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It puzzles me why this film appears to have been so forgotten and
because I find it richly entertaining and, like so much of Wilder's work,
shows an abiding, (although not uncritical), love / hate of Hollywood and
all it represented. Wilder has no illusions about the Monster Hollywood
could be in its heyday when it created an almost parallel universe which
consisted of those on the inside the industry, and the rest of us who paid
homage at the box-office. Both parties were almost entirely oblivious of
reality of life as experienced by each other.
FEDORA is much more bitter-sweet than SUNSET BLVD., (his other film with which it is natural to compare it, and of course the presence of William Holden in both makes this even more compelling), but here we see people who, having made a pact with the devil of Hollywood fame and fortune, find it is a two edged sword that keeps them in the service of its mores and values forever, even though the effort of doing so nearly makes them die from exhaustion. Death or permanent seclusion is the only way to preserve a legend's immortality.
Beautifully structured, and with some excellent dialogue, all the cast acquit themselves with credit, and I find it a fascinating and valuable glimpse into a world that has now gone forever and which is never, ever likely to return. Perhaps more reflective and introspective than we expect a Billy Wilder film to be, but all the more richly satisfying for it. Highly recommended.
I wish to defend Fedora somewhat from the sole previous
IMDB reviewer. It is not a great movie such as "Sunset
Boulevard" but it is hugely enjoyable and a real treat
anyone interested in old Hollywood, and the bitter-sweet
quality of fading glamour.
Since the death of Marlene Dietrich, and especially with the publication of a biography by her daughter Maria Riva, it is now clear that Fedora is a direct portrait of Ms. Dietrich with much telling accurate detail.
Billy Wilder knew Dietrich and old Hollywood well, and even though made in the 70's, the film captures a genuine essence probably for the last time as figures from the golden age of film have since then moved into retirement and sadly largely slipped the mortal coil.
The real story of the EXTRAORDINARY Ms. Dietrich is better than any of her movies, and Fedora tells some of that story. It makes for more comfortable viewing than Maximillian Schell's documentary "Marlene".
Wilder is an intelligent director, which makes "Fedora" worthwhile viewing. I have always found "Sunset Boulevard" a little too arch and self-consciously aware; "Fedora" is a more lyrical piece by the director as an older man.
I devoured Tom Tryon's book and I made my own film in my mind. Needless to say, I loved it. Then I heard that Billy Wilder was going to direct the film version. Perfect, I thought, perfect. I wanted to write to Mr. Wilder to let him know about the film I had already in my mind, not camera shots, naturally, but casting. There was only one actress who could play the Garboesque Fedora in all her mysterious splendor and that was Vanessa Redgrave, then,at that exact moment in time. She was the only actress who could be all the other actresses we've always known and loved rolled into one. That in itself made her unique, spellbinding. Rachel Kempson a great British actress plus Vanessa's mother in real life, to play the old lady. The film was made with Marthe Keller and Hildegarde Kneff in those roles. I hoped for Terence Stamp to be the actor of Fedora's dreams. They chose Michael York. I remember a review by Pauline Kael I believe, when she came to review Michael York in this film her comment was succinct: "Michael York plays himself, unconvincingly". Maybe this is a suitable case for remake. With all due respect to Mr. Wilder, one of my heroes, maybe Cameron Crowe should have a go.
Billy Wilder revisits the territory of his Hollywood Babylon classic Sunset Boulevard, with the same male lead (William Holden) in an almost identical role as a washed-up screenwriter trying to get to a reclusive and mysteriously ageless one-time screen queen in order to pitch her a comeback script. Story elements include Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray and (off-screen) the many mad-doctor yarns of the 1930s and 1940s in which Boris Karloff messes about with Things We Were Never Meant To Know. Looks great in a brittle and glitzy 1970s way, as befits its scornfully depicted international-rich-white-trash milieu. Essentially it's a sombre but humanistic sermon on the hopeless worship of physical youth and beauty: as a medieval English writer put it, "who sows hope in the flesh reaps bones". A very relevant film for our narcissistic times, its only big flaw is that it's a mighty chilly piece of work, easier to admire than to love.
"Fedora" was made with German and French money.It speaks volumes about
what America thought of the commercial potential of one of its greatest
As "Buddy Buddy" ,remake of a FRench comedy does not count ,"Fedora" is Wilder's last opus.And it is a good film,nay a splendid one regarded in context,the best last movie Wilder could make ,which is just as well ,because when epitaphs are seen as worthless,the things that came before can sometimes been retropectively tarnished by association."Fedora" stands in little danger to bring this about.It is a last film ,soon,like the others ,to yellow with age but never lose its poignancy.
Some said it was a poor man's "Sunset Blvd" .There are similarities: flashbacks,real-life actors (Cecil B.De Mille in "Sunset" Henry Fonda and Michael York" in "Fedora" ) and the terror of getting old ,the longing for eternity.There the comparison ends.
For "Fedora" was ,in 1978,a "modern" film which the European (notably the FRench critic) hailed as a young man's work."Fedora" is absorbing from start to finish:it is ,in turn,a romantic story (the affair with York) an investigation à la "Citizen Kane" ,a thriller and even a Gothic horror movie.William Holden,Hildegarde Knef , Swiss Marthe Keller,Mario Adorf and Jose Ferrer are all excellent.
The first scene when the heroine throws herself under the train recalls the techniques of the forties/fifties .Whereas "Fedora " is a thoroughly modern film,it manages to display nostalgia for the things we lost when the cinema began to lose its innocence or became intellectual or "got small!"The same nostalgia we felt in "Avanti" .The luminous blue Mediterranean sky is in direct contrast to the darkness of Wilder's earlier films noirs.
With "Fedora" Wilder came out blaring!
The former successful and famous Polish actress Fedora (Marthe Keller)
commits suicide at the Mortcerf Station, jumping off in front of a
train. The broken Hollywood producer Barry 'Dutch' Detweiler (William
Holden) attends the funeral at her house in Paris and recalls that he
might have caused her death.
Two weeks ago, Dutch traveled to Greece Island of Corfu seeking Fedora out in the Vila Calypso, located in an isolated island owned by the bitter Countess Sobryanski (Hildegard Knef). Fedora has been living an unsocial reclusive life for the last years in the villa with the countess, the plastic surgeon Doctor Vando (José Ferrer) and her assistant Miss Balfour (Frances Sternhagen), since she abandoned the set of a film that she was shooting in London with Michael York.
Dutch brings the screenplay with a version of "Anna Karenina" to offer to Fedora, with the promise that investors would finance the film if Fedora accepts the lead role. Fedora, who is impressively young, is receptive to the offer, but the countess and the doctor tell that she is mentally unstable and paranoid and can not act again.
When Dutch discovers that Fedora will be secretly sent to a mental institution owned by Dr. Vando in Mortcert, he tries to rescue the actress from the island but he is hit on the head and faints with a concussion. One week later, when he awakes, he learns that Fedora is dead. Dutch travels to Paris and meets Countess Sobryanski that him the truth about Fedora.
"Fedora" is the swan song of Billy Wilder, with an engaging story; a complex screenplay and many twists about aging, selfishness and loss of youth and identity. The plot has many elements of "Sunset Boulevard", with a washed-up producer looking for a former glamorous Hollywood actress that surprisingly has not aged like she should and might represent his comeback to the glory. The secret about Fedora and her friends is unpredictable. My vote is eight.
Title (Brazil): Not Available
I enjoy the kind of outlandish stories like the one found in FEDORA.
The whole story is so much larger than life that seeing the sorta
mediocre result is disappointing because this story needed grandeur,
big budget, big cast, big everything, to elevate the over-the-top story
to its sublime glory. Oddly enough (and unfortunately for us) Billy
Wilder's movie mimics the film's story to a tee. The story is about a
famous but reclusive film star (obviously patterned after Greta Garbo)
who lives on an isolated Greek island. A producer/writer (played by a
too old William Holden) wants to meet with Fedora and have her come out
of retirement so she can star in his new film. Fedora had already
retired before but experienced a comeback a few years ago before
disappearing from the silver screen, this time for good. When Holden
meets Fedora, the woman seems totally crazy. The story that unfolds
afterwards is preposterous, soapy, twisted, quasi-operatic and yet
fitting, for a story about Hollywood.
The funny thing about FEDORA is how Wilder critiques old Hollywood and the then current Hollywood of the 1970s and proceeds to shoot himself in the foot. The convoluted story of a Hollywood legend unable to live up to her famous past is exactly what happened to Wilder when he decided to direct this film: Wilder was too old to direct this film. FEDORA, the film itself, is a pale example of what the director could do when compared to his films of the past, like SUNSET BOULEVARD and SOME LIKE IT HOT. Not only that, but Wilder also samples his older films' glory to drive his point in FEDORA, which, in turns renders the whole thing even more pathetic than it needed to be.
FEDORA, the film, is not really about the fictional story about a legendary actress but more about Billy Wilder, the director, a bitter old man trying to prove a point by showing to the world how over-the-hill he was.
The casting in FEDORA can only be described as disastrous. Hiring Holden was a very bad idea. His presence kept reminding me of SUNSET BOULEVARD, which even if that film was made in the good old days of the 1950s, was more sharp, more ironic, more iconic, more modern in its understanding of how image can distort reality than anything seen in FEDORA, which was made in 1978. Showing Marthe's breasts does not equate to anything than a pathetic attempt to be with the times. Casting Marthe Keller and Hildegard Knef was also a very bad idea. The voices for both actresses were dubbed throughout the entire film, which was needlessly distracting and watered down whatever attempt at acting those two tried to achieve. And Jose Ferrer looks bored out of his mind. In fact, the whole film looks bored, sounds bored, moves boringly. THE LEGEND OF LYLAH CLARE, which share the same kind of improbable storyline, is, even as bad as it is, more fun and enjoyable to watch than this dreary thing.
The film's bite would have been more convincing if FEDORA had more punch to it, more life, more style, more irony. As it is, FEDORA is just sad and pathetic. It's a shame because like I said, I love these kind of stories and it annoys the heck out of me that Wilder was more concern in trying to voice a (tired) opinion than actually trying to create a great film first. A proper remake, with grand production values and a bit more class (the film creates a sorta repellent image of Garbo), and hopefully without Michael York, should be done one of these days. The improbable, over-the-top, almost operatic story definitely deserves it.
William Holden made his fourth and final film for Billy Wilder who he
always considered his lucky director. With such films as Sunset
Boulevard, Stalag 17, and Sabrina to their credit who wouldn't consider
that lucky? Fedora doesn't quite belong in the same category as those
others from the golden years of Wilder and Holden. Still it's an
interesting film to watch and you can never make a visually bad film in
the Grecian Isles.
Holden plays Barry Detweiler an interesting older variation on Joe Gillis from Sunset Boulevard. Imagine if Gillis had avoided Norma Desmond's bullets and had gone on to a great film career and you have Barry Detweiler.
But the digs that Norma Desmond had in Sunset Boulevard compare badly to the splendor of the regal exile that movie legend Fedora has on the Grecian isle of Korfu. It's been a mystery how Fedora has managed to appear eternally young.
Back in the day Holden had a fling with Fedora and he's played here as a young man by Stephen Collins. Hoping to cash in on a quick roll on the beach from the Fifties, Holden has a script for a new version of Anna Karenina. After much scheming he does get into see Fedora, played by young Marte Keller.
Unfortunately some intriguing things keep bringing Holden back and in the end he does uncover the secret of Fedora's eternal youth. Let's say it was something not available to Norma Desmond.
Best performance in the film for me is Jose Ferrer, a quack plastic surgeon who has attached himself to Fedora as part of her entourage. Ferrer steals every scene he's in, that man was never bad in anything he did.
Maybe Fedora would have been a classic if Marlene Dietrich had come back to play the part of the old countess that Hildegard Knef did and Faye Dunaway had played Fedora. Personally I think the part of the countess was too close to home for Dietrich, but Wilder definitely wanted her.
What a film that would have been.
Fedora is one of the most bizarre films I've ever seen to say the
least. At points I almost laughing at the movie's plot twist, yet the
more bizarre and highly improbable the movie became, the more I found
myself getting engaged in the story, waiting in eager anticipation to
find out what will happen next with those oh so joyous "I did not see
that coming" moments. The film's highly implausible plot manages to
draw the thin line between completely absurd but never feeling like a
The character of Fedora herself is a reclusive movie star who goes to extreme lengths in order to stay "on top" and retain her eternal youth to the point which even Norma Desmond would consider crazy. Early during the film I suspected Greta Garbo to be the likely source of inspiration for the character of Fedora (whom Wilder always had great admiration for), but as the plot progressed I thought to myself "ok even Garbo was never this nuts".
One of Fedora's other intriguing aspects is its critique of New Hollywood and how times have changed since Hollywood's golden era came to pass. Fedora is the only film I've seen which displays a harsh attitude towards New Hollywood with lines referring to Hollywood being taken over by kids with beards who don't need a script, just a hand- held camera with a zoom lens and the demise of glamorous movie stars of the past. This is one of several aspects of Fedora which makes it similar to what you could call its spiritual cousin, Sunset Boulevard; which itself commented upon what was lost when the silent era came to an end. I could go on making comparisons between the two films, from William Holden playing a Hollywood hack in both films to Michael York's role the in film being similar to the role Cecil B. Millie played in Sunset Boulevard.
I imagined by 1978 Wilder was far past his directing prime, not to mention after the 1950's he seemed to become content with only directing comedies; thus I'm surprised to consider Fedora as one of his greatest films and a return to the roots of his earlier work as a director. As soon as William Holden's narration begins, you can instantly tell this is classic, old school Billy Wilder.
After just finishing Ed Sikov's wonderful biography of Billy Wilder, I
got interested in this movie, seeing as it was another pairing of
Wilder and one of my favorite actors, William Holden. Shot in 1978, it
has a very dream like quality to it, due to the cinematography, which
adds to the somewhat creepy atmosphere of the movie.
Trying to track an elusive movie star who has retired to a Mediterranean villa to star in his latest film, Barry Detweiller (Holden) cannot seem to catch the elusive beauty. Her compound is secluded, and all access is restricted. His calls and letters go unanswered. But he must get in to see the elusive Fedora.
After sneaking in to the compound, Detweiller believes he has caught his quarry. But a strange turn of events, reveal to him that all is not what it seems in paradise. Wilder's next to last film, is something of a return to his great "Sunset Blvd' featuring another Joe Gillis like character, and a another Norma Desmond as well. The two movies do bookend each other I believe, and if you are a fan of the former, you should try and see the latter.
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