In honor of what would have been Billy Wilder’s 100th birthday, NYC’s Film Forum is currently hosting a retrospective titled “Essential Wilder.” Running until July 20th, the lineup features films co-written by Wilder either for himself or for another director (Howard Hawks, Mitchell Liesen and Wilder’s idol Ernst Lubistch, to name three). Wilder’s classics are represented, as well as films deemed by most to be “Lesser Wilder,” though a die-hard fan may take issue with that label: Wilder had a few misfires in his career, but only one of them is in this retrospective.
Because the series is called “Essential Wilder,” there are no screenings of Wilder’s horrendous Buddy, Buddy, nor are there any sightings of Jack Lemmon’s flat, naked ass from the otherwise mildly diverting truffle, Avanti. Film Forum also won’t be wearing Wilder’s Fedora nor reading The Front Page. In their places are movies about adulterers, perverts, lawyers, criminals, liars, wimps, snitches, drunks, and any combination from that list. Also present are numerous shots of the old New York, so many that Wilder should be mentioned in the same group of NYC directors as Lumet, Scorsese and Lee.
This week finds some choice Wilder works, and that aforementioned misfire. Thursday brings Witness for the Prosecution, a fun Agatha Christie mystery headed by Mr. and Mrs. Charles Laughton (both Oscar nominated), and made memorable by Marlene Dietrich’s supporting turn. Friday unspools Sunset Blvd., Wilder’s masterpiece and my second favorite movie of all time. It deserves a post all to itself at some future date.