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This film has everything going for it; a top international cast, glorious Greek locations, a tear-jerker Hollywood storyline, and it’s Billy Wilder for God’s sake. So how come it all went so horribly wrong?
It’s a kinda Sunset Boulevard 2 with a death early on, flashbacks and a mesmerising, gravelly voiceover from its star William Holden who plays Dutch Detweiler. He is on a mission to Corfu to convince ageing movie star Fedora (Marthe Keller) to make a comeback in a film he’s written. Fedora (read Garbo) is being held virtual prisoner by her quack monkey gland doctor (Mel Ferrer), and a mysterious countess (Hildegard Knef) who’s all black veils and ropes of pearls. It should all be wonderful, bittersweet, camp nonsense but it’s not.
Everything is over-emphatic, every gesture over-emphasised (just in case you don’t get the message that movies ain’t what they used to be and that ‘the kids with beards’ have taken over Hollywood). It’s like a bad TV miniseries that thinks it’s Fassbinder. Is everything meant to look shabby and washed-up? There’s out of place gloomy music from the old Hollywood maestro Miklos Rozsa. There’s a ‘comical’ Greek hotel manager that makes Basil Fawlty look like a master of subtlety. Even the flower arrangements are something done by Dame Edna on an off day. Says the countess of an embalmed body in an open coffin: ‘She needs touching up’. And so does the embalmed script. What might Pedro Almodovar (or Mel Brooks for that matter) have done with a movie like Fedora?
Holden’s voiceover is a sad reminder of what a haunting movie Sunset Boulevard was – mysterious and creepy; a bitter take on the threadbare tinsel of old showbiz. At one point Henry Fonda pops up for a nanosecond as the man from AMPAS. Michael York as Fedora’s irresistible love interest does his wooden best to resuscitate matters. The film has its moments (albeit many unintentionally laughable ones), but in all it’s a bit like Penny Vincenzi meets Shock Corridor.
There are movie buffs who will love this Billy Wilder curio. They will rejoice at having his ‘lost’ masterwork re-released. Maybe in 1978 Films and Filming would have gushed over it, but now it looks tired and lame and is best forgotten.