I had wanted to see this movie for a long time, considering that it is written and directed by Billy Wilder. I’m a big fan of some other Billy Wilder films including Sunset Boulevard and Some like it hot (especially the latter as it’s one of my all time favourite movies.) It came up in a conversation with Jay this week and it gave me the impetus to finally watch it. I was not disappointed!
Most movies of this era are all lightness and frivolity which is what makes them so much fun to watch (and is what I really like about Some like it hot). The first part of the film cracks along at a great pace and is exactly what you would expect from a 50’s era film but then the film takes an unexpected turn and presents us with a new layer of depth. Wilder has been praised by some as a master of structure and that is definitely evident in this film. On reflection, it does follow the traditional three act structure but when you’re watching the film it is in no way predictable and the acts flow seamlessly into one another.
Of course I have to mention the fantastic dialogue! When people say (usually whimsically with a far off look in their eye) ‘They don’t make them like they used to’ I think what they really mean to say is ‘They don’t write characters and dialogue the way they used to’ because that seems to be the crucial difference between films then and now. Don’t get me wrong I’m still a fan of a more naturalistic style of dialogue and Tarrantino’s penchant for pop culture references, but there is something about the way films from this time period were written that I am instantly drawn to. Every character in these worlds has a razor sharp wit and always knows exactly the right thing to say at the right time, you gotta admit that’s an enviable quality! I wouldn’t normally do this but I feel like I need a quote here to show you an example (don’t worry this doesn’t give anything away!) C.C. Baxter is played by Jack Lemmon and Fran Kubelik is played by Shirley Maclaine.
Fran Kubelik: I never catch colds.
C.C. Baxter: Really? I was reading some figures from the Sickness and Accident Claims Division. You know that the average New Yorker between the ages of twenty and fifty has two and a half colds a year?
Fran Kubelik: That makes me feel just terrible.
C.C. Baxter: Why?
Fran Kubelik: Well, to make the figures come out even, if I have no colds a year, some poor slob must have five colds a year.
C.C. Baxter: [sheepishly] Yeah... it's me.
Onto the performances- I have always loved Jack Lemmon as the ‘loveable underdog’ and his character C.C. Baxter is the epitome of that in this film but Lemmon also has moments of such subtle poignancy which are heart breakingly beautiful. Shirley Maclaine also turns in a stellar performance as the charming yet sensitive Fran Kubelik. I strongly empathized with this character, as would anyone who has ever had their heart broken.
I can almost guarantee that the writers of the show Madmen would have used this film as a reference point at some stage. Particularly in regards to the treatment of women and the struggle for men trying to climb higher in the office hierarchy.
If I had to criticize this film about something (and bare in mind this a minute criticism, look at the glowing review I’ve given it!) it would be the last line. In the two other Wilder movies I’ve seen the last lines have been some of the most memorable and quotable lines in movie history. In Sunset Boulevard it’s ‘Okay Mr Demille, I’m ready for my close up’ (often misquoted as the other way around) and in Some like it hot it’s ‘Nobody’s Perfect’ (which is more of a punch line in context.) I guess that those are big things to live up to but I was eagerly anticipating what the last line was going to be and I was a teensy bit disappointed. It seems like the line is a wink to the audience somehow (like ‘nobody’s perfect) except it’s not referencing anything. Anyway a trivial criticism of what truly is an amazing film and is vastly becoming one of my favourites.