Oh, this was a sheer joy; a ‘new’ Billy Wilder film (well, one I hadn’t seen before) is like an early Christmas present. What a genuine pleasure this film was- the sparkling dialogue, the great cast, the perfect character beats, the effortless, consummate direction. As entertainments go, while this could be argued to be a ‘lesser’ Billy Wilder film, if only because some of his best were genuine classics, this film is nonetheless an absolute riot and is a prime case for the argument that they simply don’t make ’em like they used to.
Recently released on Blu-ray by Eureka, this edition boasts a very strong HD image and a raft of very interesting extras, but I’m sure even on fuzzy VHS this film would be great.
Based on an Agatha Christie play, the film demonstrates the advantages of stagecraft; the tight plotting, clearly defined characters and the drama generated by those characters (although Wilder actually made a few changes, they improved the on the play and made the film superior, by all accounts). Its a tense thriller/courtroom about an innocent man being tried for murder in a case that seems hopeless for the defence, and yet its also very funny and it has twists you genuinely don’t see coming. I mean, really, how do they do that- tense drama and yet so very funny? Brilliant acting that feels natural and effortless?
Really, it’s the sophistication of it that took my breath away- it looks so simple but you know such a lot of work must have gone into it, starting with the script. You see this so often with Billy Wilder films, the precision of the screenplay and getting it absolutely right before going to the shoot. Like a Hitchcock film, I suppose, the secret seems to be the preparation, and of course the casting is no small part of that. Charles Laughton chews up the scenery and proves the heart and soul of the film, a thoroughly entertaining performance of considerable merit, but the magic of the film is the whole ensemble.
The mystery of it all, as usual, is how it took so long for me to finally see this film- indeed, until this Blu-ray was released I didn’t even know the film existed- I must have seen the title on Billy Wilder’s filmography but it couldn’t have really registered. Like The Lost Weekend, this was a discovery I only made thanks to its Blu-ray release and thinking it worth a punt on the strength of Wilder’s involvement. Well, another very welcome surprise, anyway. I’m certainly hoping there’s plenty left ahead of me.