Billy Wilder's Fedora Is a Late, Frustrating Curio

Billy Wilder's Fedora Is a Late, Frustrating Curio

When Louis B. Mayer saw Sunset Boulevard, he cursed Billy Wilder as a "man who bites the hand that feeds him." He was misguided, of course, about that cool, beautiful, piercing movie.

But 1978's Fedora, made by Wilder nearly 30 years later — again starring William Holden — does show evidence of the bitterness Meyer alluded to; it could have been made by Norma Desmond. Holden stars as an aging producer fallen on hard times who hopes to revisit his past by luring a reclusive former star, the supposedly fabulous Fedora (Marthe Keller) out of retirement.

He tracks her down to Corfu, where she lives in a musty-genteel mansion with a withered old countess (Hildegard Knef) and a quack doctor (José Ferrer). Fedora, who hasn't aged a whit across the decades, swans around in a privacy- and skin-protecting broad-brimmed hat, sunglasses that scream "Please don't take my picture, I'm famous!" and white cotton gloves to protect her presumably shriveled hands.


Directed by Billy Wilder
Olive Films
Opens September 5, Film Forum

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She's a woman of mystery, all right — with her pasty-ghost skin, self-conscious mannerisms, and garish, lipsticky smile, she looks a lot like late-era Michael Jackson. Fedora may sound like campy fun, but it isn't. Wilder isn't making a sharp statement here, just belching out one long "they don't make 'em like they used to" grumble. The great Holden alone survives unscathed, a sympathetic presence amid all the sourness.

Wilder may have been a genius, but not everything a genius does is a work of genius. Fedora is a curiosity, not a lost masterpiece.

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