Film Review: The Lost Weekend (1945)

Release Date: October 5th, 1945 (London premiere)
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder
Based on: The Lost Weekend by Charles R. Jackson
Music by: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling

Paramount Pictures, 101 Minutes

Review:

“It shrinks my liver, doesn’t it, Nat? It pickles my kidneys, yeah. But what it does it do to the mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent. Extremely competent! I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michaelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers, all three of them. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not Third Avenue any longer, it’s the Nile, Nat. The Nile and down into the barge of Cleopatra.” – Don Birnam

I watched The Lost Weekend, as it has been highly praised by a lot of the books I’ve read on film-noir. It also won four Academy Awards including Best Picture. I think the thing that really sold it to me, though, was that it is a noir directed by Billy Wilder, the man behind Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard. It also stars the great Ray Milland, who won an Academy Award for this role.

Now this isn’t a standard noir. It doesn’t feature criminals, innocent guys in over their head or a femme fatale. What it does feature is a remarkable actor playing a drunk writer, fighting his personal demons, trying to salvage his relationship with the love of his life and trying to get back to work without the demon bottle’s stranglehold over his very being.

The main reason why this film works so well is Milland’s performance. But I also have to give credit to some of the other players like Howard Da Silva and Phillip Terry. But it is Jane Wyman that really delights and who actually makes the romantic scenes flourish. She plays exceptionally well off of Milland and truly feels like his equal in the film.

I obviously can’t discount Billy Wilder’s direction. The man was a maestro behind the camera and he gave us a pretty fine tuned and fabulous looking motion picture.

While this is far from my favorite film-noir and it is only third on my list of Billy Wilder’s noir outings, it is still a solid movie that’s entertaining and a bit heartbreaking to watch at times, as Milland wears self-destruction so well.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other film-noir pictures by Billy Wilder or starring Ray Milland.

Film Review: People On Sunday (1930)

Also known as: Menschen am Sonntag (Germany)
Release Date: February 4th, 1930 (Germany)
Directed by: Robert Siodmak, Edgar G. Ulmer
Written by: Billy Wilder, Robert Siodmak, Curt Siodmak
Music by: Otto Stenzeel, Elena Kaets-Chernin (2000 version)
Cast:  Erwin Splettstößer, Brigitte Borchert, Wolfgang von Waltershausen, Christl Ehlers, Annie Schreyer

Filmstudio, Stiftung Deutsche Kinemathek/Berlin, 73 Minutes

Review:

I was delving into the deep recesses of film-noir throughout the entire month of November, as I was celebrating Noirvember and dedicated to covering just the noir style for a month here at Cinespiria.

While delving deep, I came across this picture, which isn’t noir but was created by four people who would become prominent contributors to the film-noir movement after they left Germany in the 1930s.

Those four men are:

Robert Siodmak – the director of The KillersCriss CrossThe Phantom Lady and others.

Curt Siodmak – Robert’s brother and a screenwriter who worked in film-noir and often times with his brother.

Edgar G. Ulmer – the director of DetourThe Strange WomanMurder Is My Beat and others.

Billy Wilder – one of the most accomplished directors in history, who gave us the film-noirs Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard, as well as other classics such as, The ApartmentSome Like It HotSabrina and so many others.

The film is notable for its historical importance, as it displays everyday life for Berliners just before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis rose to power in Germany. Their rise to power is also why the men behind this film escaped to Hollywood.

People On Sunday starts by telling you that none of the people depicted in the film are professional actors and that they are indeed real people whose jobs in the film are their jobs in real life. The film also states that these people have already returned to their day jobs by the time of this film’s release. The movie was filmed on Sundays in Berlin, when the people in the film had time to do it around the hustle and bustle of their lives.

Critics that were around Berlin back in 1930, have said that the film feels like a true and authentic experience of what life was like at that time in Berlin. The film initially gives you hope that these people will always be able to enjoy their lazy carefree Sundays but in modern times, we know that there is no happy ending with the evil powers that will soon overtake much of Europe.

People On Sunday is a fairly short and sweet film but it is impossible to watch it and not think of what is on the horizon for the people in the movie, all of whom are real and not fictional characters. It has a similar effect on me as Fritz Lang’s M, a German film from 1931, that also showcases urban life just before Hitler changed the world forever.

Rating: 7/10

Film Review: Sunset Boulevard (1950)

Also known as: SUNSET BLVD. (stylized on screen)
Release Date: August 10th, 1950
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, D.M. Marshman Jr.
Music by: Franz Waxman
Cast: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Cecil B. DeMille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton

Paramount Pictures, 110 Minutes

Review:

“It was a great big white elephant of a place. The kind crazy movie people built in the crazy 20s. A neglected house gets an unhappy look. This one had it in spades. It was like that old woman in “Great Expectations”. That Miss Havisham in her rotting wedding dress and her torn veil, taking it out on the world, because she’d been given the go-by.” – Joe Gillis (as narrator)

There are few movies as perfect as Sunset Boulevard. Billy Wilder directed a plethora of true cinematic classics but this could be the man’s magnum opus.

This film-noir is considered to be the big send off to the genre, which dominated the 1940s. It was also directed by Billy Wilder, who got a lot of credit, and rightfully so, for kick starting the genre with his 1944 film Double Indemnity. Although, Wilder would do another film-noir the following year called Ace In the Hole. Plus, film-noir wasn’t something that was clearly defined, at the time. Even today there is still debate as to whether it is an actual genre or just a style. But Wilder’s Double Indemnity and Sunset Boulevard are considered, by many, to be the bookends of classic film-noir.

Sunset Boulevard is exceptional, from the opening shot all the way to that final, creepy moment, as the camera fades out to the credits. It feels like a cinematic Persian rug that has been meticulously worked on for years and years. And while the film itself didn’t take years to make, it is the result of years and years of some of the best craftsman in Hollywood honing their skills and merging together to create absolute beauty.

While Billy Wilder directed the picture, a lot of credit has to go to cinematographer John F. Seitz. Having spent his years visually enhancing classic films going as far back as 1916, Seitz delivers in every single shot of Sunset Boulevard. The clever lighting, the chiaroscuro feel, the visual contrast between the elegant Gloria Swanson and the dark crumbling world around her, everything was executed with an uncanny preciseness.

Getting to the story, the film follows William Holden’s Joe Gillis. The film begins with Gillis dead, floating face down in a swimming pool. He narrates from beyond the grave, telling the story of how he met his end, becoming a human lily pad outside of a decrepit mansion.

Gillis, on the run from some men he owes money to, finds himself in the mansion of ex-Hollywood screen legend Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson after a long hiatus from pictures. She initially thinks that he is there to bring the coffin for her dead pet monkey. Once she finds out he is a screenwriter, she digs her claws in, taking over his life, giving him a taste of luxury in exchange for his services. Norma has a story she wants turned into a script. She believes that her fans want to see her triumphant return to the silver screen. In reality, it is her butler who has been writing the fan letters for years. In film-noir style, everything that can go sideways, does.

Sunset Boulevard is also littered with notable cameos of big Hollywood names. Cecil B. DeMille, Buster Keaton, Hedda Hopper and others play themselves. Hopper’s role is actually pretty funny. DeMille has the biggest cameo and he does pretty good on the other side of the camera.

This is a stellar film. It examines the cult of personality and celebrity and rips the bandages off, exposing the nasty scabs underneath. This should be a film that is forced on any Kardashian child born from now until eternity. It is a film that is more relevant now than ever, as we live in a time where anyone can be a celebrity for ten minutes, as long as you do something completely stupid on the Internet.

Sunset Boulevard was a reflection of its time but it was also ahead of its time. Nearly seventy years later, the film is still effective.

Rating: 9.75/10

Film Review: Double Indemnity (1944)

Release Date: April 24th, 1944
Directed by: Billy Wilder
Written by: Billy Wilder, Raymond Chandler
Based on: Double Indemnity by James M. Cain
Music by: Miklós Rózsa
Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, John Philliber

Paramount Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

Thanks to Flashback Cinema, I got to see this classic film noir Academy Award winner on the big screen. I had actually never seen it, so it was cool experiencing it in its intended format while viewing it for the first time.

The story sees an insurance salesman Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray) and a black widow femme fatale type Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) conspire to fraudulently take out an accident insurance policy on her husband and to then murder him, taking advantage of the double indemnity clause to double their money. There are a lot of twists and turns and if anything, this film builds a lot of suspense, as you never really know how it will pan out, even though Neff starts the film by recording his confession for his boss at the insurance company.

The film is told as a flashback, as Neff recalls, in full detail, all the events that led him to his confession. It goes through his sinister plan with a fine tooth comb and shows how he adapts to the changing situations. Eventually, we learn the true nature of both of our main characters, as they are seemingly pitted against one another. Paranoia and new conspiracies arise and, as can be expected with how the film starts, things go really south.

The plot was well written, well paced and executed on screen almost flawlessly. No stone was left unturned and it was intelligently crafted, leaving no room for any glaring plot holes.

The use of contrast and lighting in the film was stellar. It certainly had the standard noir look but the stylistic flourishes such as the Spanish style home of the Dietrichsons and the insurance office added a lot of depth and character to the picture.

The acting was absolutely fantastic across the board. MacMurray and Stanwyck had an uncanny chemistry. Jean Heather was sweet, innocent and lovable. Tom Powers, as Mr. Dietrichson, had the right balance of being a curmudgeon and a jerk but not so much so that, as a spectator, you couldn’t justify his murder. The show stealer however, was Edward G. Robinson as Neff’s boss Barton Keyes. Robinson was the brightest spot in this starlit motion picture.

Double Indemnity is a fine film in every regard. I’ve liked the work of Billy Wilder my whole life and this picture just adds more credibility to his massive and incredible oeuvre.