greatcalvero (greatcalvero) wrote in billy_wilder,

Three by Billy

I've seen three of Billy's movies in the past few months. We'll start with the most recent and work back.

The Emperor Waltz: Billy himself didn't care for this movie, he called it one of his failures. It's one of the movies in Conversations With Wilder that doesn't get much mention. Cameron Crowe tried to get him to speak about it more but Billy didn't like dwelling on those movies he didn't care for.

That said, there's a lot here to like. The story of an American record player salesman trying to get the Emperor to endorse his product, it's a funny movie. For a musical, the songs are sub-par, but there is some chemistry between Bing Crosby and Jean Arthur. It's not the towering passion of, say, Bogart and Bacall but it is there, just enough to keep the movie zipping along.

Bing Crosby has a lot of fun with this role. He's very good at comedy. The animals in this movie are actually funny. Jean Arthur seems a little miscast but does a good job overall.

There's some terrific work from the minor characters. The vetertinarian is great ("my colleague Sigmund Freud and I have a theory..."), the actor playing Arthur's father turns in some good work too. My favorite character in the piece is the Emperor himself. Sad, funny, wise, all at once, it's a great character.

The Fortune Cookie: Great stuff. Lemmon and Matheau, in ther first pairing for Wilder, I believe. The story of a cameraman who gets injured at a football game and his shyster lawyer of a brother-in-law who smells big bucks in the offing, this is a gem. Lemmon and Matheau make a great team as always, with some nice supporting work from the guy playing Boom Boom Jackson and two detectives out to poke holes in Lemmon's story.

The Spirit of St. Louis: Jimmy Stewart had a penchant for taking roles he was simply too old for. In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, he made us believe in his performance as a wet behind the ears young lawyer.

But we never buy that he's Lindbergh for a second. He's just too old. Nearly fifty when the film was made, he's never all that convincing as a 25 year old. It's not a bad performance; Stewart always was a terrific actor, it's just not convincing. Which is too bad, because Lindbergh is often the only one on screen during the entire runtime.

But the movie around is pretty good. The near crash over the ocean is perfect. Apparently, Steven Spielberg has the sequence memorized, score and all, and once performed it for Cameron Crowe during a conversation about Wilder. It's a great piece of direction. You know in your gut he'll be okay, but Wilder still makes you worry about him.

The scene between Lindbergh and the fly generated plenty of discussion. Chopped out of an earlier Wilder-written movie (Ball of Fire, I think), he put back in for this script. It works. Stewart's down-home delivery rises above the cheesiness of the scene.

All three movies are definitely worth a look. I'm always a little sad when I see a new Wilder. They don't make them like he did anymore and they never will. I've seen 16 of the 25 movies Billy directed. He remains a master.
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