On Sunset Boulevard

The last film that Billy Wilder directed was Buddy, Buddy in 1981, and the last one he made that was really successful was Irma La Douce in 1963 so even avid film enthusiasts in the 1990’s might not realize how significant a figure he was in the film industry in the decades after World War II, or just how stylish and sharply effective his best films—Stalag 17 (1953), Some Like it Hot (1959), The Apartment (1960)—still appear.

Ed Sikov’s ambitious biography On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder begins with a clear, detailed discussion of the cultural and political factors in Europe before and between World Wars I and II which shaped Wilder’s sensibility, tracing his progress as a filmmaker from his earliest involvement with show business, to his gradual development as a screenwriter, to the beginning of his career as a director when he left Europe for the United States in 1933. Before he directed his first film, The Major and the Minor in 1942, Wilder has already written some of the most sparkling and intelligent screenplays of the time, including Ninotchka (1939) for Ernst Lubitsch, and Ball of Fire (1941) for Howard Hawks, and he co-wrote all of the films he eventually directed.

Wilder’s first employment was as a journalist who, even as a young man, was more interested in a gripping story than in factual reporting. Sikov shows how...

(The entire section is 414 words.)