A Foreign Affair (Wilder, 1948)

The always indispensable Not Coming to a Theater Near You has spent the recent weeks exploring and celebrating the work of cinematic collaborators Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder. I’ve reviewed one of the filmmaking duo’s later efforts: The highly entertaining and strange Post WWII farce A Foreign Affair. Reading all the wonderful essays reminds me there’s a world of great films beyond the surface of entrenched film canons.

Avanti! (Wilder, 1972)

Avanti!┬ácaptures that certain magical essence of experiencing a foreign land for the first time, using the hypnotic hues of the Mediterranean seaside to illuminate the inherent healing powers of fresh perspective. The rush of American consumerism and arrogance gets put on hold, revealing the futility of such notions while allowing for a long Italian lunch filled with whimsical musings about fate and destiny. Wilder’s film is beautiful in every way, evoking a cinematic sensation only found in the best Lubitsch romances, where a glance, a kiss, and a smile say more about love than any words could. It’s also a film that sneaks up on you, morphing from a trifle comedy into a layered, political rumination on the dynamics of free-thinking perspective. The lovely narrative pace continuously churns with vibrant mise-en-scene and revelations of color and tone. Time passes without much concern for deadline or result, instead reveling in the moment of human connection, and Wilder’s characters learn to appreciate a much more rewarding slice of mutual indulgence. Even after the final silent goodbye, there’s a glaring hope the character’s lasting impressions will continue on long after the credits end, transcending the cynical and destructive outside world.

Sunset Boulevard (Wilder, 1950)

Billy Wilder’s strangely beautiful Noir about a delusional and eroding Silent Hollywood Icon remains one of those “all-time” classics that doesn’t completely live up to its prestigious billing. This might have to do with the fact Wilder has been more excellent elsewhere, exemplified in the steamy brutality of Double Indemnity, the witty trickery of Witness For the Prosecution, or the razor-sharp satire of Ace in the Hole. Still, Sunset Boulevard evokes a sense of biting nostalgia descending into madness, slowly breaking down Norma Desmond’s mental state until nothing remains but hollow head shots and dusty artifacts. But the joke of Norma’s unabashed psychosis and violent explosion has always been on Joe Gillis and in turn the audience. No one turns their back on a legend, so it isn’t surprising Norma fires away from the sanctity of fantasy-land, leaving her delusional image etched in blood for a world that no longer cares. Even though Norma’s an ego maniac, there’s a sadness to her fall from grace, a disavowal of reality that reminds of the old phrase “they don’t make em’ like they used to,” a true enough staple for the film lover in all of us.

Double Indemnity (Wilder, 1944)

After three views, just gets better and better. One of the greatest all time for sure and not much new to add to the universal love for this classic Noir. Edward G. Robinson (and his “little man”) as Keyes ignites every scene he’s in and Stanwyck is the ultimate femme fatale. Forgot the great Raymond Chandler co-wrote this. Genius dialogue that still feels fresher than anything neo-noir has given us lately.