According to the book 'On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder' by Ed Sikov, this movie had only a limited release in some European and American markets with little publicity. Apparently, an upset Billy Wilder complained that only "about $625 on a marketing campaign" was spent.
Director Billy Wilder refused to allow anymore cuts to this film. United Artists had already cut 12 minutes prior to a preview in Santa Barbara, and the screening had gone poorly with the audience, who were laughing during the wrong parts of the film.
This film is considered a companion piece to the director Billy Wilder's earlier classic picture, Sunset Blvd. (1950). Both movies star William Holden and deal with the life of an actress clinging to the past and unable to come to terms with fading fame and celebrity.
Around the time when this film was made and released, a number of movies about Old Hollywood were being made, or had recently been made. These included Gable and Lombard (1976), Goodbye, Norma Jean (1976), Bud and Lou (1978) and W.C. Fields and Me (1976). Bogie (1980) and Mommie Dearest (1981) would soon follow. The book 'On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder' by Ed Sikov maintains these biopics weren't successful at the box-office, nor had director Billy Wilder's previous movie been, The Front Page (1974). Due to this, the script for this picture had a restriction imposed by United Artists; Wilder and writer I.A.L. Diamond had a deal to write the screenplay but UA had a 45-day option after its submission date to accept or reject the project. United Artists passed, and the project went into turnaround, with the project later receiving finance from German investors.
Both this film and Sunset Blvd. (1950) examine similar topics; Hollywood actors and what happens to them with the passage of time. Sunset Blvd. deals with the passing of The Silent Era while Fedora concerns The Golden Age of Hollywood and the end of the studio system. These two films (considered by some to be 'bookends') were made about 28 years apart.
When the Countess is reading the names of the rich and famous who have sent condolences, she pauses when she reads Marlene Dietrich's name, calling her a "real fighter." Dietrich had been directed by Billy Wilder in "A Foreign Affair" and "Witness for the Prosecution."
This film was going to premiere as a US tele-movie from Lorimar Productions screening on CBS but before the network could finalize the deal, United Artists picked up the movie for theatrical distribution.
Final film doing producing duties for regular Billy Wilder collaborator I.A.L. Diamond. Of the 8 producing credits for Diamond, all are for the position of associate producer, and all for films made with director Wilder.
The 1994 publication of the biography Marlene Dietrich by Dietrich's daughter Maria Riva stated that by a comparison between this film with Ms. Riva's book, that amongst the handful of actresses upon which the Fedora character was based, Marlene Dietrich was the most dominant personality of them all.
The movie Fedora is making with Michael York, seen during a flashback sequence, is entitled "The Last Waltz". Coincidentally, Martin Scorsese's real film with that title, The Last Waltz (1978), was made and released at about the same time as this film, both in 1978. Other than sharing the title, they've nothing in common; Scorcese's film was a documentary of The Band as they played their farewell concert.
This movie was described as a "meditation on celebrity, the vanity of art, and the encroachment of age" by the 'Chicago Reader' whilst 'Time Out' said the film was "shamefully underrated . . . it explores the basis of cinema: realism, illusion, romance and tragedy - in a word, emotion."
This movie marks the first time William Holden worked with Wilder since Sabrina (1954) - a gap of 24 years. All of their previous movies together had been made during the 1950s. Moreover, Holden's character in this movie is similar to his in Sunset Blvd. (1950).
The script Barry Detweiler brings to Fedora is a new adaptation of "Anna Karenina" called "The Snows of Yesteryear." This title had actually been used for an episode of a British television show: Mrs Thursday: The Snows of Yesteryear (1966).
Henry Fonda: As himself, who is The President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who presents a Lifetime Achievement Oscar to Fedora. However, Fonda never actually served as president of AMPAS. Even though he's playing himself, his credit reads only "The President of the Academy" unlike Michael York who is credited as himself.
The trivia items below may give away important plot points.
Author Tom Tryon's original inspiration for his novel, upon which this the film was based, was silent star Corinne Griffith who in 1965 claimed she was not the original silent actress Corinne Griffith and was in fact a younger woman during a well-publicised divorce trial.
Neither of this film's lead actresses who play Fedora, Marthe Keller and Hildegard Knef, sounded similar enough, nor could they be clearly heard, according to the film's director Billy Wilder as outlined in the book 'On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder' by Ed Sikov. As such, for the English language version, German actress Inga Bunsch dubbed their voices whilst Keller dubbed them for the French language version and Knef dubbed them for the German language version.
Director Billy Wilder expected the actress that was cast as Fedora to play her both as a young and old woman. When Faye Dunaway passed on the part and Marthe Keller was cast as Fedora, Wilder was dismayed when the old age makeup prepared for the older Fedora (as Countess Sobryanski) aggravated a large scar on her forehead and caused so much pain that Wilder knew she couldn't act under those conditions. He was forced to cast an older actress for the old Fedora, and Hildegard Knef got the part. Wilder and Keller never established a good working relationship, with the result that her poor performance essentially ended her time as a Hollywood star.
At the public viewing, Fedora and Dr. Vando explain to Dutch that the medical accident that disfigured Fedora's face occurred in 1962, after 20 years of getting successful treatments at his clinic. Furthermore, the ensuing complications and stroke have kept her wheelchair-bound for 15 years. This makes 1977 the year of Antonia's death and the contemporary, non-flashback, time frame of the film.