Friday, August 22, 2008

Great Directors: Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder was born in Austria-Hungary, in what is now Malopolski, Poland. As a newswriter, he emigrated from Austria to Berlin writing for their biggest tabloid. By the time Hitler came to power in 1933, he had written some screenplays for the Berlin film industry, starting in 1929. With Jewish ancestry, Wilder had to flee the Nazis, first to Paris (directing Mauvaise Graine there in 1934, starring Danielle Darrieux), then to the U.S. when invasion of France seemed likely.

He went to Hollywood and started as a screen writer for Ernst Lubisch and others, the most famous being Ninotchka (39). He then began directing himself in the U.S. with The Major and the Minor (42) with Ray Milland and Ginger Rogers posing as a 12-yr old. He made his stylistic breakthrough in his third film with the crime classic, Double Indemnity in 1944, which "invented" film noir and garnered 7 Oscar nominations. Wilder then began to direct a plethora of film classics, including:
  • The Apartment (bw, Best Picture winner, 5/10 Oscars)
  • Ace in the Hole (bw, 1 nom)
  • Lost Weekend (bw, Best Picture, 4/7 Oscars)
  • The Spirit of St. Louis (bw, 1 nom)
  • Stalag 17 (bw, 1/3 Oscars, Willam Holden, best actor)
  • Sunset Boulevard (bw, Pic nominee, 3 Oscars, 11 noms)
  • Witness for the Prosecution (bw, BPic nominee, 6 noms) Comedies:
  • The Fortune Cookie (bw, 1/4 Oscars)
  • The Front Page (bw, 3 Oscar noms)
  • Irma la Douce
  • One Two Three (bw)
  • Sabrina
  • The Seven Year Itch
  • Some Like It Hot (bw, 6 Oscar noms)
Wilder was nominated for 21 Oscars, 12 in writing, 8 in directing, and won six. He won for directing Lost Weekend and The Apartment (and got another for Apt for Best Picture), and won for writing Lost Weekend, Sunset Boulevard, and The Apartment. He personally picked up three for The Apartment. It could easily be argued that Billy Wilder is the greatest American film director.

He died in 2005 at the age of 95.

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