Billy Wilder

Posted by: Brian Berger In:


Though it has received uncountable encomiums, the genius of BILLY WILDER (1906–2002) remains misunderstood. The overlooked Five Graves to Cairo (1943), for example, Wilder’s second American film as writer/director is — like the contemporaneous The Moon Is Down — a remarkable war movie about the psychology of occupation. If no praise exceeds Double Indemnity’s achievement, please don’t call it “film noir,” which French-invented pseudo-form didn’t exist in 1944. Non. Celebrate instead a superior crime novel made into a likewise superior film, a feat only The Friends of Eddie Coyle equals. Conversely, while Lost Weekend (1945) has its advocates, it’s both lesser Wilder and a diminution of Charles Jackson’s bleak but brilliantly nuanced novel. Far more inventive is A Foreign Affair (1948), wherein Wilder — the Austrian-Jewish exile intimate with the Holocaust dead — reenters occupied Berlin with Marlene Dietrich his post-Nazi muse; couple this with the Cold War corporate satire One, Two, Three (1961) and we’re well within rocket distance of predicting Gravity’s Rainbow’s seriocomic acuities. Though Sunset Boulevard (1950) was a deserved triumph, Wilder’s next masterpiece, Ace In The Hole (1951), flopped. Slick, febrile newspaperman Chuck Tatum (Kirk Douglas) plots his big city comeback from stifling Albuquerque. When hard-luck gas station owner Leo Minosa (Richard Benedict) gets trapped in cliff-side Indian ruins, his Tatum-choreographed rescue becomes a national sensation; a local carnival; the perfect country-western theme song:

We’re comin’, we’re comin’ Leo
So Leo don’t despair
While you’re in the cave-in hopin’
We’re up above you gropin’
And soon we’ll make an openin’, Leo…






On his or her birthday, HiLobrow irregularly pays tribute to one of our high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes. Also born this date: Green Gartside, Todd Rundgren, Octavia E. Butler, Schoolly D, Félix Fénéon, David Rees, Kris Kristofferson.

READ MORE about members of the Partisan Generation (1904-13).