Based on an idea by Billy Wilder

Posted in FILM, literature with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2016 by dcairns


Billy Wilder dismissed the drama FOURTEEN HOURS, in which a suicidal man perches on a window ledge, as uninteresting, and said that in his version the man would be a philanderer escaping a jealous husband, fleeing onto the window ledge and being mistaken for a suicide. He then has to play along.

It feels like Billy Wilder couldn’t open his mouth without somebody making off with his words, because the late Gene Wilder’s THE WOMAN IN RED and the film which inspired it, Yves Robert’s UN ÉLÉPHANT ÇA TROMPE ÉNORMÉMENT took that idea and spun a whole movie around it. (Love the prophetic seagull cries: when you hear them in the Wilder, you know they came from the French original. Not an American idea.)

Maurice Zolotow’s biography of Wilder features a couple of ideas which Wilder never got around to finishing. In one, a gangster is tormented by inexplicable crying jags and must seek therapy. This of course is the starting point of both ANALYSE THIS! and The Sopranos. Those both came along at around the same time, and could be interpreted as not so much cases of parallel development as parallel swiping from Billy Wilder.

The bio also tells us of a story Wilder pitched to Charles Laughton, after they had enjoyed working together on WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION. In this one, set in post-war Britain, the gentry are being hit with property taxes, and finding they have to tighten their belts. But one stately lord (Laughton), seems to still be living high on the hog, and none of his blue-blooded friends can figure out how he’s doing it. The truth eventually is revealed to the audience: he’s been earning a fortune with his secret identity as a masked wrestler.

This pitch had Laughton rolling on the floor in hysterics, begging for mercy, But Wilder could never work out an ending for it.

Nobody, so far as I know, has adapted this idea, perhaps because its social moment has passed, but I may have just discovered where Wilder got the idea from.

In P.G. Wodehouse’s Ring for Jeeves, aristocrat Bill Rowcester (pronounced “Roaster”) is able to employ servants, including the mighty Jeeves, even as fellow aristos are having to get actual jobs for the first time in their lives. In this story, the secret is that Bill has been earning money on the sly as a bookie, wearing a preposterous false beard and eye-patch, in what turns out to be one of Jeeves’ less inspired ideas.

(Bill “Roaster” is very much like Bertie Wooster, but for this plot Wodehouse wanted to work with a hero who was financially embarrassed and romantically involved, neither of which would work for Bertie. An excuse is found for Jeeves to briefly come to work for another master.)

Did Wilder borrow the idea and adapt it? The timing seems right: Wodehouse’s book was published in America in 1954, and Wilder worked with Laughton in 1957. (He planned to cast Laughton in a supporting role in IRMA LA DOUCE in 1963, but Laughton fell ill with the cancer that would kill him. Zolotow tells us that Wilder carried on the pretense that they would make the film together, visiting the ailing actor for regular story updates.)

I like the idea of Wilder being influenced by Wodehouse. Everyone should be.

The Judex Files: Artificial Desperation

Posted in FILM with tags , , , on October 27, 2016 by dcairns


In episode four of JUDEX, villainous Diana Monti (Musidora) and Morales, her thoroughly whipped sidekick, indulge in a bit of grave-robbery. But wait! Does it count if the grave is in fact empty? That’s not even an exhumation, is it? It’s basically just digging. The worst you could charge them with is wrongful digging.

So now the bad guys know that rotten banker Favraux is most likely alive and they deduce he’s in the hands of the mysterious Judex who’s been thwarting them so assiduously. But they also assume that Judex is really the detective Cocantin ~


They are quite, quite wrong.

Then they launch into their most elaborate kidnap scheme yet — like Wile E. Coyote, they seem to assume that when simple plans fail, the answer must be to move on to schemes of Rube Goldbergian complexity. This time they’re going to start by murdering their target, the banker’s daughter, in the hopes that she will be rescued but become ill, so that they can send a fake ambulance to collect her. I assume that’s the plan: the alternative would be that they change their minds about abducting her, decide to murder her, and when that fails, return to their first love, kidnap. I prefer silly plot #1 to silly plot #2.


I do love seeing Monti & Morales in their “lair” — so cosy!

Quite emotional stuff as the poor woman is rescued and resuscitated by the tots, and the heroic Licorice Kid prevents his playmate from realising that the stricken woman is his own mum.

The Stove Killer

Posted in FILM, weather with tags , , , on October 26, 2016 by dcairns


THE EXECUTIONER is now available from Criterion, with a text essay by me. The essay’s not online yet but you can read the original piece which got me the gig, here.

UPDATE: here is the new piece.

The disc just arrived and is pictured resting on our lovely old stove, but it’s quite safe from melting as the chimney sweep has just been and condemned the stove as unsafe. Not only is it presently unsafe, but it has apparently never been safe, and we’ve been using it for decades. Which means either we’re lucky to be alive, or maybe it IS safe. The expression “only time will tell is inadequate here: it seems to me that time HAS told, but the chimney sweep is refusing to listen.

It is an excellent film.