Billy Wilder George N. Fenin - Essay

George N. Fenin

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

After the whitewashed film version of The Seven Year Itch and the uninspired Spirit of St. Louis, Billy Wilder is now experimenting in the sophisticated and whimsical realm of Continental comedy [in Love in the Afternoon]. This is the story of an aged American viveur who becomes involved in a series of afternoon sexual affairs with the daughter of a private detective in Paris. It is not particularly "explosive," to be sure, but at times the director manages to sketch an interestingly sarcastic portrait of a lonely man—a man who slavishly indulges in fine foods and wines, in the jaded atmosphere of the Grand Hotel, in languid lights and soft music, and a man who is capable of celebrating his bedroom exploits with the smoothest of ease. He is presented as an appendix of the Golden Era of the past century.

The sardonic vein that is carefully built up to portray this study of a useless man is, unfortunately, completely spoiled by a ludicrous finale—another typical example of the Production Code's Diktat…. The climax of the story, and of the film, would have been much more coherent and honest had the two lovers merely separated as good friends, retaining, at most, a nostalgic remembrance of their love rites and experiences together.

Instead, a sanctimonious solution is shoved down the throats of the ever patient audiences….

[Wilder] has still not been able to overcome what might be called a characteristically morbid love for cruelty in the introspective depiction of his characters, nor does he carry his conclusions to a legitimate and logical end.

With closer adherence to his principles and much less conformity to the Production Code, Wilder could give us some interesting films.

George N. Fenin, "'Love in the Afternoon'," in Film Culture (copyright 1957 by Film Culture), Vol. III, No. 4, November, 1957, p. 18.