Biography of Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder was one of the most celebrated and successful Hollywood directors of his generation, responsible for classics like Double Indemnity (1944), The Lost Weekend (1945), Sunset Boulevard (1950), Some Like It Hot (1959), and The Apartment (1960). Like his directing contemporaries Fred Zinneman, Robert Siodmak, and Joseph Mankiewicz, Wilder was a Jewish emigre from Eastern Europe who fled the continent for the United States during World War II. Wilder worked as a screenwriter in Hollywood for six years between 1933 and 1939 before earning his first major credit as a co-writer for Ernst Lubitsch's romantic comedy Ninotchka (1939) starring Greta Garbo.

Double Indemnity was Wilder's third film as a Hollywood director, and his first runaway hit. Film scholars often cite the film as perhaps the earliest major example of film noir—a genre of crime drama that featured urban social realism, torrid romance, and morally corrupt protagonists. Film noir proved a popular genre among postwar moviegoing audiences throughout the 1940s and 1950s, until the release of Orson Welles's Touch of Evil (1958), which critics generally take to be the last example of film noir's initial wave. The genre continues to influence the style and tone of Hollywood crime dramas even today (in what are now known as "neo-noirs").

Wilder often challenged the censorships standards of the Production Code, making films that were boundary-pushing in terms of violence and sexuality, while still maintaining the highest standards of writing and craft. Double Indemnity featured two morally corrupt murderers as protagonists, a plot element that challenged the prevailing conventions of Hollywood narrative and the censorship codes of the Hays Office. The Apartment, The Lost Weekend, and Some Like It Hot explored a host of controversial themes for their day, such as cross-dressing, homosexuality, adultery, rape, alcoholism, and suicide.

Unlike Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock, Wilder tended to emphasize story and narrative over cinematography and visual panache. He still holds an outsized influence over contemporary Hollywood directors, such as French filmmaker Michael Hazanavicius, who in his acceptance speech for the 2012 Best Picture Oscar, received for his film The Artist, remarked, "I would like to thank the following three people. I would like to thank Billy Wilder, I would like to thank Billy Wilder, and I would like to thank Billy Wilder." Garnering twelve Academy Award nominations for Best Director over his career, Wilder is the second most nominated director in that category behind Woody Allen.


Study Guides on Works by Billy Wilder

Billy Wilder’s The Apartment may seem to belong more to the 1950s or even farther back than it does to movie comedies like The Graduate or Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The film’s release date of 1960 makes it the ideal sophisticated...

Many critics and film historians point to April 24, 1944 as the birth date of film noir, for it was on that date that Double Indemnity premiered. As is the case with so many other things to come out of Hollywood, film noir may be shaving a year or...

Some Like It Hot is a 1959 comedy film directed by Billy Wilder and starring Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis. The film is based on the French movie Fanfares Of Love about musicians who dress in drag in order to hide from mafia...

Sunset Boulevard is a movie made in 1950 and directed by the then-renowned, and now legendary, Billy Wilder. Wilder also co-wrote the storyline alongside Charles Brackett and D.M. Marsh man, Jr.

The film tells the story of aging silent movie star...