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Fedora/Billy Wilder

I am reading a novel by Jonathan Coe called Mr. Wilder and Me.

The narrator works in the film world and in chapter two she recalls a dinner in Hollywood in the 70s with the renowned director Billy Wilder who knows the father of her travelling companion.

Billy Wilder was making the film Fedora about a movie star recluse.

Various of his admirers come to his table but they refer to his early masterpieces such as Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like it Hot, The Apartment and none of his later films.

This rankles him.

I realised that I have never seen Fedora so I downloaded it from Amazon Video.

Like Sunset Boulevard it’s narrated by William Holden playing an independent producer Barry  Detweiler who has finance for a film provided he can lure Fedora out of retirement.

So armed with a script he tries to meet her in her villa in Corfu.

The other occupants are a sinister plastic surgeon Dr. Vando (Jose Ferrer), the loyal secretary Miss Balfour and a stern Polish countess.

These three have a grip over Fedora who cannot be persuaded back to film.

The film is so similar to Sunset Boulevard that it invites unfavourable comparison.

There are no majestic lines such as Norma Desmond’s

I’m still big. It’s the movies that have got small“.

There is no Erich Von Stroheim magnificent as her chauffeur and butler.

The beauty of the Corfu Villa is no substitute for the Gothic mansion of Desmond.

It is at first unclear why in the novel Billy Wilder would be interested in inviting two young girls to dinner.

The answer becomes clear. He and fellow scriptwriter I.A.L  Diamond want to gauge youthful reaction to films. 

At one point the narrator under the influence of full bodied red wine yawns. This Billy Wilder enthuses is the perfect reaction when Fedora bears her breasts to a scene hand on film.  This does indeed appear in a scene. 

In truth you can appreciate why Wilder’s admirers would not place this film at the forefront of a considerable canon of  work.

It’s a German production with Hildegard Knef as the countess and Martha Keller as Fedora.

Probably Wilder could not get American finance. It’s not a bad film, there is a twist you can see coming a mile off, but it is a pale imitation of a much better one.

About Neil Rosen

Neil went to the City of London School and Manchester University graduating with a 1st in economics. After a brief stint in accountancy, Neil emigrated to a kibbutz In Israel. His articles on the burgeoning Israeli film industry earned comparisons to Truffaut and Godard in Cahiers du Cinema. Now one of the world's leading film critics and moderators at film Festivals Neil has written definitively in his book Kosher Nostra on Jewish post war actors. Neil lives with his family in North London. More Posts

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