Billy Wilder was one of Hollywood's most talented and versatile filmmakers, having produced over 50 films and gaining six Academy Awards to his credit. Well known for his enjoyable comedies and features, he worked with many great stars. The Hong Kong Film Archive's "Restored Treasures" series will showcase three restored Billy Wilder films, with "The Major and the Minor" (1942), "A Foreign Affair" (1948) and "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957) - the latter two starring the German diva Marlene Dietrich - screening at 2pm on January 6, February 3 and March 3 respectively.
Born to a Jewish family in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (in today's Poland), Billy Wilder (1906-2002) started scriptwriting in Berlin. To escape the Nazis, he left for America via France and began a long and fruitful collaboration with screenwriter Charles Brackett in Hollywood. His famous titles include melodramatic works like "Double Indemnity" (1944) and "Sunset Boulevard" (1950) as well as comedies like "The Seven Year Itch" (1955) and "Some Like it Hot" (1959). Throughout his career, he directed many great stars including Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Shirley MacLaine, James Stewart and Jack Lemmon.
"The Major and the Minor" was the first film written and directed by Wilder in the US and featured the musical legend Ginger Rogers. The film tells the story of a young woman leaving New York for her hometown. With no money to buy an adult railway ticket, she disguises herself as a 12-year-old kid, but gives herself away with a half-smoked cigarette. She then takes refuge in the compartment of an army major but it arouses the jealousy of his fiance. Continuing in the vein of the popular romantic comedy genre of the 1930s, the film is full of delightful gags and punchlines, and it continues to provoke laughter today.
After the end of World War II, Wilder returned to the devastated Berlin to make popular political romantic comedies. In "A Foreign Affair", a congresswoman goes to Berlin to investigate the ethics of American soldiers and inadvertently stands in the way of an illicit love affair between a German singer and a soldier. To protect his lover's Nazi connections from surfacing, the soldier pretends to fall in love with the power woman. The three characters each play dual roles in a humorous love triangle. While poking fun at the Americans' moral correctness, the film also shows compassion for the plight of the Germans. Wilder specially cast Marlene Dietrich in the role of the singer with a Nazi background, while Jean Arthur plays the congresswoman who goes from being a prude to a flirt. Seen as disrespectful to the military and citizens in Berlin, the film was banned in Germany.
"Witness for the Prosecution" was adapted from Agatha Christie's detective fiction. A rich woman dies and her beneficiary becomes the prime suspect in her murder. Yet when the suspect's wife testifies, she turns into a witness for the prosecution, accusing her husband of murder. Wilder remained faithful to Christie's narrative twists and preserved the surprise ending, creating a film that surpassed the stage production that Christie had adapted from her original story. Film goddess Dietrich is most eye-catching in the film.
The film prints to be screened were restored and loaned out by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. All are in English and "A Foreign Affair" and "Witness for the Prosecution" have English subtitles.
Film critics Ms Joyce Yang, Mr Thomas Shin and Mr Lam Chiu-wing will share with the audience their views on film appreciation after the screening of "The Major and the Minor", "A Foreign Affair" and "Witness for the Prosecution" respectively.
Tickets for "The Major and the Minor" are now available at URBTIX outlets while tickets for "A Foreign Affair" and "Witness for the Prosecution" will be available one month before the screening dates. Tickets are priced at $50. Half-price concessionary tickets are available for senior citizens aged 60 and above, people with disabilities and their minders, full-time students and Comprehensive Social Security Assistance recipients. Credit card bookings can be made on 2111 5999, or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk .
Detailed programme information can be found in "ProFolio 66", which is distributed at all performing venues of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. For enquiries, please call 2739 2139 or 2734 2900, or browse the webpage: www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2011rt3/2011rt3_film.html .
Ends/Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Issued at HKT 12:00
A film still from "The Major and the Minor" (1942).
A film still from "A Foreign Affair" (1948).
A film still from "Witness for the Prosecution" (1957).