Emory explores the legacy of Billy Wilder in free film series

Aug. 13, 2019

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Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine in Billy Wilder’s classic film “The Apartment.” The film won three Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Scriptwriter. Image courtesy of Park Circus/MGM Studios.

The Emory Cinematheque, a weekly series of free film screenings, presents “Billy Wilder (and a bit of Lubitsch)” for its Fall 2019 program. As a writer and director, Wilder’s major cinematic legacy spans 26 films and six decades.

All screenings are on Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m. in White Hall, Room 208. The series runs from Aug. 28 until Dec. 4 and is free and open to the public.

“Wilder, a Jewish-Eastern European immigrant, always regarded America from the perspective of an outsider,” says Matthew Bernstein, professor and chair of film and media studies, who curated the series with Todd Cronan, professor of art history.

“Whether it was comedy or drama, Wilder cast a sharp, realistic eye on American society, through tales of often loner characters who deceive others and themselves,” Bernstein adds. “Their actions express American naivete and also greediness, corruption and hypocrisy, the latter especially on the subject of sex. His outstanding dialogue is always incisive and witty. His films, in their open-eyed frankness, speak to us as much today as they did when they first appeared.”

Emory Cinematheque kicks off with three works by Wilder’s mentor and inspiration, director Ernst Lubistch. Beginning Aug. 28 with Lubistch’s "To Be or Not to Be (1942)," the series continues with "Ninotchka (1939)" and the rarely screened silent comedy "Forbidden Paradise (1924)." Renowned silent film musician Donald Sosin will accompany "Forbidden Paradise" live on the piano.

The series then features 11 of Wilder’s most successful and controversial films. Titles include "Double Indemnity (1944)," "Sunset Boulevard (1950)," "Some Like it Hot (1959)" and "The Apartment (1960)."

All films will be shown in professional Digital Cinema Package (DCP) or 35mm formats and introduced by curators Bernstein and Cronan. For more information, visit the Emory film and media studies website or call 404-727-6761.

2019 Emory Cinematheque Fall Series

“To Be or Not to Be” (1942)
Wednesday, Aug. 28 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Alexander Korda for United Artists; written by Edwin Justus Mayer from a story by Melchior Lengyel; cinematography by Rudolphe Maté; music by Werner Heymann; starring Carole Lombard, Jack Benny, Robert Stack, Felix Bressart, Lionel Atwill, Stanley Ridges, Sig Ruman, Tom Dugan.

"‘To Be’ is typically [film director Ernst] Lubitsch in dramatic set up and satirical byplay and one of his best productions in years…. Lubitsch’s guidance provides a tense dramatic pace with events developed deftly and logically throughout. The farcical episodes display Lubitsch in best form.” —Variety, February 1942

“Forbidden Paradise” (1924)
Wednesday, Sept. 4 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Lubitsch for Famous Players-Lasky / Paramount; written by Agnes Christine Johnston and Hanns Kräly from a play by Lajos Biró and Melchior Lengyel; cinematography by Charles Van Enger; starring Pola Negri, Rod La Rocque, Adolphe Menjou. Live piano accompaniment by Donald Sosin.

“In one point it excels all other pictures I have ever seen. It is the last word in the delicate art of innuendo; of subtle suggestion. Of daring audacity veiled with a smile. Lubitsch tells it with charming cynicism—a cynicism in which there is no bitterness. The romance of a very naughty queen, told with a shrug and a laugh—a laugh which is not without sympathy…. No director ever so thoroughly understood the art of the oblique—the symbol that tells without telling.” —Harry Carr, Los Angeles Times, November 1924

“Ninotchka” (1939)
Wednesday, Sept. 11 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Sidney Franklin and Lubitsch for MGM; written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch from a story by Melchior Lengyel; cinematography by William Daniels; music by Werner Heymann; starring Greta Garbo, Melvyn Douglas, Ina Claire, Bela Lugosi, Sig Ruman and Felix Bressart.

“The selection of Ernst Lubitsch to pilot Garbo in her first light performance in pictures proves a bull’s-eye. Deft and amusing touches are in goodly numbers, for plenty of sparkling entertainment. There’s some bright and eyebrow-lifting dialog, delivered in typical Lubitsch fashion. (The) script by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder and Walter Reisch has been compactly set up from the original by Melchior Lengyel. Carrying continental flavor throughout, it provides an excellent foundation for Lubitsch to construct his satirical twists and amusing situations.”—Variety, October 1939

“Double Indemnity” (1944)
Wednesday, Sept. 18 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Buddy DeSylva and Joseph Sistrom for Paramount; written by Wilder and Raymond Chandler from the novel by James M. Cain; cinematography by John Seitz; music by Miklós Rózsa; art direction by Hans Dreier; starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, and Edward G. Robinson.

“‘Double Indemnity,’ a murder movie, is almost the only—certainly the most decisive—step forward taken by a major studio in I don’t know how many months. One has to go clear back to ‘The Human Comedy,’ ‘Maltese Falcon’ and ‘Citizen Kane’ to find comparable pace setters.” —Philip Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, 1944

“A Foreign Affair” (1948)
Wednesday, Sept. 25 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Charles Brackett for Paramount; written by Wilder, Brackett and Richard Breen from a story by David Shaw; cinematography by Charles Lang; music by Friedrich Hollaender; art direction by Hans Dreier; starring Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich and John Lund.

“Chief among Wilder films that may well be discoveries to nonbuffs is the incomparable ‘Foreign Affair’, Mr. Wilder’s hilarious and savage send-up of America’s military presence in the postwar occupation of Berlin. Of the entire retrospective lineup (of 41 Wilder films then being shown at New York’s Film Forum), ‘A Foreign Affair’ is the film that one can least afford to miss. With more eloquence and wit than any Wilder work before or since ‘A Foreign Affair’ expresses the filmmaker’s profoundly mixed emotions about Berlin. The film’s comedy is not in bad taste. It is haunted.” —Vincent Canby, New York Times, May 1991

“Sunset Boulevard” (1950)
Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2019 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Charles Bracket for Paramount; written by Brackett, Wilder and D.M. Marshman Jr.; cinematography by John Seitz; music by Franz Waxman; art direction by Hans Dreier; starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Jack Webb, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H.B. Warner. It received 11 Oscar nominations and was one of the first 25 films inducted into the National Film Registry.

“Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder have slashed open Hollywood in a brilliant moody melodrama. Their ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ with Gloria Swanson starring as a silent queen trying to preserve her dream of glamour, captures the real unreality of the movie business in an acid mixture of nostalgia, terror and disillusionment. The result is a weird, fascinating motion picture about an art for which, new as it is, is already haunted by ghosts.” —Otis Guernsey, New York Herald Tribune, August 1950

“Ace in the Hole” (1951)
Wednesday, Oct. 9 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder and William Schorr; written by Wilder, Lesser Samuels and Walter Newman from a story by Victor Desny; cinematography by Charles Lang; music by Hugo Friedhofer; starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Robert Arthur and Porter Hall.

“Known for his biting cynicism and hard edges, Wilder outdid himself here. The film's harsh portrait of an American media circus appalled the critics and repelled the public…. The black-and-white cinematography by Charles Lang is the inevitable choice; this story would curdle color. Although the film is 56 years old, I found while watching it again that it still has all its power. The dialogue delivers perfectly timed punches: ‘I can handle big news and little news. And if there's no news, I'll go out and bite a dog.’ Although ‘Ace in the Hole’ has always been considered one of Wilder’s greatest films, its rejection by the marketplace isn't surprising: Moviegoers like crime, like suspense, like violence, but they like happy endings, and Wilder is telling them to wake up and smell the coffee.” —Roger Ebert, August 2007

“Stalag 17” (1953)
Wednesday, Oct. 16 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder and William Schorr for Paramount; written by Wilder and Edwin Blum from the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski; cinematography by Ernest Laszlo; music by Franz Waxman; starring William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Peter Graves, Neville Brand, Sig Ruman and Edmund Trzcinski.

“Certainly one of this year’s most smashing films.” –Bosley Crowther, New York Times, July 1953

“Sabrina” (1954)
Wednesday, Oct. 23| 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder for Paramount; written by Wilder, Samuel Taylor and Ernest Lehman from Taylor’s play ‘Sabrina Fair’; cinematography by Charles Lang; music by Fredrich Hollaender; starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden and Marcel Dalio.

“In our wistful estimation, the most delightful comedy-romance in years. Its deftly sophisticated plotting has not been surpassed in who knows when. A picture to be cherished as a real and lasting joy. We can’t remember liking a romance any better since ‘It ‘Happened Once Night’ (1934).” —Bosley Crowther, New York Times, September 1954

“Some Like It Hot” (1959)
Wednesday, Oct. 30 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond and Doane Harrison for Mirisch / UA; written by Wilder and Diamond from a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan; cinematography by Charles Lang; music by Adolph Deutsch; starring Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon, Joan Shawlee, George Raft, Pat O’Brien, Joe E. Brown, Nehemiah Persoff, George E. Stone, Mike Mazurki, Edward G. Robinson. Jr. One of the first 25 films inducted into the National Film Registry. Voted “Best Comedy of All Time” in 2017 BBC poll of 253 international film critics from 52 countries.

“One of the most uninhibited and enjoyable antics to come out of Hollywood in years. As jazz musicians on the lam from pursuing gangsters, Messrs. Lemmon and Curtis, and Miss Monroe kid the pants off gangster films, the Twenties and similar matters…. The writing, direction and performances should renew the interest of any disenchanted moviegoer.” —A.H. Weiler, New York Times, April 1959

“But in the final accounting, this is still a director’s picture and the Wilder touch is indelible.” –Variety, February 1959

“The Apartment” (1960)
Wednesday, Nov. 6 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond for Mirisch / UA; written by Wilder and Diamond; cinematography by Joseph LaShelle; music by Adolph Deutsch; art direction by Alexander Trauner; starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Joan Shawlee and Hope Holiday. The film won Wilder three Oscars for Best Picture, Director and Scriptwriter.

“You might not think a movie about a fellow who lends his rooms to the married executives of his office as a place for their secret love affairs would make a particularly funny or morally presentable show, especially when the young fellow uses the means to get advanced in his job. But under the clever supervision of Billy Wilder the idea is run into a gleeful, tender and even sentimental film. Mr. Wilder and his co-author on the script, I.A.L. Diamond, have managed to keep the action and the dialogue tumbling with wit. They relieve graveyard tension with trenchant and credible gags. Mr. Wilder has done more than write the film. His direction is ingenious and sure, sparkled by brilliant little touches and kept to a tight, sardonic line." —Bosley Crowther, New York Times, June 1960.

“One, Two, Three” (1961)
Wednesday, Nov. 13 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond and Doane Harrison for Mirisch / UA; written by Wilder and Diamond from a play by Ferenc Molnar; cinematography by Daniel Fapp; music by André Previn; art direction by Alexander Trauner; starring James Cagney, Horst Buchhollz, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Hanns Lothar.

“The gayest, wittiest, maddest picture of 1961. It proves once more that Billy Wilder still has aces and trumps up his sleeve. The chief fault to be found is that people laugh too loud and too long." —Marjory Adams, Boston Globe, December 1961

“Though the film is anchored in its own time its high style is timeless. Cagney gives one of the richest, funniest, most breathlessly paced performances of his career. Don’t miss it.” —Vincent Canby, New York Times, July 1986

“Irma La Douce” (1963)
Wednesday, Nov. 20 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Doane Harrison, Edward Alperson, Alexandre Trauner for Mirisch / UA; written by Wilder & Diamond from a play by Alexandre Breffort; cinematography by Joseph LaShelle; music by André Previn; art direction by Alexander Trauner; starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi, Bruce Yarnell, Herschel Bernardi, and Joan Shawlee.

“I found it a brilliant, though outrageously outspoken comedy…. The late Ernst Lubitsch delighted in the sex farce way back in the 30s. But Lubitsch stopped at the bedroom door. Wilder goes right in. ‘Irma’ comes closer to the sophisticated modern European cinema than any produced previously in Hollywood. In all of Hollywood only Wilder could have pulled it off.” —Philip Scheuer, Los Angeles Times, July 1963

“Kiss Me, Stupid” (1964)
Tuesday, Dec. 3 | 7:30 p.m.

Produced by Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond, Doane Harrison and Dean Martin for Mirisch/UA; written by Wilder and Diamond from a play by Anna Bonacci; set design by Alexander Trauner; cinematography by Joseph LaShelle; music by André Previn; starring Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston, Cliff Osmond and Mel Blanc.

“Another exercise in joylessly jejune cynicism.” —Andrew Sarris, Village Voice, December 1964