Saturday, June 25, 2016

Hat Check

Fedora (1978) isn't the last movie Billy Wilder directed (second to last). It also isn't the last one we hadn't seen yet (there are still 3 or 4, depending on what counts). But it is definitely down at the bottom of the Billy Wilder barrel.

It shares many common threads with his Sunset Blvd. It stars William Holden, not floating face down in a pool, but much older and worn. The corpse is Fedora, a movie star of Norma Desmond's generation, who has just died. Holden flashes back to a few weeks before when he had gone to Corfu to convince her to come out of retirement to play Anna Karenina. She is hidden away, protected from outsiders by the Countess (Hildegard Knef) and the Doctor (Jose Ferrer). But when he finally gets to her (Marthe Keller), she is eccentric, a little wild, but astonishingly young and beautiful.

Now, Keller is no Gloria Swanson, so the star charisma we are hoping for is not as strong as it could be. So there is a bit of a void at the center of the picture. Then, about halfway through, we get to the twist, and we get some clunky chunks of exposition and flashback that explain perhaps too much too soon. The mystery of her doctor, her beauty, her seclusion are all explained in the last half instead of the last act, making the denouement a bit of a slog.

But there is a lot to like aside from these flaws, like Henry Fonda as the President of the Academy and Michael Caine as "himself". Just hearing William Holden doing voice-over narration for a Billy Wilder movie gives you a certain thrill. And the older Holden's face, magnificently beat up, makes his desperation of one more movie deal very believable.

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