Cynical, witty, cerebral, urbane, blasphemous and ballsy--that was Billy Wilder at his best, and the best of Wilder is what New York's Film Forum will be providing for three glorious weeks, starting on June 30. The text below is courtesy of the Film Forum; for additional information about the Wilder retrospective and other Forum series, click here and visit the non-profit theater's official web site. To read Guy Flatley's 1976 interview with Wilder, click here.


3 Weeks! 22 Films! All 35mm prints!


Celebrating the Director's Centennial at Film Forum June 30 - July 20

“Essential Wilder,” a retrospective of the greatest work of writer/director Billy Wilder (1906-2002), in celebration of his centennial year, will run at Film Forum for three weeks, from Friday, June 30 through Thursday, July 20. The series kicks off Friday and Saturday, June 30 and July 1 with Wilder’s seminal — and supremely seedy — Double Indemnity (1944), the ne plus ultra of film noir starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson, adapted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from the James M. Cain novel. Pauline Kael called it “one of the high points of 40s films... every turn and twist is exactly calculated and achieves its effect with the simplest of means.”

“Essential Wilder” showcases all of the director’s must-sees, from early screenplays co-written with Charles Brackett (among them, Lubitsch’s Ninotchka and Hawks’s Ball of Fire) to his own mega-hits, cowritten with Brackett, I.A.L. Diamond and others: Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, Sabrina, A Foreign Affair, The Lost Weekend (winner of four Oscars: for Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and for Ray Milland’s performance as an alcoholic writer), and perhaps the director’s masterpiece and probably the best film about Hollywood, Sunset Blvd.

Among other highlights are the mile-a-minute machine-gun-fast One, Two, Three, a new 35mm print of P.O.W. camp comedy Stalag 17, the “slightly dirtier” European version of Kiss Me, Stupid, and a new 35mm print of the rarely screened Ace in the Hole — Wilder’s most venomous attack on American greed starring Kirk Douglas.

Born on June 22, 1906 in what is now Poland, Wilder got his start as a journalist in Vienna, then Berlin. He started writing screenplays in 1928, but left Germany when Hitler came to power in 1933. Emigrating to the U.S., he spent several years contributing on minor films until he got his first big break, collaborating with Brackett on Ernst Lubitsch’s screwball comedy Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, which was soon followed by the director’s classic Ninotchka. Thus began a successful screenwriting partnership: together, they wrote The Major and the Minor, Wilder’s first film as a solo director (playing on July 4th) and then did an additional seven films together as a director/producer team, starting with Five Graves to Cairo (showing Tuesday, July 18) and ending with Sunset Blvd.

After his partnership with Brackett dissolved, Wilder worked with various screenwriters adapting stage plays (including Sabrina, Witness for the Prosecution and The Seven Year Itch) and then teamed up with writer Diamond, a collaboration that continued through the late 70s. One of the great satirists in Hollywood, Billy Wilder had one of the most successful box-office track records in movie history garnering a total of 6 Oscars and 15 nominations. He died in 2002.

“Essential Wilder" has been programmed by Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum’s Director of Repertory Programming. For a complete list of films to be shown, see below.


(1944) “Memorandum: I killed Dietrichson. Me, Walter Neff, insurance salesman, 35 years old, unmarried, no visible scars. Until a while ago, that is . . . ” Fred MacMurray and icy blonde Barbara Stanwyck team up to wack her husband to the tune of “Tangerine,” despite snooping colleague Edward G. Robinson, in the ne plus ultra of film noir, adapted by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from the James M. Cain novel.June 25




(1959) “You’re a guy. Why should a guy want to marry a guy?” “Security!” Chicago, 1929, and jazz musicians Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis get a rare look at history in the making: only trouble is, it’s the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, and with kingpin George Raft barking “Get those guys!” to his goon squad, it’s time to don high heels, girdles and falsies to join an all-girl band. But how to keep that darned testosterone in check around sultry chantootsie Marilyn Monroe?




(1948) As a jeep rolls through the ruins of Berlin, the soundtrack offers “Isn’t it Romantic?” A black-marketeering army captain romances dowdy Congresswoman Jean Arthur while dallying with nightclub-singer-with-a-past Marlene Dietrich, in native Berliner Wilder’s uncompromising satire on the U.S. Occupation. James Agee found it “in rotten taste” — which is how most Wilder films over the next thirty years would be labeled.

(1941, HOWARD HAWKS) Wilder and co-writer Charles Brackett re-visit Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, with a twist: Barbara Stanwyck is a burlesque stripper who hides out in the home of eight unworldly professors — including supersquare Gary Cooper.

(1942) Career girl Ginger Rogers disguises herself as a 12-year-old to beat those hefty train fares, then runs into almost-too-helpful Major Ray Milland. Wilder’s Hollywood directorial debut is a prepubescent Some Like It Hot. With Robert Benchley. “Determinedly sassy wartime comedy.” – Pauline Kael.

(1945) “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.” Failed writer Ray Milland hits the sauce and bottom in Wilder’s first Best Picture Oscar-winner. Famous sequences include the bat and mouse hallucination and a desperate search for a drink on Yom Kippur (filmed on Third Ave. locations). So harrowing that some viewers needed a drink afterward.





(1957) Agatha Christie courtroom thriller starring Charles Laughton as a crusty barrister defending accused murderer Tyrone Power, who gets no help from wife Marlene Dietrich. With Laughton’s own wife Elsa Lanchester as his unwelcome nurse.







(1950) “I am big! It’s the pictures that got small!” Luck has run out for William Holden’s hack screenwriter Joe Gillis. (“The poor dope — he always wanted a pool. Well, in the end, he got himself a pool.”) But even from its depths, Gillis recounts his tormented affair as kept man to Gloria Swanson’s has-been silent star Norma Desmond. Perhaps Hollywood’s most scabrous look at itself, but at the same time classic Hollywood in every department.

(1955) “When it’s hot like this, you know what I do? I keep my undies in the icebox.” With the dog days already melting the asphalt, Tom Ewell packs the wife and kid off to Maine, while he holds the fort in sweltering NYC. But with the arrival of a new upstairs neighbor — Marilyn Monroe (!) — it’s time to scratch that itch.

(1964) When chronically horny nightclub singer Dean Martin is forced to spend the night at Ray Walston’s home in Climax, Nevada, the psychotically jealous Walston switches his pretty young wife with Kim Novak’s friendly neighborhood hooker Polly the Pistol. Condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency — at best a PG- 13 today. “‘Smarmy’ doesn’t do it justice.” – J. Hoberman, Village Voice.

(1961) When Berlin Coca-Cola rep James Cagney learns the boss’s daughter, airheaded Pamela Tiffin, wants to elope with fanatical Commie Oscar Piffl (Horst Buchholz), it’s time to go into overdrive. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s throwback to 30s pacing, played molto furioso and escalating into Cagney’s machine-gun-fast consumerist aria. “Begins at Mach One and gets somewhere near the speed of light by the time it finishes.” – The Movie Guide.





(1939, ERNST LUBITSCH) “Garbo laughs!” Bolshevik “special envoy” Greta Garbo keeps bumbling Paris emissaries Iranoff, Buljanoff and Kopalski sweating borscht — until she discovers the joie du chapeau with Count Melvyn Douglas. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. “Stalin won’t like it.” – New York Times.

(1939, MITCHELL LEISEN) American in Paris Claudette Colbert is so broke she agrees to be hired by aristocrat John Barrymore to dally with the gigolo who’s alienating the affections of wife Mary Astor. With Don Ameche. Script by Wilder and Brackett. “An American Rules of the Game.” – John Gillett.

(1953) William Holden (in an Oscar-winning role) as a cynical hustler suspected of being a German spy in a WWII prisoner-ofwar camp. With Otto Preminger as the commandant who puts on his boots to answer the phone.

(1970) A treasured Wilder project for over a decade. The first film to explore what Holmes & Watson (Robert Stephens & Colin Blakely) were really like, with cases involving Swan Lake, some missing midgets, Queen Victoria and the Loch Ness Monster.

(1951) In Wilder’s most venomous attack on American greed, based on a true story, ruthless reporter Kirk Douglas exploits a doomed man trapped in a cave-in. Jan Sterling on why she isn’t praying for her husband: “Kneeling bags my nylons.” Aka The Big Carnival.










(1960) Low, low, low-level exec Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) trades the key to his Upper West Side pad for the key to the executive washroom — then finds users have been boss Fred MacMurray and his own beloved elevator operator Shirley MacLaine. Wilder won an unprecedented three Oscars: for writing (with I.A.L. Diamond), directing, and producing the year’s Best Picture.

(1963) “This is a story of passion, bloodshed, desire, and death... everything, in fact, that makes life worth living.” Wilder’s biggest hit ever stars Shirley MacLaine as the eponymous Parisian streetwalker, with Jack Lemmon as a naïve gendarme who becomes her mac.

(1943) National stereotypes run riot as disguised Brit Franchot Tone and French maid Anne Baxter spy on Erich von Stroheim’s Rommel, in Wilder’s remake of the silent Hotel Imperial.

(1941, MITCHELL LEISEN) In a Sunset Boulevard-like flashback, Rumanian gigolo Charles Boyer cools his heels in a cheap Mexican hotel while waiting for his American visa, then marries naïve schoolteacher Olivia de Havilland to cut his waiting time. Scripted by Brakett and Wilder, who had waited for his own visa in a similar bordertown. With Paulette Goddard.

(1954) Awkward chauffeur’s daughter Audrey Hepburn returns from Paris to the Long Island mansion where she grew up, but now she’s très chic, attracting the attentions of playboy William Holden and his stuffed shirt brother Humphrey Bogart.




(1966) Brother-in-law-from-Hell/shyster lawyer Walter Matthau (in Oscar-winning role) sues an insurance company for a million bucks after a football star flattens cameraman Jack Lemmon. Wilder’s most bitingly cynical movie has been called “uncannily prophetic of Nixonian America.”