Billy Wilder movies gave us biting humor, bitter irony, daffy comedy and the darkest film noir. Born in a part of the Austrian Empire that is now Hungary, Wilder was a writer-director who fled the Nazis to become one of Hollywood’s most celebrated directors. He has more than 50 movies to his credit, many undisputed classics among them. Known for his witty dialog, tight plotting and beautifully structured character development, his films stand the test of time.
The ultimate screwball comedy, with Marilyn Monroe at her luscious "dumb blonde" best, Jack Lemmon a delight in drag and Tony Curtis doing a dead-on Cary Grant impression. The boys are on the lam from the mob after witnessing the St. Valentines Day massacre, disguised as ladies in an all-girl orchestra. Funny, fast-paced and silly. You‘ll never forget Jack Lemmon's "Daphne" doing the tango with a rose in her teeth. Some Like It Hot tops the list of the American Film Institute’s 100 best American comedies.
Perhaps the greatest film noir of all time, with Fred MacMurray cast against type as a weak-willed insurance investigator. He falls for sultry femme fatale Barbara Stanwyck as she takes out a "double indemnity" policy on her soon-to-be-late husband. Drawn together by lust, greed and mutual corruption, these two are an accident waiting to happen, and you just can’t look away. With Edward G. Robinson as Fred's only friend, an insurance man with integrity, not E.G.'s more usual gangster role.
An acid take on the shallow self-involvement and grand delusions of Hollywood, Sunset Boulevard stars faded silent film goddess Gloria Swanson as faded silent film goddess Norma Desmond. She's preparing for a comeback that will never arrive and going fabulously insane in her gothic Hollywood mansion. William Holden stars as her doomed gigolo, setting just the right tone as the narrator. He starts the movie face-down dead, eyes open in the decrepit swimming pool. Seamy, sordid and delicious.
An offbeat love story with Jack Lemmon as the office nebbish who loans out his bachelor pad to the higher-ups in the corporate food chain, only to find his married boss using it with Shirley MacLaine, the elevator operator poor Jack has his heart set on. The Apartment is a perfect indictment of the sexism, capitalism and hollow corporate values of its day - cynical, tragic, and heart-breaking one moment, funny and uplifting the next. With Fred MacMurray as the oily boss and "My Favorite Martian" Ray Walston in a terrific supporting role.
Set in a WWII prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, Stalag 17 served as the inspiration for the hit TV comedy "Hogan’s Heroes", but the movie is far darker. A suspenseful drama with comic touches, it stars William Holden as a POW who somehow seems to work the system for extra food and perks, and who comes under suspicion as a possible snitch. A watchable ensemble cast fills the barracks in this taut, tragic drama, with director Otto Preminger in an over-the-top performance as the cruel camp commandant.
The movie that gave us the iconic image of Marilyn Monroe in her white halter dress, her skirt blown skyward by a passing train as she stands on the subway grate. Businessman Tom Ewell’s wife and son are away for the hot new York summer at a Maine resort, leaving him alone with his new upstairs renter - Monroe - and the "seven-year itch" to stray. He’s a besotted schmuck who may be imagining the whole thing, and she’s a delightful, effervescent ditz who keeps her undies in the fridge and dips potato chips in the champagne. Frothy, sophisticated, a little dated, and fun.
A grim and melodramatic exploration of alcoholism, with Ray Milland as a failed writer. The first movie to take on alcoholism as a serious social problem, it was shocking for its time, and remains stark and disturbing. We simultaneously feel pity for the writer’s helpless, scheming addiction, and disgust at his weakness. Based on a best-seller, The Lost Weekend has a strong supporting cast and stark black and white cinematography. It’s flawed only by its pasted-on “happy ending” hinting at rehabilitation, and its toned-down subtext of the writer's bisexuality (made much plainer in the book).
Another pairing of Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine. This time she’s Irma la Douce, the prostitute with a heart of gold on the streets of Paris, and he’s the ex-cop who tries to keep her off the streets by paying for her time -- all the time. Lemmon is woebegone, MacLaine matter of fact in this farce about love and jealously based on a hit stage musical. It’s a bit overlong and a touch risqué, even today, but still charming.
A courtroom drama and whodunit based on an Agatha Christie story, Witness for the Prosecution is lifted by tremendous performances by Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton. She’s the wife of an accused murderer and he’s the celebrated barrister defending him in a story with plenty of plot twists and surprises. Light fare for Wilder, with a gimmicky plea at the beginning begging the audience not to reveal the surprise ending, it’s an entertaining if slightly stagy romp for two spectacular talents.
10. 'Sabrina' - 1954
A light romantic comedy with Humphrey Bogart as the straight-laced New York businessman and William Holden as his much-married playboy brother, competing for the affections of the chauffeur’s daughter Sabrina -- Audrey Hepburn, all grown up and returned from a Paris cooking school. Some find Bogart a little too old for the role, but it works in a movie made when all three stars were at the height of their fame, and under Wilder’s splendid direction. Elegant and sweet-natured.