A Foreign Affair

A Foreign Affair: Billy Wilder's American Films

Gerd Gemünden
Series: Film Europa
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 206
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt9qcq5c
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    A Foreign Affair
    Book Description:

    With six Academy Awards, four entries on the American Film Institute's list of 100 greatest American movies, and more titles on the National Historic Register of classic films deemed worthy of preservation than any other director, Billy Wilder counts as one of the most accomplished filmmakers ever to work in Hollywood. Yet how American is Billy Wilder, the Jewish emigre from Central Europe? This book underscores this complex issue, unpacking underlying contradictions where previous commentators routinely smoothed them out. Wilder emerges as an artist with roots in sensationalist journalism and the world of entertainment as well as with an awareness of literary culture and the avant-garde, features that lead to productive and often highly original confrontations between high and low.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-066-1
    Subjects: Film Studies, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-5)

    In a scene fromHold Back the Dawn(1941), the Romanian immigrant Georges Iscovescu (Charles Boyer) is lying on his hotel bed in a Mexican border town, unshaven and sloppy, and observing a cockroach. As the insect crawls on the wall toward the mirror, Georges impedes him with his cane and asks: “Where do you think you are going? You’re not a citizen, are you? Where’syourquota number?”¹ The scene reverses an earlier one in which Georges had been interrogated by US custom officials about his intentions to cross into the United States. Georges’ identification with the cockroach illustrates...

  6. Chapter 1 An Accented Cinema
    (pp. 6-29)

    In the mid-1940s, when Billy Wilder had established himself as a major director in Hollywood after the success ofDouble IndemnityandThe Lost Weekend,only a few miles away, his fellow exiles Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer were setting forth their take on the US film industry in their now famous essay, “The Culture Industry.” In it, they described Hollywood as part of a system of mass entertainment that exemplified a modernity gone awry. They understood the culture industry to be a centrally controlled force that produces standardized and homogenizing cultural commodities, that negates individuality and style, and...

  7. Chapter 2 The Insurance Man Always Rings Twice: Double Indemnity (1944)
    (pp. 30-53)

    Insurance salesman Walter Neff’s (Fred MacMurray) second visit to the Dietrichson home in Los Feliz ends abruptly when Neffcatches on to Phyllis Dietrichson’s (Barbara Stanwyck) plan to take out accident insurance unbeknownst to her husband and then arrange for his “accidental” death. Rebuffing her advances, he quickly leaves the scene, but is unsure where to go. Deciding against a return to his office, he drives around the city, stopping for a quick beer at a drive-in restaurant (“to get rid of the sour taste of her ice tea”) and rolling a few lines at a bowling alley on La Cienega...

  8. Chapter 3 In the Ruins of Berlins: A Foreign Affair (1948)
    (pp. 54-75)

    Early intoA Foreign Affair,the delegates of the US Congress in Berlin on a fact-finding mission are treated to a tour of the city by Colonel Plummer (Millard Mitchell). In an open sedan, the Colonel takes them by landmarks such as the Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Pariser Platz, Unter den Linden, and the Tiergarten. While documentary footage of heavily damaged buildings rolls by in rear-projection, the Colonel explains to the visitors—and the viewers—what they are seeing, combining brief factual accounts with his own ironic commentary about the ruins. Thus, a pile of rubble is identified as the...

  9. Chapter 4 Ghosting Hollywood: Sunset Boulevard (1950) and Fedora (1978)
    (pp. 76-99)

    Early into the 1940 musical comedy,Rhythm on the River,Oliver Courtney, a famous singer-composer suffering from writer’s block, tries to persuade young writer Cherry Lane to write songs for him without receiving actual credit. Perplexed by his offer she expresses her fear that this would be a “misrepresentation,” but Courtney puts her mind at ease when he explains this to be a common practice: “It’s called ghost-writing. It’s a very profitable profession.” “For the ghost?” she wonders, only to be corrected by him: “For the writer.”

    Even thoughRhythm on the River(originally calledGhost Music) contains some clearly...

  10. Chapter 5 All Dressed Up and Running Wild: Some Like It Hot (1959)
    (pp. 100-124)

    A hearse drives through a city at night, four somber men inside seated around a coffin. A siren is heard, faint at first but rapidly growing louder. The driver and the man next to him exchange nervous glances; the men in back peek through the curtain and see a police car bearing down on them. The driver accelerates, weaving crazily through traffic while the policemen behind them open fire. The men in back pull a couple of sawed-off shotguns from a hidden overhead rack and return fire. Bullets riddle their car, smashing the glass panel. Suddenly, the police car skids...

  11. Chapter 6 Being a Mensch in the Administered World: The Apartment (1960)
    (pp. 125-146)

    A helicopter shot pans the Manhattan skyline from right to left, with the skyscrapers brought into relief by the afternoon sun, while a somewhat hectic voiceover informs us that on this day, November 1, 1959, the exact population of New York City is 8,042,783. We cut to an exterior shot of one of the tall buildings that presumably just passed by in the establishing shot, and the camera pans up its steel and glass façade, then dissolves into a panoramic shot of the interior of an immense office furnished with literally hundreds of desks behind which employees operate calculators and...

  12. Chapter 7 In the Closet of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970)
    (pp. 147-166)

    About halfway through the episodicThe Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,the famous detective (Robert Stephens), his trusted companion, Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely), and their client, the Belgian Gabrielle Valladon (Geneviève Page), take an overnight train to Inverness, Scotland, where they hope to find a trace of Gabrielle’s missing engineer husband, Emile. Pretending to be Mr. and Mrs. Ashdown, Holmes and Gabrielle share a sleeping compartment, while Watson, disguised as their valet, travels in third class. As Holmes in the upper berth and Gabrielle below him get ready for sleep, the conversation turns to the topic of women, and the...

  13. Chronology
    (pp. 167-169)
  14. Filmography
    (pp. 170-181)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 182-190)
  16. Index
    (pp. 191-194)