The Films of Billy Wilder

Posted by Jim on Jun 16th, 2017
Jun 16

For an overview of SAIL, see this post.

Billy Wilder is one of my favorite directors. He excels at comedies and dramas. He has made films that are textbook examples of many genres, including film noir, courtroom drama, buddy comedy, screwball comedy and romance. When I was young, my father rented Witness for the Prosecution for me and my siblings to watch. Our reaction was somewhere between skeptical and outright hostile. This was an old black and white movie that we’d never heard of with a cast full of names we didn’t recognize. He insisted we watch it, and I am certainly glad he did. It was my first exposure to Wilder’s genius. The movie was enthralling. I would love to recreate that experience for the students at my high school so they can feel the way I did upon my first exposure to Billy Wilder.

I’ve split the two and a half day schedule into three themes. Day one are movies about corruption. Day two are the play adaptations. Day three are the comedies.

Day One (Half Day)
Double Indemnity (1944, 107 minutes)
The Lost Weekend (1945, 99 minutes)
Evening Screening
Ace in the Hole (1951, 111 minutes)

Day Two
Stalag 17 (1953, 120 minutes)
Sunset Boulevard (1950, 110 minutes)
Witness for the Prosecution (1957, 116 minutes)
Evening Screening
The Seven Year Itch (1955, 105 minutes)

Day Three
Sabrina (1954, 113 minutes)
The Apartment (1960, 125 minutes)
Some Like It Hot (1959, 121 minutes)
Evening Screening
The Fortune Cookie (1966, 125 minutes)

Sunset Boulevard is not technically a play adaptation, but it was later adapted into a successful Broadway musical. If I am allowed to schedule screenings over three full days, Sunset Boulevard would be shown the afternoon of Day One, as it certainly qualifies as a film about corruption. Replacing it with the play adaptations would be The Seven Year Itch. The new evening screening that day would be The Front Page (1974, 105 minutes).

I feel this is a good overview of Billy Wilder’s films. It does skip over the early films which he only wrote, but it does cover all of the true classics he had a hand in making. There are a few films that I won’t have time to screen that are worth attention, such as Irma la Douce, Love in the Afternoon and The Spirit of St. Louis. The film he made for the US Dept. of War, Death Mills, is also deserving of attention. Like I did for the Hitchcock session, I will make up a sheet of additional recommended titles that I will share with the students at the end of the screenings.