One Movie Masterpiece After Another
I want to thank three persons,” said Michel Hazanavicius, accepting the 2012 Best Picture Oscar for “The Artist.” “I want to thank Billy Wilder, I want to thank Billy Wilder and I want to thank Billy Wilder.” He wasn’t the first director to namecheck Wilder in an acceptance speech. In 1994, Fernando Trueba, accepting the Foreign Language Film Oscar for “Belle Epoque” quipped, “I would like to believe in God in order to thank him. But I just believe in Billy Wilder… so, thank you Mr. Wilder.” Wilder reportedly called the next day “Fernando? It’s God.”
Billy Wilder is an undisputed master of American comedy, taking situation comedy to the edge of the absurd in Some Like it Hot (1959). But he also made pessimistic melodramas such as Sunset Boulevard (1950), in which Gloria Swanson gives a moving performance as a fallen star, and a few fine examples of film noir, such as Double Indemnity (1944) and Witness for the Prosecution (1957). Wilder worked with the greatest stars and his filmography is studded with classic scenes, including Marilyn Monroe playing the banjo in Some Like it Hot or holding her billowing skirt over the subway outlet in The Seven Year Itch (1955), Jack Lemmon draining spaghetti with a tennis racket in The Apartment (1960) and Shirley MacLaine as a Parisian streetwalker in Irma la Douce (1963). His humour is often incisive and his vision of the world somewhat cynical, but all his characters experience a moment of truth and, for this reason, Billy Wilder is primarily a great moralist.