) skewering his image, though some of the supporting characters left much to be desired. The film does announce some of the jokes a little too much, but looks downright subtle next to the two worst films in the set: One, Two, Three and the Fortune Cookie. One, Two, Three is almost violently unfunny, which is a shame because Wilder shows a true capacity for a fast-paced comedy, but ties the whole thing down with jokes that aren't even remotely humorous and some questionable politics. I admired its construction but deplored what it constructed. However, compared to the Fortune Cookie, the Cagney film is a comedic masterpiece.

One of the worst films I've ever seen, the Fortune Cookie takes contempt for the audience to deplorable lows. Every move is telegraphed (it's excessive here, even for Wilder), no surprises, no interest, and even the cinematography is catatonic. The gags here move beyond unfunny and are delivered with no sense of timing-- One, Two, Three knew when to tell a joke, it just didn't know the right joke to tell. The Fortune Cookie doesn't know when to stop or when to start and assumes the audience is too stupid to not have its hand held. Every moment is announced and then inhumanely extended beyond belief. The entire final act's attempt at salvation is completely irrational and infuriating. I hated every minute of the film, and I rarely throw that word around.

I ended up selling the set (but picked up Irma la Douce, the Apartment, and Kiss Me, Stupid in the DD sale) before I could revisit Some Like It Hot (I saw it when I was a kid but barely remember it), but it's in my queue. I obviously need to see more Wilder films before I make any final judgments on his abilities (In addition to these titles, I've also seen the Big Carnival, Double Indemnity, and Sunset Blvd, plus several films he only scripted), but his talents seem very sporadic based on those I have seen.

Jesus what a long post amirite

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Highway 61
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#11 Post by Highway 61 » Mon Jun 30, 2008 8:19 pm

domino harvey wrote:One of the worst films I've ever seen, the Fortune Cookie takes contempt for the audience to deplorable lows. Every move is telegraphed (it's excessive here, even for Wilder), no surprises, no interest, and even the cinematography is catatonic. The gags here move beyond unfunny and are delivered with no sense of timing-- One, Two, Three knew when to tell a joke, it just didn't know the right joke to tell. The Fortune Cookie doesn't know when to stop or when to start and assumes the audience is too stupid to not have its hand held. Every moment is announced and then inhumanely extended beyond belief. The entire final act's attempt at salvation is completely irrational and infuriating. I hated every minute of the film, and I rarely throw that word around.
I saw this recently, and I hated it too. Boring with no laughs whatsoever. But I disagree that the cinematography was lacking. While not as strong as The Apartment, the B&W widescreen still impressed me, and if the opportunity to see it on the big screen came about, I would pay to see again. In regards to Wilder's talents, I think The Fortune Cookie shows that Wilder's visual interests grew while his writing got lazy and formulaic. Wilder himself seemed to agree on some level as he called The Fortune Cooking "the beginning of my downfall" in Cameron Crowe's Conversations book.

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domino harvey
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#12 Post by domino harvey » Mon Jun 30, 2008 9:01 pm

Compared to the visual B&W 'Scope feasts in the Apartment, One, Two, Three, and Kiss Me, Stupid, nothing in the Fortune Cookie seemed nearly as well-constructed. There were also many times that the heads kept getting cut off by the top of the frame, as though the cinematographer had framed for 1.85 and just closed it up afterwards. I know it's unlikely but there were several instances of it in the film and it became distracting.

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#13 Post by myrnaloyisdope » Tue Jul 01, 2008 3:44 am

I can't believe you didn't like One, Two, Three, I thought that was fantastic.

It works on as a satire on a socio-political level with all the cold war references, but I really enjoyed how it referenced back to Jimmy Cagney's older work, with a grapefruit reference, the yankee doodle clock, and even Cagney quoting Little Caesar.

Anyway I thought it was a shitload of fun, and I am surprised to read people who disagree.

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tojoed
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#14 Post by tojoed » Tue Jul 01, 2008 4:45 am

domino harvey wrote:One, Two, Three is almost violently unfunny

I could'nt agree with you more. Indeed, I was surprised that anyone here could possibly find anything funny or interesting in this film. This was the beginning of the end for Wilder, truly terrible. His version of The Front Page was a sort of return to form, but, as Jeff says, the two previous versions were better. Anyway, The Front Page is such a perfect play that it would be difficult to screw it up.

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bigP
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#15 Post by bigP » Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:33 pm

One, Two, Three proved to be Wilders most difficult film for me. Whilst I would lesson the use of "violently", the term "unfunny" definitely felt appropriate. But, at the same time, I felt his direction in this film was flawless, on par with, maybe not so much The Appartment, but perhaps with Witness for the Prosecution (my second favourite Wilder, thanks to Charles Laughton making me blow milk out my nose for the duration). Taking One, Two Three for what it is: A cold war inspired screwball, madcap comedy comprised of silly sight gags and awful one liners, for me it certainly failed to capture the heart that pumps humanist comedy through many of his greats, but, as a showcase of his talent for pacing, editing, invention (just look at how flawlessly captured the car chase scene is, cutting between back projection and live footage) and break-neck entertainment it certainly happily sits as high up as his classics.

It's definitely a tricky film in his collection as far as i'm concerned. I rate it very highly for it's direction and entertainment value, but feel it lacks the heart of his great work.

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swo17
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#16 Post by swo17 » Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:48 pm

myrnaloyisdope wrote:Anyway I thought [One, Two, Three] was a shitload of fun.
I'm with you on this film, and I'd like to see your description on a DVD cover. :wink:

I reserve all my Wilder hate for Avanti! and The Seven Year Itch--his adultery comedies, if you will. I have about as much contempt for those films as I do adoration for his best work (The Apartment, Some Like It Hot, etc.).

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souvenir
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#17 Post by souvenir » Tue Sep 02, 2008 12:52 pm

swo17 wrote:I reserve all my Wilder hate for Avanti! and The Seven Year Itch--his adultery comedies, if you will.
Kiss Me, Stupid is a better choice for that label. (Not to mention The Apartment) How could you hate Avanti!? Comments like that require some support.

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domino harvey
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#18 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:23 pm

souvenir wrote:
swo17 wrote:I reserve all my Wilder hate for Avanti! and The Seven Year Itch--his adultery comedies, if you will.
Kiss Me, Stupid is a better choice for that label. (Not to mention The Apartment)
I know Kiss Me, Stupid is pretty divisive but you're really suggesting he should hate the Apartment? :shock:

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swo17
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#19 Post by swo17 » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:27 pm

souvenir wrote:
swo17 wrote:I reserve all my Wilder hate for Avanti! and The Seven Year Itch--his adultery comedies, if you will.
Kiss Me, Stupid is a better choice for that label. (Not to mention The Apartment) How could you hate Avanti!? Comments like that require some support.
Fair enough. It's been too long since I've seen it to be too specific. With a comedy, is it enough to just say that I didn't find it funny? As I recall, I also had a hard time swallowing the all-too-convenient ending, not to mention the idea of rooting on Jack Lemmon to cheat on his wife. I love other films that deal with adulterous attraction (In the Mood for Love, Jules and Jim, Being John Malkovich) but Avanti! to me took a really sour approach to this.

I'm sorry for not having more of a defense than this--perhaps I should be more hesitant to use the "H" word without being more prepared to back it up. Though I will say that I dreaded the whole film throughout, which is rare for me with a Wilder film.

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souvenir
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#20 Post by souvenir » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:29 pm

domino harvey wrote:
souvenir wrote:
swo17 wrote: I reserve all my Wilder hate for Avanti! and The Seven Year Itch--his adultery comedies, if you will.
Kiss Me, Stupid is a better choice for that label. (Not to mention The Apartment)
I know Kiss Me, Stupid is pretty divisive but you're really suggesting he should hate the Apartment?
No, I meant the adultery comedy label better applies to Kiss Me, Stupid and The Apartment than Avanti!.

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domino harvey
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#21 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:33 pm

The basic plot of Avanti! is Jack Lemmon cheats on his wife. I'm not judging the film morally but it seems silly to exclude it from such a list when it clearly belongs there

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justeleblanc
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#22 Post by justeleblanc » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:39 pm

domino harvey wrote:The basic plot of Avanti! is Jack Lemmon cheats on his wife. I'm not judging the film morally but it seems silly to exclude it from such a list when it clearly belongs there
Aren't all of his films about adultery?

Anyway, One Two Three is hysterical and keeps getting funnier every time I see it. The one catch for me is toward the end there is too much dead time after a funny one liner, as if they worked it time for audience laughter. And Kiss Me Stupid is terrific as well. If any two should be written off it's The Fortune Cookie and Some Like it Hot.

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swo17
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#23 Post by swo17 » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:39 pm

souvenir wrote:No, I meant the adultery comedy label better applies to Kiss Me, Stupid and The Apartment than Avanti!.
I haven't seen Kiss Me, Stupid yet, and I've never thought of The Apartment that way. I guess you are right about that, but my point wasn't that I don't like it when Wilder makes a comedy about adultery. Rather, I don't like the two films of his that I mentioned, and as I was writing that sentence, I realized that they could both be described that way.

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domino harvey
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#24 Post by domino harvey » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:43 pm

I recently saw the Wilder-scripted Ninotchka and it does what One Two Three tries to do with regards to satirizing communism, but does it without the brazen, obvious, and exhausting negativity of the later film that it's hard to believe the same man had a hand in both.

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souvenir
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#25 Post by souvenir » Tue Sep 02, 2008 1:56 pm

domino harvey wrote:I recently saw the Wilder-scripted Ninotchka and it does what One Two Three tries to do with regards to satirizing communism, but does it without the brazen, obvious, and exhausting negativity of the later film that it's hard to believe the same man had a hand in both.
Yeah, it does it without the humor too though. Blah blah negativity. You're letting your ventricles show. I don't find any of Wilder's films to be overwhelmingly negative so much as accurately caustic. Wilder's charm is his misanthropy with a smile. He takes the audience in for a good time and stabs them while they're laughing. Ninotchka is a Lubitsch film and for all of Wilder's starry-eyed admiration of his idol, the two men saw the world much differently.

Also, I don't consider the basic plot of Avanti! to be one of adultery. Kiss Me, Stupid and The Seven Year Itch, but not Avanti!. It's more tangential as a preferred Wilder way of exploring the character.

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