Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Multitalented directors

Jack Lemmon is TCM's Star of the Month for January, and tonight, TCM are showing the movies that he made with director Billy Wilder. Although some truly great movies are being shown, starting off with The Apartment at 8:00 PM and Some Like It Hot at 10:15 PM, it's interesting to think about many of the great Billy Wilder movies that aren't airing tonight, and span a bunch of genres: mysteries like Witness for the Prosecution; romantic comedies like Sabrina, wild farces like One, Two, Three, and hard-hitting dramas like Sunset Blvd. or The Lost Weekend.

Wilder himself, however, said that he wasn't quite the greatest director, largely because he felt he couldn't do a musical. Indeed, Irma La Douce (airing overnight at 12:30 AM) was based on a musical but doesn't have songs. Other directors, however, were just as broad as Wilder, and directed musicals too.

Michael Curtiz was under contract to Warner Brothers for years, making back-to-back movies out of 20,000 Years in Sing Sing and Mystery of the Wax Museum early on in his career. Two different genres you may not find, until you consider that he won the Oscar for directing Casablanca -- which he made immediately after the musical Yankee Doodle Dandy.

Or, consider Howard Hawks. Early in his career, he made the hard-hitting crime drama Scarface. Usually, of courses, he's remembered for his comedies like Bringing Up Baby or His Girl Friday. But he also did a pretty good job on movies with lots of musical numbers, like A Song is Born, or Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Having said that, Wilder did have a talent that Curtiz didn't (and Hawks had, but only to a lesser extent): he was a great screenwriter. In addition to co-writing the scripts to most of his own movies, Wilder was responsible for some of the great movies of the late 1930s like Ninotchka.

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