100 Years 100 Movies: Born to be Wilder

Previously: Simpsons Savant

In discovering that two of our favorite movies from the list so far, Sunset Boulevard and Some Like it Hot, were both helmed by golden age director Billy Wilder, I have sought out his other two entries for our next pairing.

29. Double Indemnity (1944)

What exactly is film noir? Look no further than Double Indemnity for a classic example. The use of light and shadow, the antihero with a perpetual cigarette in hand, the femme fatale, the snappy, hard-boiled dialogue—it's all here. There's also a certain moral ambiguity inherent in the genre as you are often compelled to root for the villains. In this case it's lowly insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and bored housewife, Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck, looking positively hideous in a cheap wig and bad lipstick). Sparks fly when this devious duo meets, and soon they are plotting to do away with Dietrichson's husband and make off with the insurance money. Almost everything goes as planned, but wily insurance investigator Barton Keyes (Edward G. Robinson) is hot on their tail. Film noir is famous for telling unsavory stories of crime and murder, but is never all that interested in the offense that has been committed. Here the crime takes place early on, so there is still half a movie left for the screws to get turned on the two leads. Will they or won't they get away with it? We already know they don't thanks to the flashback voice-over narration (which Wilder would again utilize in Sunset Boulevard), but the suspense is in the details.
Walter Neff: Suddenly it came over me that everything would go wrong... I couldn't hear my own footsteps. It was the walk of a dead man.

80. The Apartment (1960)

Everything I read about The Apartment beforehand labeled it as a comedy. And since it was a reunion of Wilder and Jack Lemmon a year after Some Like It Hot, I assumed it would be filled with more of the same screwball antics. But this wasn't the case. Not that this is a bad thing, mind you. Quite simply, The Apartment defies clear cut labels. Lemmon stars as C.C. "Bud" Baxter, a low level employee at a large corporation who has found an express route up the corporate ladder—by loaning out his nearby apartment to philandering executives. Baxter is content to juggle his life around the whims of the big bosses until he meets Fran Kubelik (Shirley MacLaine), a spunky elevator operator at his building. However, things start to get complicated when Baxter learns that Fran is involved in an affair with one of the executives (Fred MacMurray). The moments of humor, while not as frequent as Some Like it Hot, are derived out of everyday situations, and are frequently offset by genuine human drama. The vast, dehumanizing office sets expertly satirize the corporate world, while the soundtrack and black & white cinematography imbue the film with just the right dose of melancholy.
Margie MacDougall: Night like this, it sorta spooks you, walking into an empty apartment.
C.C. Baxter: I said I had no family... I didn't say I had an empty apartment.
After having now seen Wilder's four most renowned films, I'm officially a fan. As a German immigrant, he offered an outsider's perspective on American culture. His films possess a sharp, cynical wit, and avoid excessive sentimentality. In other words, they're right down my alley. I look forward to checking out more of his work in the future.

Lemmon and Wilder, the perfect match.


Jessica said...

some like it hot is one of my favorite movies! The chemistry between tony curtis and jack lemmon could never be replicated.

Ben said...

I love a movie imbued with just the right dose of melancholy.

Dave said...

Check out my full review of Some Like it Hot here.

Don't we all? Well, at least us "artsy" types.