3/6/2007

All Movie Talk, Episode 23

Posted in Episodes at 5:00 am by Sam

Show contents, with start times:

  • Director Spotlight: Billy Wilder, Part 1 (1:31)
  • Trivia Question: Billy Wilder (16:24)
  • Fact or Fiction: Untimely Deaths (17:05)
  • Top 6: Time Travel Movies (26:26)
  • Film Spotlight: Rocky (45:09)
  • Closing: Trivia Answer, Preview of Next Week (57:05)

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Show Notes:

Director Spotlight: Billy Wilder, Part 1

Billy Wilder (1906-2002) was a writer and director, acclaimed for his sparkling scripts and varied directorial style. His Wikipedia entry contains a sketch of his biography — he was a screenwriter in Berlin who fled to France and then the United States after the rise of Hitler. He directed 26 movies in America (his first was made in France and is not memorable), many of them huge hits with critics and audiences.

Though best remembered as a director of films like Some Like it Hot (1959), Double Indemnity (1944), and Sunset Blvd (1950), Wilder had a hand in writing all of those scripts in addition to directing them. This makes Wilder a good example of an auteur, a filmmaker whose movies are clearly his visions.

But unlike many of the famous auteurs who are strongly associated with particular genres or styles, Wilder’s filmography is quite diverse. From total screwball comedies like The Seven Year Itch (1955) and One, Two, Three (1961) to serious dramas like The Lost Weekend (1945) and Stalag 17 (1953), Wilder moved between styles quite easily, making his particular vision tough to pin down.

Some themes do emerge from a careful study of his work, particularly story elements. He preferred the down-and-out hero as typified by Jack Lemmon in The Apartment (1960), wrote strong female characters (Indemnity helped solidify the femme fatale archetype), and had a cynical view of the world that was still far from bleak. While he was quite comfortable working in dark tones and styles, and his most praised visuals come from these sorts of movies, he always peppered his dramas with bits of humor to keep them from becoming too bleak.

Next week, we will discuss Wilder’s work in more detail, talking about our favorite Wilder movies.

Trivia Question: Billy Wilder

Though Wilder made his last film in 1981, he considered coming out of retirement to direct this classic 1990s film.

Fact or Fiction: Untimely Deaths

  1. Did a stagehand hang himself on the set of The Wizard of Oz (1939), and is his body visible in the finished film?

    Some versions of this story say it was one of the actors who played the munchkins that hung himself. Snopes gets to the truth of things and even has a clip of the notorious shot.

  2. Did a boy commit suicide in the apartment where Three Men and a Baby (1987) was shot, and can the ghost of the boy, along with the rifle he shot himself with, be seen in the finished film?

    The IMDb has the short version of the story, and Snopes has a more detailed account.

  3. Did Brandon Lee suffer a fatal accident during the filming of The Crow (1994), and is this accident in the finished film?

    Once again, Snopes separates fact from fiction, but note that its True/False verdict applies to its own wording of the question. Wikipedia also has a lengthy account of the story.

  4. Was The Conqueror (1956) filmed near a nuclear testing site in unsafe radiation levels, leading to the deaths by cancer of roughly a hundred members of the cast and crew, including John Wayne, Susan Hayward, Pedro Armendariz, and the director Dick Powell?

    The Straight Dope has a good summary of the story, as does the IMDb and Wikipedia.

  5. Are all the actors from the Poltergeist trilogy dead under suspicious circumstances?

    It’s important to ask the correct question. Snopes covers the issue, but its True or False verdict relates to a different wording of the question. The write-up is an excellent analysis of the story, and Wikipedia has its own page with a different (not contradictory, just different) set of information.

Top 6: Time Travel Movies

See our separate Top 6 entry for more information about our picks.

Film Spotlight: Rocky

Rocky (1976) is a film whose legacy often overshadows its greatness. Shot on a small budget in the streets of Philadelphia, it’s a surprisingly intimate and personal look at a never-was boxer who gets a lucky break and decides to make the most of it. Unlike some of its (inferior) sequels, it focuses more on its characters than its fights, and in doing so manages to say a lot about America in the 1970s.

John G. Avildsen directed the film, but the real auteur of the movie is star and writer Sylvester Stallone, who turns in a rare and brilliant dramatic performance.

The movie is worth watching again if you haven’t seen it in a while, especially if you go into it with the idea of taking another look at it. Not just an endless series of training montages (Even Rocky had a montage!) and boxing matches, this is a movie that holds up well 30 years later and has a lot to say about how standing your ground and giving all you’ve got is important, regardless of whether you win or lose.

 
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5 Comments »

  1. K.T. Slager (55) said,

    March 7, 2007 at 9:16 pm

    Great show, guys, as always. I was a little surprised to hear Sam mention during the Top 6 list that he saw Back to the Future at a military base in Germany. Which is funny because I was born in Germany when my father was in the American army and it was the year Back to the Future was released, and the movie takes place three days after my date of birth. Coincidence? Yes!

  2. Sam (405) said,

    March 8, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Was that you that was crying through the thing?

  3. K.T. Slager (55) said,

    March 8, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Okay, that made me laugh. Maybe it was me.

  4. Grishny (156) said,

    April 17, 2007 at 1:55 pm

    So, in reference to the segment from this episode on Time Travel movies… has anybody else heard about the pilot for a Terminator TV spin-off series titled “The Sarah Connor Chronicles” that’s in the works for FOX?

    I’m intrigued.

  5. Outatime (13) said,

    March 3, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    It’s a little late for this, but i just listened listened to the commentary of PRIMER. By the way, it’s amazingly informative. Packed full of gold nuggets. But what i really wanted to say is that it’s pronounced Primer (long I), like it’s spelled. The directer said it once really fast. That’s always been odd to me that he pronounced it PRIMMER.

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