Billy Wilder Films


Billy Wilder Filmography

“When I came here, Sunset Boulevard was in the country. It was not even asphalted when I came here in 1934.” – Billy Wilder, quoted in Conversations with Wilder

Billy Wilder in Berlin

Billy Wilder (far left) directs One, Two, Three at the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin only weeks before the Berlin Wall was constructed.

Billy Wilder began his long film career in Germany. After six years as a successful screenwriter in Berlin, the rise of the Nazis forced the Austrian-born Jew to find other alternatives. After a short stint in France, Wilder made his way to Hollywood, where he arrived in 1934 as a “starving artist” with only rudimentary English skills. He quickly learned both the language and the culture of his new homeland. He was destined become one of the most celebrated film directors of American cinema.

BILLY WILDER’S FILMS IN GERMANY
As writer/co-writer in Germany:

Teufelsreporter | Hell of a Reporter (1929, silent)
Directed by Ernst Laemmle (who died in Hollywood in 1950), this film reflects Wilder’s own experiences as a newspaper reporter. In a 1979 interview, Wilder said of this film: “Oh, it was bullshit, absolute bullshit. The leading man was an old Hungarian-American cowboy actor by the name of Eddie Polo… Then after that, the first picture I really count as having done was Menschen am Sonntag.”[1]

Menschen am Sonntag | People on Sunday (1929, silent)
Made by several filmmakers who would all eventually end up in Hollywood [2], this semi-documentary tells the story of people on a Sunday in Berlin, Germany. Today it offers a fascinating glimpse of life in Berlin in the late 1920s. Wilder: “It was… kind of cinéma vérité, for a good reason: We didn’t have the money to have actors, so we had to take the people vérité. And we had to shoot in real backgrounds.”[1]
DVD > Buy Menschen am Sonntag (NOTE: This Region 2 DVD will not play on a normal US DVD player.)
DVD > Buy Menschen am Sonntag (PAL DVD from Amazon.de)

Scenes from Menschen am Sonntag (3:28)

Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht | A Man Seeks His Murderer (1931)
Directed by Robert Siodmak, who later also went to Hollywood, this film stars Heinz Rühmann.
DVD > Buy Der Mann, der seinen Mörder sucht (PAL DVD from Amazon.de)

Emil und die Detektive | Emil and the Detectives (1931)
Adapted from the Erich Kästner novel of the same name; remade by Disney in 1964 and in Germany in 2001.

Ein blonder Traum | A Blonde’s Dream (1932)
A musical romantic comedy directed by Paul Martin. Starring Lilian Harvey as Jou-Jou.

Was Frauen träumen | What Women Dream (1933)
The Austrian Peter Lorre had a part in this romantic comedy. Later remade in the US as One Exciting Adventure (1934), directed by Ernest L. Frank. Wilder’s last film in Germany. When he saw that his on-screen credits had vanished, he decided it was time to leave the country.

Footnotes:
1. In Billy Wilder: Interviews (Conversations With Filmmakers Series), interview by Joseph McBride and Todd McCarthy (1979), Univ. Press of Mississippi, 2001.
2. Besides Wilder, Eugen Schüfftan (camera), Robert Siodmak (co-director), Edgar Ulmer (co-director) and Fred Zinnemann (camera) worked on Menschen am Sonntag. Ulmer and Schüfftan, the only pros in the group, had both earlier worked on Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.

BILLY WILDER’S HOLLYWOOD FILMS

As writer/co-writer in the USA:

LA stars Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

Music in the Air (1934)
Directed by fellow Austrian Joe May, this musical comedy stars Gloria Swanson. Adapted from the stage hit by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II. Features the songs “I’ve Told Every Little Star” and “The Song is You.”

Champagne Waltz (1937)
Former band leader Fred MacMurry and Jack Oakie star in this musical comedy directed by A. Edward Sutherland.

Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife (1938)
Wilder got to work with the German-born director Ernst Lubitsch for the first time in this romantic comedy that stars Gary Cooper, Claudette Colbert and David Niven. Lubitsch became one of Wilder’s idols.

Midnight (1939)
Wilder co-wrote the script with Charles Brackett. Features Claudette Colbert, Don Ameche, John Barrymore, Mary Astor and Francis Lederer. Remade in 1945 by the same director (Mitchell Leisen) as a weak musical comedy called Masquerade in Mexico with Dorothy Lamour.
DVD > Buy Midnight (Amazon.com)

Ninotchka (1939)
A classic Ernst Lubitsch comedy with Greta Garbo and Melvyn Douglas. A stern Russian woman (Garbo) sent to Paris on official business finds herself attracted to a man (Douglas) who represents everything she is supposed to detest. Another Wilder/Brackett project.
DVD > Buy Ninotchka (Amazon.com)

Arise, My Love (1940)
Mitchell Leisen directed this “dramedy” starring Claudette Colbert, Ray Milland and Dennis O’Keefe. Wilder co-wrote the script with Charles Brackett.

Hold Back the Dawn (1941)
Mitchell Leisen directs. The script (co-written with Brackett) reflects Wilder’s own experience as an emigrant in limbo in Mexicali. With Charles Boyer, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard. A Romanian gigolo (Boyer) marries a naive American schoolteacher (de Havilland) in Mexico so he can legally enter the United States. Complications arise when he discovers he is falling in love with her.

Ball of Fire (1941)
Howard Hawks directed this screwball comedy starring Gary Cooper, Barbara Stanwyck, Oscar Homolka and S.Z. Sakall. Another Wilder/Brackett project. Remade by the same director as A Song is Born in 1948 with Danny Kaye and Virginia Mayo.
DVD > Buy Ball of Fire (Amazon.com)

As director in the USA:

The Major and the Minor (1942)
In his directorial debut, Wilder cast Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers in this comedy about a woman (Rogers) who disguises herself as a child to save on train fare and is taken under the wings of an army man (Milland) who doesn’t notice the ruse. Remade as You’re Never Too Young in 1955.

Five Graves to Cairo (1943)
This World War II Rommel saga, starring Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff and Erich von Stroheim (as Rommel), is actually the third remake of Hotel Imperial (1927, 1939).

DVD Double Indemnity

One of Billy Wilder’s best films noir.
Buy the DVD

Double Indemnity (1944)
Not only a great film noir (co-written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler), but one of Wilder’s best films ever. Insurance agent Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) meets the seductive wife of one of his clients, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Soon the two are plotting a murder. Edward G. Robinson plays Neff’s boss and friend, Barton Keyes.
DVD > Buy Double Indemnity

Death Mills (documentary, Die Todesmühlen, 1945)
This 22-minute documentary, edited by Wilder and produced by the U.S. Army Signal Corps for the War Department, was the first to show the horrors the Allies found when they liberated the Nazi extermination camps. It also shows German civilians being forced to witness the aftermath of Hitler’s death camps. The soundtrack was originally in German for “re-education” screenings in occupied Germany and Austria. Hanus Burger was the writer and co-editor of the German version.
Video > Death Mills (Part 1, 11-min., English, YouTube)
Video > Death Mills (Part 2, 11-min., English, YouTube)

The Lost Weekend (1945)
Starring Ray Milland and Jane Wyman, this dark tale of alcoholism won four Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Milland) and Best Screenplay (Wilder and Charles Brackett).

The Emperor Waltz (1948)
The screenplay by Wilder and Charles Brackett was inspired by a real-life incident involving Franz Joseph I of Austria. Wilder’s first color picture stars Bing Crosby and Joan Fontaine, and was filmed in part in Canada’s Jasper National Park. Wilder later admitted it was not one of his best.

A Foreign Affair (1948)
Wilder’s friend Marlene Dietrich has a key role in this romantic comedy set in post-war Germany. Jean Arthur (as Congresswoman Phoebe Frost) and John Lund (as an army officer) have the leading roles. Filmed in part on location in Germany. One of Wilder’s forgotten gems.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)
Many people in Hollywood resented this film noir about Hollywood, mostly because it came too close to the truth. Nevertheless, the picture won an Academy Award for its screenplay by Wilder and Brackett. William Holden plays the unsuccessful screenwriter Joe Gillis. Gloria Swanson is Norma Desmond, a faded silent movie star. (“All right Mr. De Mille, I’m ready for my close-up.”) Former director Erich von Stroheim plays Norma’s butler Max. Remade as a Broadway musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber in 1993.
DVD > Buy Sunset Boulevard (Centennial Collection)
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder DVD Collection (Special Collector’s Collection: Sabrina, Stalag 17, Sunset Boulevard)

Ace in the Hole (1951, aka The Big Carnival)
Kirk Douglas plays Chuck Tatum, a cynical, disgraced reporter who will stop at nothing to try to regain his job with a major New York newspaper. Some of the cynicism surely comes from former newspaperman Wilder. This is Wilder’s first project as writer, producer, and director – and his first without long-time writing partner Charles Brackett. Filmed on a huge outdoor set built near Gallup, New Mexico.
DVD > Buy Ace in the Hole (Criterion Collection)

Stalag 17 (1953)
Produced, directed and co-written by Wilder, this dark comedy is based on a play written by two former POWs. Starring William Holden (who won a Best Actor Oscar) and Peter Graves, the film focuses on a group of World War II American airmen held in a German prisoner-of-war camp and what happens when they discover a traitor in their midst. The Austrian actor/director Otto Preminger plays the camp’s ruthless commandant.
DVD > Buy Stalag 17 (Special Collector’s Edition)
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder DVD Collection (Special Collector’s Collection: Sabrina, Stalag 17, Sunset Boulevard)

Sabrina (1954)
Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn (as Sabrina) and William Holden star in this romantic comedy (remade in 1995 with Harrison Ford, Julia Ormond and Greg Kinnear). Bogart was successfully cast against type in the role of Linus Larrabee, originally offered to Cary Grant.
DVD > Buy Sabrina (The Centennial Collection)
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder DVD Collection (Special Collector’s Collection: Sabrina, Stalag 17, Sunset Boulevard)

The Seven Year Itch (1955)
A classic Wilder comedy with Marilyn Monroe and Tom Ewell. Ewell reprises his Broadway role in the play from which the film is adapted. The film may be best remembered for its iconic scene of Monroe’s white dress billowing above a subway grate.
DVD > Buy The Seven Year Itch

The Spirit of St. Louis (1957)
James Stewart stars as the legendary Charles Lindbergh in this biopic. The film focuses on Linbergh’s famous 1927 solo flight across the Atlantic. In between his take-off from Roosevelt Field in New York and his landing at Le Bourget Field in Paris, flashbacks tell the story of how Lindbergh came to be an aviation pioneer. Three replicas of Lindy’s “The Spirit of St. Louis” aircraft were used for filming.
DVD > Buy The Spirit of St. Louis

Love in the Afternoon (1957)
Set in Paris, this romantic comedy is based on the Claude Anet novel Ariane, jeune fille russe, previously filmed in 1928 and in 1932 (Scampolo, ein Kind der Straße, with a screenplay co-written by Wilder). Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn and Maurice Chevalier star in this tale of a May-December romance between the young French girl Ariane (Hepburn) and the older American Frank (Cooper). This is the first in a series of films written by Wilder with I.A.L. Diamond.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
Based on a short story and play by Agatha Christie, this murder mystery and courtroom drama – with a Hitchcockian surprise ending – stars Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich and Charles Laughton.
DVD > Buy Witness for the Prosecution
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including Witness)

DVD_Billy Wilder Collection

DVD set: A collection of nine of Billy Wilder’s best films.Buy the DVD

Some Like It Hot (1959)
Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon star in this hilarious comedy written by Wilder and Diamond, loosely based on a 1951 German film (Fanfaren der Liebe, directed by Kurt Hoffmann). In 2000, the American Film Institute declared Some Like It Hot the greatest American comedy film of all time. With a strong supporting cast (George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O’Brien), Curtis and Lemmon in drag and Curtis’s wonderful imitation of Cary Grant, this outstanding film is a true comedy classic – now on Blu-ray. Wilder used the closing punchline from this film (“Nobody’s perfect”) on his gravestone.
BLU-RAY > Buy Some Like It Hot
DVD > Buy Some Like It Hot
DVD > Buy Billy Wilder Gift Set (The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Some Like it Hot, Kiss Me Stupid)
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including Some Like It Hot)

The Apartment (1960)
A Jack Lemmon tour de force with a young Shirley MacLaine and Fred MacMurray. Three Academy Awards (best picture, directing, screenplay); made into the musical Promises, Promises on Broadway in 1968 by Burt Bacharach; For Love or Money (1993), with Michael J. Fox as a concierge, is a variation of the Apartment story set in a ritzy hotel.
DVD > Buy The Apartment (Collector’s Edition)
DVD > Buy Billy Wilder Gift Set (The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Some Like it Hot, Kiss Me Stupid)
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including The Apartment)

One, Two, Three (1961)
Filmed in part in West Berlin. One of Wilder’s best and most underrated comedies. Bad timing made this Cold War comedy fall flat in 1961 (when the Berlin Wall went up), but since then it has been better appreciated. Stars James Cagney (as Coca-Cola boss C.R. MacNamara), Horst Buchholz (The Magnificent Seven, 1960), Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Liselotte Pulver and Leon Askin.
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including One Two Three)

Irma la Douce (1963)
Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine star in this comedy about an ex-gendarme who falls in love with a Paris prostitute.
DVD > Buy Irma la Douce
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including Irma)

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964)
This sex comedy stars Dean Martin, Kim Novak, and Ray Walston. Reviews varied from “pitifully unfunny” to “fascinatingly original,” but it’s not really one of Wilder’s best efforts.
DVD > Buy Billy Wilder Gift Set (The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Some Like it Hot, Kiss Me Stupid)

The Fortune Cookie (1966)
TV cameraman Harry Hinkle (Jack Lemmon) is injured when a football player crashes into him while he is covering a game. Hinkle’s injuries are minor, but his conniving lawyer brother-in-law “Whiplash Willie” Gingrich (Walter Matthau) wants him to fake paralysis in order to win a big settlement.
DVD > Buy Billy Wilder Gift Set (The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Some Like it Hot, Kiss Me Stupid)
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including Fortune Cookie)

The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
Stars Robert Stephens as Sherlock Holmes and Colin Blakely as Dr. Watson – also with Geneviève Page and Christopher Lee.
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including Holmes)

Avanti! (1972)
This comedy, starring Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills, was adapted by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond from a 1968 Broadway play. Filmed in Italy, Wilder (and most critics) was disappointed by the results, but Lemmon won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
DVD > Buy The Billy Wilder Collection (9 films, including Avanti!)

The Front Page (1974)
A Wilder remake of a 1928 play that had already been made and remade cinematically (in 1931 and as His Girl Friday in 1940). Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Carol Burnett star. Wilder later said he should have stuck to his rule against remakes in this case.

Fedora (1978)
Following the failure of Front Page, Wilder needed a hit. Unfortunately, this film was was far from a hit, even failing to get wide release. William Holden, Marthe Keller (as Fedora/Antonia), Hildegard Knef and José Ferrer star. Cameos by Henry Fonda and Michael York.

Buddy Buddy (1981)
Wilder’s last film. With a script by the Wilder-I.A.L. Diamond team, and stars like Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, it’s surprising that this comedy was such a dud. “It hurts to strike out on your last picture,” said Wilder.

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