"Funny, how gentle people get with you once you're dead."
The above quote is from the 1950 film Sunset Blvd, directed by Billy Wilder. It's Wilder's 100th birthday today; sadly, he died in 2002. Wilder co-wrote directed some of the funniest American movies ever-- Some Like It Hot is probably the one people remember best -- as well as dramas like Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd, and The Apartment. Even his less successful and lesser-known films include some wonderful moments. So in honor of Wilder's birthday, here's a Cinematical Seven on the creme de la creme of fantastic, memorable scenes in Wilder's films.
- The maracas-spiked conversation in Some Like It Hot -- Martha assumed that I would naturally include the last line from this cross-dressing comedy, which is in fact one of the best closing lines in film. And admittedly it is difficult to pick one memorable scene from a movie that has at least a half-dozen: the tango, the scene in the upper berth, Tony Curtis in the tub (and his Cary Grant imitation) ... I could go on forever. But I believe nothing comes close to that scene where Jack Lemmon shakes his maracas after every line he utters: "But why would a guy marry a guy?" "Security!" Maracas! It's one of the most brilliantly funny scenes I've ever watched.
- A sea of Veronica Lake clones in The Major and The Minor -- Wilder's first film as director is amusing at times, but it's hard to swallow the premise of Ginger Rogers posing as a 12-year-old girl. And it's very hard to believe that Ray Milland would fall for it, even if his character does have one bad eye. Robert Benchley has an amusing cameo, but the one scene that had me in stitches was the establishing shot when the military school invites the nearby girls' school for a dance. Every girl in the school has styled her hair in Veronica Lake's distinctive peek-a-boo style ... and so has the headmistress. Glorious.
- The iconic Marilyn shot in The Seven Year Itch -- This is probably my least favorite scene and my least favorite film on this list, but it's impossible to leave it out. Everyone's seen Marilyn Monroe standing on that subway grate while her dress blows and billows around her, even if they don't know that shot is from a movie. Time has not been kind to the rest of the film -- it's one of the most mundane Wilder comedies I've seen.
- Fred MacMurray meets Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity -- Come on, recite it with me now, because I'm not the only one who knows the lines: "There's a speed limit in this state, Mr. Neff. Forty-five miles an hour." "How fast was I going, officer?" "I'd say around ninety." And so on.
- "Beneath the Ruins of Berlin" in A Foreign Affair (shown above) -- Marlene belts out this song amazingly well, but the scene also includes an added element of suspense. (I don't want to spoil it.) I was torn between this scene and the one in which Jean Arthur, as a drunk U.S. Congresswoman, sings the Iowa state song in a post-WWII Berlin nightclub. The rest of the movie is equally good.
- The forced confession scene in One, Two, Three -- That description sounds grim because I left out the method of extracting said confession, which involves a novelty song that was quite popular at the time. Will Horst Buchholz's character crack? This lightning-fast comedy about the Cold War also includes a German version of "Yes, We Have No Bananas" and the wonderfully effective use of Khachaturyan's "Sabre Dance."
- The fate of William Holden's champagne glasses in Sabrina -- I have an awful confession to make: I actually prefer the remake of Sabrina to the original. Somehow, Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn don't much work for me in this particular film. I even prefer Greg Kinnear to William Holden. But I adore the riveting scene in which Holden has stuffed champagne glasses in his back pockets and completely forgotten about them ... but Bogart knows they're there.