Silly setup becomes more serious as it goes along. Jean Arthur (post-semi-retirement, in her second-to-last film role) is a buttoned-up U.S. Representative (from Iowa) visiting wrecked post-war Berlin to assess the morale (and morals) of the occupying troops. John Lund (of High Society) is a shady Iowan captain with a sharpie-drawn mustache who is playing the black market, drinking at nightclubs and covering for his girlfriend Marlene Dietrich. So soon after WWII, we know even the cynical Wilder won’t let Dietrich off the hook after Jean is shown films of her cavorting with Hitler himself. So Jean enlists Lund in her undercover operation to discover which American troop is covering for Dietrich. He’s now attempting to protect himself and his girl from the no-nonsense Arthur, so he pretends to fall in love with her as a distraction.

Dietrich sings “The Ruins of Berlin” (I know the Dex Romweber version), and man are the ruins impressive. There’s hardly a non-bombed-out building seen in the opening aerial shots and the scattered location shots from the ground. The contemporary NY Times review calls Lund “disarmingly shameless.” For some guy I’ve never heard of playing against two of my favorite actresses, he comes off surprisingly well.

Bright Lights says Wilder pitched the film’s concept as propaganda to the U.S. military in Germany, describing “an entertainment film with Rita Hayworth or Ingrid Bergman… with Gary Cooper if you wish… and with a love story — only with a very special love story, cleverly devised to sell us a few ideological items.” The military found the finished film unsuitable to be shown in Germany, believing that a movie which stars a morally compromised U.S. soldier sleeping with an eroticized nazi mightn’t be in their best interest.

“Filmstudio 1929 presents its first experiment: People On Sunday, a film without actors.”

Like Natalie Portman in Garden State, I like to do things nobody else has ever done before, hence I watched the German silent film People On Sunday on my laptop whilst listening to John Zorn’s manic, screechy, pounding “Spy vs. Spy: The Music of Ornette Coleman.” Once my Portmanic originality had been established, I switched to Zorn’s more pleasing “Filmworks Anthology” disc.

Things the movie proved to me:
– All germans eat are sausages, and all they drink is beer.
– In the 1920’s/30’s, young men held spanking parties.

The movie suffered from the fact that I’d just watched Lonesome, a much more exciting movie from the same era with the same working-people-on-vacation vibe. This one has less urgency and romanticism, just taking it easy on a lazy Sunday, some friends out for a picnic and paddleboat ride, trying to score with women in the park. My favorite plot point was the girl from the original group who never makes it to the park, stays in bed and sleeps through the whole movie.

Nicely-shot and well-paced, a fine way to spend 80 minutes. It’d probably be a forgotten footnote if not for the amazing combination of soon-to-be-famous filmmakers who worked on it – co-directed by Curt and Robert Siodmak, Edgar Ulmer and Fred Zinnemann, cowritten with Billy Wilder, shot by Eugen Schüfftan (Eyes Without a Face, Port of Shadows), all just starting out in the movies. An IMDB commenter: “Within a few years most of these people were in Hollywood, and Hitler had destroyed both the wonderful film industry they had helped build and the joyous Berlin that this film depicts . . . the film allows us a glimpse of Berlin between the wars and it is sad to watch it with the knowledge of what was soon to be.”

N. Isenberg:

Shot in Berlin on the eve of the Great Depression with almost no budget, an equally modest cast of amateur actors, a relatively untested, unknown crew, and no major studio backing . . . a remarkably straightforward depiction, by turns affectionate and comical, of courting rituals, leisure activity, and mass entertainment circa 1930

In the first act the sleepy model and her man tear up each other’s movie star pictures – recognized Greta Garbo and Harold Lloyd:

Stylishly scrawled end titles: “4 million people waiting for next sunday,” one word at a time.

Some fun editing, including one weird bit with rapid cutting between a man in the park and various statues. Lots of close-ups and few intertitles. A different kind of movie, free-spirited and outdoorsy, can see why they labeled it an experiment.

Sweet record advertisement (from the same songwriter as “Jollity Farm”):

Now this is why I keep a movie journal – so I have to take the time to consider and remember what I’ve seen, so next year I’m not confusing Manoel on the Isle of Marvels with City of Pirates with Robinson Crusoe. I know I’ve seen Double Indemnity before, but last time shouldn’t even count, since I’d swear it was a Humphrey Bogart movie that involves some fictional law about not being able to prosecute someone twice for the same crime. Whoops, that was Double Jeopardy with Ashley Judd. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again, as they say, for the first time.

It’s really a perfect noir plot. Fred MacMurray is an upright insurance salesman, very close with his boss Edward G. Robinson (the year before he’d take center stage in Lang-noir Scarlet Street). They’re on the same side – Fred sells policies and Ed sniffs out fraudulent claims. But Fred’s head is turned by Barbara Stanwyck (also his costar in Remember the Night), trapped in a loveless marriage with a rich man. When she suggests taking out life insurance on her husband, Fred is immediately on to her. But instead of reporting her spouse-murdering desires, his own desire for her sucks him into the plot. Why not use his inside knowledge of life insurance mechanics to help her, gaining himself a rich and beautiful wife in the process?

Problems: first, Fred is spotted on the train pretending to be her husband (who was already killed a few minutes earlier, strangled in his car). Fred has a brief uncomfortable chat with Sturges regular Porter Hall, who turns out to have a great memory when he’s later interviewed by Robinson. Second, Fred underestimated Barbara, who is now trying to seduce the boyfriend of her dead husband’s daughter so that he’ll kill the daughter and tie up any loose ends. Confrontation: Fred and Barbara shoot each other, and Fred stumbles back to the office to tell the whole story into Robinson’s dictaphone, providing us with a narrator/framing device.

Nominated for every oscar but lost all to Going My Way, Gaslight and Laura. Shot by Preston Sturges’s cinematographer John Seitz. Based on an acclaimed novel by James Cain (Mildred Pierce, The Postman Always Rings Twice) and adapted by Wilder with the great Raymond Chandler (The Blue Dahlia).

R. Armstrong for Senses:

Subverting Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray’s audience-friendly personae, Double Indemnity used genre to comment upon a changing America. Revolving around the combative mating ritual of a larcenous insurance salesman and a bored brassy claimant, the exchanges are tough, vernacular and eventually brutal, echoing a war entering its final bloody stages and a burgeoning crisis in American sexual relations. Featuring a manipulative, sexual woman, and shot on LA locations employing chiaroscuro lighting, this archetypal film noir remains a masterpiece of fleet narrative and sociocultural resonance.

While everyone is pretending to count down the minutes until the academy awards (I’m not convinced that most people care as much as they let on), we’ve declared February to be TCM Essentials Month, catching up on past Essentials (and yes, oscar winners) that we’ve missed. There’s nothing more essential than The Apartment, which is on every list of great American films made since it came out. Unsurprisingly, we both loved it (much better than Avanti!, that’s for sure).

Jack Lemmon works at an insurance company where all the executives are terrible connivers, cheating on their wives with floozies and office girls they bring to Lemmon’s apartment in exchange for the promise of promotions. He does a good job fitting in, pretending to be a selfish skirt-chasing careerist himself, even outside the office with his neighbors, but ultimately he’s too nice a guy. He’s got a crush on Shirley MacLaine (doing well for herself five years after Artists & Models), a sweet elevator operator who happens to be carrying on a long-term affair with big boss Fred MacMurray (weirdly in the midst of starring in family-friendly Disney films). It all goes wrong, Shirley attempts suicide in Lemmon’s apartment, and he (with his doctor/neighbor) nurses her back to health. All very intense and dark for what’s supposed to be a comedy.

I enjoyed a small Tashlinesque attack on television, as Lemmon tries to watch Grand Hotel on TV only to be put off by the constant commercials.

TCM sez:

Billy Wilder created in The Apartment what many consider the summation of all he had done on screen up to that point. He was the master of a type of bittersweet comedy that had a sadness and a barbed commentary of modern life at its core. … With this film, he managed to make a commercially successful entertainment that, for all its laughter and romance, took a serious stab at the prevailing attitudes and way of life of a country where getting ahead in business had become the greatest measure of personal success.

Won best picture, writing and directing, all for Wilder who did it all himself, but lost the acting awards for Lemmon, MacLaine and Jack Kruschen who played the neighbor/doctor. The writing especially was pretty wonderful, my favorite dialogue of any Wilder movie so far. Also did not win for its glorious b/w widescreen cinematography, which surprised me until I found out a Jack Cardiff movie won instead.

Felt slightly long and slow and full of old men for a Hawks movie. Gary Cooper is a hunky young encyclopedia writer locked in a house with his coworkers (including “Cuddles” Sakall). Barbara Stanwyck is the ball of fire who hides out with them on the pretense of helping with an entry on slang, hiding out from her gangster boyfriend (young Dana Andrews, star of one of my least-favorite Fritz Lang movies).

Mostly fun to watch for the language. Written by Billy Wilder and Lubitsch vet/future Sunset Blvd. collaborator Charles Brackett. Same cinematographer as Citizen Kane, the same year. Remade in ’48 with Danny Kaye in the Gary Cooper part, Virginia Mayo as Barbara Stanwyck and Louis Armstrong as Cuddles Sakall.

The internet likes to say the encyclopedaeists were inspired by Snow White’s seven dwarfs, and so here’s me on the internet faithfully repeating it.

One of those long-discussed greatest-films-ever which upon first glance (and second glance) actually does seem to be one of the greatest films ever. It’s a super story with an incredible character for Gloria Swanson and boy, she nails it, but it also helps that I am a film nerd. Swanson helped destroy Erich von Stroheim’s directoral career 20 years earlier and now Wilder casts Swanson as a washed-up super-eccentric former silent actress and Stroheim as her tragic manservant. Enter William Holden and his young friends, all wannabe writer/directors, and a cameo by Cecil DeMille and Wilder’s got room to skewer damn near everything in Hollywood. And he manages to keep the mood comical while preserving a film noir (the commentary calls it monster-movie) atmosphere, without letting anybody’s flaws go unpunished.

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Opens with William Holden dead in a swimming pool, as he introduces his own dead body then narrates his story. Sound familiar, American Beauty?

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A dead-end screenwriter, he’s trying to avoid getting his car repoed when he pulls into a faded mansion just in time to see Swanson and Stroheim preparing to bury her pet monkey. She is pleased to meet a hot young screenwriter, hires him immediately to work on her monstrous script of Salome, which is to be her long-awaited return to the silver screen.

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Holden had no clear prospects as a screenwriter, he’s got no cash and no girl and he dreads the shameful return home to the local newspaper he left to pursue his Hollywood dreams, so he hangs out working on her futile script for a clueless Cecil B. DeMille, realizing too late that he’s becoming her kept boy.

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Was up for bunches of oscars but got its clock cleaned by All About Eve at the awards. Still came away with writing, art direction and music (beating Samson & Delilah, the actual film DeMille is seen shooting on the Paramount set). I don’t know if Golden Globes were important then (or if they are now) but it got picture/director/actress over there.

DeMille and Swanson:
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Immediately preceded Ace in the Hole, a dark time for Wilder. Stroheim would only be in seven more films before his death. Holden would play Audrey Hepburn’s object of affection in Sabrina. Swanson had profitably retired from acting and did not use this as a springboard back in, though she did make quite a few TV appearances.

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Apparently was turned into an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical in the 90’s.

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IMDB trivia page is packed. Among the actors who turned this movie down: Double Indemnity star Fred MacMurray, Red River star Monty “Raw Deal” Clift, Mae West (who was not in silent films), early Lubitsch star Pola Negri and Greta Garbo.

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Erich von Stroheim hadn’t directed in 20 years… Queen Kelly with Gloria Swanson having been his downfall. Norma Desmond says DeMille directed her twelve times – he actually directed Swanson six times. Love interest Nancy Olson went on to Disney flicks in the 60’s and Jack Webb (her fiancee Artie) would spend the rest of his career writing and acting for Dragnet.

Holden with Webb and Olson:
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Norma’s “Waxworks” (her bridge partners): H.B. Warner (DeMille’s Jesus in King of Kings, later a Capra regular), Buster Keaton (who was actually doing alright in ’50 with his TV show, in between film roles In The Good Old Summertime and Limelight) and Anna Q. Nilsson (not pictured, who costarred with Warner and worked with DeMille).
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Film/dialogue moment #1: “There was a tennis court… or rather the ghost of a tennis court, with faded markings and a sagging net.” We see the court already, but our screenwriter/narrator feels the need to fill spaces with dialogue and also tell us about it.
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Film/dialogue moment #2: Norma Desmond wordlessly brushes away a microphone.
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Ready for her close-up:
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Not the last film by Billy Wilder, though it feels like someone’s last film – he later made two Lemmon/Matthau comedies and a William Holden drama.

Katy disagreed with the romantic comedy term, saying just because a few funny things happen doesn’t mean it’s a comedy, and suggests the term dramedy as a solution. Long, static master shots are probably praised to the heavens by the critics responsible for landing this on the TSP1000 list for being elegant, masterfully composed, or god forbid, “rigorous”. I found that it sucked energy away from a too-slow movie, which was already disappointing for not being a comedy as advertised. That’ll teach me to trust the IMDB genre listings.

One of multiple chances to see Jack Lemmon naked:
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Okay, so it is a comedy, it’s just not very funny. Jack Lemmon travels to a vacation resort in Italy to pick up his father who died in a car crash and he meets Juliet Mills (mostly a TV actress, but she’d starred in a British comedy film a decade earlier) who is there to pick up her mother who died in the same crash. Jack is acting like a terrible, entitled jerk American but Juliet finally manages to corner him and tell him that their parents were having an annual affair at this hotel. It’s only a matter of time before she softens Jack and begins carrying on their parents’ affair with him – not that she does much besides smile and look like she’s having a great time. Oh, and there’s a half-hearted side plot when the Trotta family whose grapevines were destroyed by the car crash steal the bodies for ransom.

The Trotta family:
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The hotel maid is your typical fiery, hot-tempered, lovestruck movie Italian woman – she kills her husband (boyfriend?) for plotting to leave her, so when a U.S. government man shows up to help Jack, acting like the asshole Jack had been seventy minutes prior, Jack gives the guy a coffin with the dead Italian in it, and he and Juliet bury their parents together in Italy. It’s actually kinda sweet. “Avanti!” we learn at the beginning means “come in!” for door-knocking servants and hotel personnel, and inevitably for our romantic couple.

A big deal is made of Juliet being overweight:
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Carlucci, who runs the hotel and makes sure Lemmon has everything he needs, was played by Clive Revill, a New Zealander in a fake mustache who went on to voice the Emperor in Empire Strikes Back. Crude American diplomat Edward Andrews’ final role was in Gremlins. And at least one of the vineyard Trotta family was in a Fellini movie.

Carlucci with Jack:
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I liked this a whole lot, unexpectedly. Starts out in crisp black and white with moonlight shining on Audrey Hepburn’s mooning face, and only gets better. Not as much clever dialogue as Indiscreet, but a higher-quality film overall with just as much starpower, in its way – young beautiful Audrey versus super-suave Humphrey Bogart. Nominated for a pile of oscars, but trounced by On The Waterfront. Remade in the 90’s for some silly reason.

Audrey is the chauffeur’s daughter at the mega-rich Larrabee estate, has always been in love with wild, womanizing William Holden (normal-looking white guy from Sunset Blvd. and Executive Suite). She goes to Paris for two-year culinary training, comes back all fashion and sophistication. Holden falls for her before she even gets home – her dream come true. They go out, and dance at a family party, but he is supposed to marry a hot girl from another rich family as part of a family business merger (Larrabee develops super plastic made of sugarcane and her family owns a cane plantation) so big brother and super business-whiz Bogart incapacitates Holden by tricking him into sitting on wine glasses, then takes Audrey out for a few days to keep her away until the wedding. One place they go: a play of The Seven Year Itch, which is the next film Wilder would make.

But Audrey is awesome, has glowing moonlight cat eyes, and is now a master chef, so Bogie falls for her himself, and at end he cancels all appointments to catch up with the boat aboard which he’s shipped her off to Paris. Romantical!

This is now the latest Bogart movie I’ve seen – he’d be dead in under three years. Normal-looking William Holden is apparently a huge star, but I can’t say he stood out in this… certainly likeable enough. Head chauffeur John Williams had juicy roles in two Hitchcock movies around the same time, later in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter as Tony Randall’s boss who dreams of being a gardener.

What a wonderful coincidence that I watch You’re Never Too Young, and then find out the next day that the film it remade is on Turner Classic.

Robert Osbourne introduced as a screwball comedy, but the only thing screwball here is the premise. Movie is played as a straight, semi-romantic comedy. Same story as the Lewis flick but minus the jewel thief and with a sex reversal (and predictably there’s no equivalent to the Dean Martin character). So Ginger Rogers is the scalp-massager lured to an apartment under a false premise which gets her to leave town and have to pose as a kid to afford a ticket. She hides out in Ray Milland’s room, same thunderstorm and morning discovery scene, then has to keep up the ruse so Ray won’t get in trouble and kicked out of the military. Again, a happy ending with Ray getting his wish to be sent on active duty (makes more sense in the nationalistic war-ragin’ 40’s than in the 1955 remake) and happening to meet a finally-acting-her-own-age Ginger on the train platform (where she gives him a Katy-disapproved line about how all some girls want is a letter from their husbands-abroad every couple weeks).

Cute movie, with some major Creepiness Issues (Ginger cuddling up to Ray, wanting him while pretending to be a little girl and calling him “uncle”). Not the madcap funhouse of the remake, though… no Dean songs (they’re not missed) or speedboat chases, choral performances or marching band shenanigans. Turning the all-girls school into a military academy surprisingly doesn’t change much. Some scenes are very similar, like the long-distance call at the phone switchboard (though Jerry ups the humor with his nutty dancing and a voice-dubbing stunt). I’m sure there’s some auteurist reason why I should prefer the original to the remake, but sorry, I sorta don’t.

This came out a full decade before Ginger Rogers had a lot more fun playing a little girl in Monkey Business (another movie comparison which does this film no favors), and TWO decades before Ray Milland acquired his X-RAY EYES. Back in the 40’s he was cast not for the x-ray eyes but because he is an effective leading man, and an exact cross between Jimmy Stewart and Cary Grant. Wilder sez: “I wrote the part of the major for Cary Grant. I always wanted him in one of my pictures, but it never worked out.”

15-year-old little Lucy would grow up to play the love interest in the remake. Ray’s meddling fiancee (and Lucy’s big sister) was Rita Johnson (The Big Clock, Here Comes Mr. Jordan). The strict colonel (Lucy’s father) was Edward Fielding, who managed to portray military men, doctors, ministers and shopkeepers in over 70 films in the 1940’s despite a fatal heart attack halfway through the decade. Ginger Rogers’ mom, in her only screen appearance, played Ginger Rogers’ mom. Guy who gets a scalp massage at the beginning was Robert Benchley, the Jaws author’s grandfather. The young high-school age kids were actually 22, 21 and 16 (x2). That’s more accurate casting than the remake managed to get. The one familiar-looking boy had played Rudy in Shop Around The Corner, the kid the shop owner takes out for Christmas dinner in the final scene.

And what do I know about Billy Wilder? Not very much! Just enough to see plot parallels between this and Some Like It Hot. Saw none of the cynicism for which he’s known, but Wilder explains: “I was very careful. I set out to make a commercial picture I wouldn’t be ashamed of, so my first picture as a director wouldn’t be my last.”

Internet says the screenwriter invented the bad pickup line “Why don’t you get out of that wet coat and into a dry martini?”.