Next time you over-do the wine during a dinner party, you might want to watch this one to remind you of how alcohol destroys people. This film is one of the few that really captures what it is like to be an alcoholic. Unlike others, such as The Days of Wine and Roses and When a Man Loves a Woman which mostly deal with the FAMILY’S struggle, The Lost Weekend is about THE INDIVIDUAL’S struggle with drink. Ray Milland stars as a writer who has taken his “social” drinking habit way too far. When he meets a girl, he tries to hide it from her at first, but that doesn’t last too long. The drinking begins to affect every aspect of his life, his personality and even his mental state. Directed by Billy Wilder, who is most know for his darkish comedies, Wilder takes this very serious subject matter and gives it a life of its own…mostly due to Milland’s powerful performance.

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A fledging office clerk finds out the hard way that getting to the top of the corporate ladder is not easy after he falls for a lady he is unknowingly sharing with his boss. Sounds simple, right? Well, it is. It’s not the plot that makes The Apartment a masterpiece…it’s Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray and director Billy Wilder all working together to make one of the best comedies ever. Or is it one of the best dramas ever? Some of the funniest movie moments ever are captured in this film…just as some of the darkest are as well. Before this, Wilder had proven he could excel at any genre of filmmaking…out-and-out comedies, dramas, thrillers, romances, and even other dark comedies (Stalag 17). With The Apartment, Wilder really sealed his mastery of cinema by combining most of those genres to make one fabulous film. Sadly, this is his last great public or critical success. Talk about going out with a bang!

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Ninotchka is most famous and known for that fact that it’s a Greta Garbo comedy. Garbo was a well-known actress…iconic almost…so when she made her first comedy, I guess it was natural that the film’s tagline of “Garbo Laughs” revolves around only her and not around the movie, director, or other cast members. Don’t get me wrong…Garbo is great in this classic, though I feel that she is a excellent part of a excellent comedy ensemble that was put together and made to work seamlessly by famed comedy director Ernst Lubitsch, who helmed other comic classics such as The Shop Around the Corner and Trouble in Paradise. Also, the screenplay here is written by a pre-directing Billy Wilder and his early partner Charles Brackett. Garbo plays a Russian who heads to Paris to check up on three comrades who are supposed to be selling some famed Russian jewels. Garbo’s character, Ninotchka, is a stern, tough woman who despises Paris and all of its lavishness. This is, until she meets Leon, who represents everything she loathes around capitalism, but she falls for him anyway. Since Wilder, Brackett and Lubitsch’s work often goes unnoticed next to Garbo’s aura, while you’re watching his masterpiece, make sure you occasionally take your eyes off the goddess and take note of the stellar filmmaking.

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This is the classic example of film noir….more than Otto Preminger’s Laura…more than anything else of the era. Why? Well, because this one’s got everything. In a big way too….lust, murder, the perfect femme fatale, the perfect fall-guy, the perfect everything. Based on the novel by James M. Cain (who also penned The Postman Always Rings Twice and Mildred Pierce) and directed by Billy Wilder, Double Indemnity is a thriller from start to finish…you’re always wondering and questions and getting closer and closer to the edge of your seat. Fred MacMurray plays a sarcastic insurance salesman who catches Barbara Stanwyck’s eye when he goes to try and sell her husband some insurance. Stanwyck is unhappily married and MacMurray knows it. The one thing in their way…her husband. Like in Postman, husbands are always expendable. Stanwyck is simply the best film femme fatale ever. She’s mean without being hard. She’s cool under pressure without being too sentimental. Stylized and perfectly cast, this Wilder masterpiece set the standard for film noir films…and dared others to try and top it…which, in my opinion, no film ever did.

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Billy Wilder’s comic masterpiece stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians who find themselves in the middle of the mob after they witness the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and manage to escape. To hide themselves, they pose as females in a traveling band, where they meet Marilyn Monroe’s Sugar Cane, the all-girl band’s singer. Arguably the funniest movie in motion picture history, Lemmon and Curtis create comedy in this film just by wearing women’s clothes. But, Monroe, with her steamy, sultry performance, adds more than just cross-dressing humor to make this a well-rounded movie with more than a fair share of laughs.

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Agatha Christie stuck mainly to her continuing characters…Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, etc…when writing. But, occasionally she would go off on a limb and write something original, introducing new characters to the audience. With the stage play Witness for the Prosecution, she created an entirely new world of people and situations, which kept the reader on his/her toes throughout. Made into a film in 1957 by talented and well-rounded film director Billy Wilder, the movie keeps us hanging until the last possible second and delivers the same kind of wallop as the play. Set in London, the story revolves around Leonard Vole’s (played by Tyrone Power) guilt or innocence. He is being tried for the murder of a wealthy, older woman he befriended. Unlike a lot of thrillers that are made, this one does have a very satisfying ending, do mostly to the relationship between Vole and his wife…one of Marlene Dietrich’s finest performances. But, the main character of the film is Sir Wilfrid Robarts, the crotchety, ailing barrister Vole gets to represent him. Not really known for light-ish roles, Charles Laughton dives into the barrister with a droll vigor that makes the audience LOVE Wilfrid even though he’s crass, brash, insubordinate, and very pig-headed. Laughton just seems to be having so much fun playing this character; without him, Wilfrid would have just been another forgettable character.

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First off, I will be honest. Gary Cooper is sorely miscast in this film. Is that a reason to stay away from it? Definitely not. I just want you to be prepared, though, for Mr. Cooper’s unusual stiffness, in a role that calls for a man who is supposed to be suave and relaxed. Barring Cooper’s role, this is a great, sweet romantic comedy with an endearing father/daughter relationship thrown in to make it even more special. Directed by Billy Wilder, who again proves he can direct any type of movie, Love in the Afternoon features a charming performance by a young Audrey Hepburn and a welcomed comeback role for Maurice Chevalier, who plays her private investigator father. Cooper’s stiffness seems to add to the comedy of this film, though I’m sure that was completely unintentional. The real added comedy comes from one of Chevalier’s clients and from the “Gypsies,” a band that Cooper has serenade him and his lovers in his hotel suite. Because of those moments of comic relief and the appealing, unassuming relationship between Hepburn and Chevalier, this movie overlooks Cooper’s uncomfortability. Look for one of the most romantic, tearful good-bye scenes in all of cinema.

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At the beginning of this Billy Wilder film, Sabrina Fairchild is an unassuming chauffeur’s daughter who has plain looks (OK – as plain as Audrey Hepburn can get!) and an intense infatuation with the employer’s son, David, played perfectly by William Holden (with blond hair!). After a stint in Paris at cooking school, she returns as a sophisticated woman, but still retains her crush on David. Enter David’s older and less carefree brother Linus, played by Humphrey Bogart, to muck up the ideal love affair Sabrina has in mind for she and David. Basically, that’s the plot in a nutshell. The performances make this film more than just your typical romantic comedy. Holden is perfect as the lollygagger David, who is much more interested in the ladies than in the family business. Bogart combines the right mix of stiffness and lovability to be a Linus we can actually imagine Sabrina being attracted to. Apparently, Hepburn and Holden did not get along well with Bogart while making this film. That lack of chemistry does not show up on screen…all of the characters’ interactions with each other seem natural and unforced. It is a little odd seeing the much older Bogart with the young Hepburn, but that’s Hollywood. Even back in 1954!

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A comedy about a prisoner of war camp in Germany? With Nazis we can laugh at? Is this possible? Well, since nothing was impossible for director Billy Wilder, he (and co-writer Edwin Blum) took this stage play (by Donald Bevin and Edmund Trzcinski) and adapted it with comic brilliance for the screen. William Holden plays Sefton, one of the screen’s best love-to-hate-‘um/hate-to-love-‘um characters. Why does the audience feel this way about him? Well, Sefton is a curmudgeon and crook. He makes friends with the Nazis in order to get special perks. He has a foot locker filled with contra-band items that the other men would kill for. He basically is a guy who uses his time in the Army and in the prison to hone his schmoozing skills to get what he wants or needs. But, he’s funny. He’s like the class clown that you find yourself laughing with even though you think he’s distasteful and inappropriate. I like Holden and have seen most of his films. This is, in my opinion, the role Holden was born to play. He becomes Sefton…you forget that you’re watching an actor and you get caught up with the shady deals and craftiness. When the other men of Sefton’s barracks believe he is the “stooge” (or snitch) who is telling the Nazis about the escape plots, we feel sorry for him even though we are not quite sure whether we believe he’s innocent. He has proven he deals with the Nazis so maybe he is the snitch…or maybe not? Wilder’s filmmaking (along with Holden’s performance) seals this film as one of the best war films of its kind—or of any kind. Look for film director Otto Preminger as Colonel von Scherbach, who steals the few scenes he is in.

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Narrated by a dead man (something we learn right upfront), this film is one of the most biting, harsh commentaries ever filmed. Attacking Hollywood (which for a Hollywood movie is a risk) had been done before this film and has been done since but nothing packs the same kind of punch as the decline of the old, washed-up silent movie star Norma Desmond, played perfectly by another washed-up silent star Gloria Swanson. William Holden plays Joe Gillis, a down-on-his-luck screenwriter who becomes Ms. Desmond’s personal screenwriter and “companion.” Director Billy Wilder uses the screen here to make a film as dark and dismal as the plot…and this only enhances the story. An example would be the house Norma lives in…Wilder shoots it like a funeral home. It’s always dark and shadowy, just like Norma and her dreams of a “comeback.” There are some things in this film that seem to be just added for “dark” comic effect…like the burial of the monkey. Yes—monkey. These little oddities add to Norma’s dark and foreboding feel…she’s not only a has-been but Wilder wants us to also know she’s mentally unstable. Holden does a great job as the “sane” character in the film. His performance is crucial since it has to be the glue that holds all of the insanity together. But, it also has to be strong since we know he’s a doomed man. After all…it is his character floating in the pool, dead, at the beginning of the film…

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