Billy Wilder would’ve celebrated his 114th birthday on June 22, 2020. The six-time Oscar winner left behind a series of classically quotable features from Hollywood’s Golden Age, crafting sharp witted and darkly cynical stories that blended comedy and pathos in equal measure. In honor of his birthday, let’s take a look back at 25 of his greatest films, ranked worst to best.
Wilder was born to a family of Austrian Jews in 1906. After working as a journalist, he developed an interest in filmmaking and collaborated on the silent feature “People on Sunday” (1929) with fellow rookies Fred Zinnemann, Robert Siodmak and Edgar G. Ulmer. With the rise of Adolph Hitler, Wilder fled to Paris, where he co-directed the feature “Mauvaise Graine” (1934). Tragically, his mother, stepfather and grandmother all died in the Holocaust.
After moving to Hollywood, Wilder enjoyed a successful career as a screenwriter, earning Oscar nominations for penning 1939’s “Ninotchka” (directed by his mentor, fellow German immigré Ernst Lubitsch) and 1941’s “Hold Back the Dawn” and “Ball of Fire.” He transitioned into directing with “The Major and the Minor” (1942), and churned out one delicately crafted masterpiece after another.
Wilder hit the Oscar jackpot several times throughout his career, first with writing and directing victories for the addiction drama “The Lost Weekend” (1945), which also won Best Picture. He took home another screenwriting prize for the Hollywood noir “Sunset Blvd.” (1950), then snagged writing, directing and producing awards for the romantic comedy “The Apartment” (1960), becoming one of only eight people to receive all three trophies for the same film.
He amassed six more nominations for writing (“Double Indemnity” in 1944, “A Foreign Affair” in 1948, “Ace in the Hole” in 1951, “Sabrina” in 1954, “Some Like It Hot” in 1959, “The Fortune Cookie” in 1966) and six for directing (“Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Blvd.,” “Stalag 17” in 1953, “Sabrina,” “Witness for the Prosecution” in 1957, “Some Like It Hot”). “Double Indemnity,” “Sunset Blvd.” and “Witness for the Prosecution” all competed in Best Picture. He worked multiple times with such performers as Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, William Holden, Fred MacMurray and Marilyn Monroe.
Tour our photo gallery of Wilder’s 25 greatest films, including many of the titles listed above, as well as “The Seven Year Itch” (1955), “One, Two, Three” (1961), “Irma la Douce” (1963) and more.
25. KISS ME, STUPID (1964)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play by Anna Bonacci. Starring Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston, Felicia Farr, Cliff Osmond.
The usually delicate Wilder touch feels like a sledgehammer in “Kiss Me, Stupid,” a woefully unfunny and unsexy romantic comedy. Critics at the time scorned the vulgar story of a popular nightclub singer (Dean Martin) who chases after the voluptuous wife (Kim Novak) of a struggling pianist (Ray Walston), but it’s not the naughty content that makes it unwatchable. Rather, it’s the almost total lack of the director’s trademark wit, style and pathos that places this one squarely at the bottom of his canon. For diehard fans only.
24. THE EMPEROR WALTZ (1948)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett. Starring Bing Crosby, Joan Fontaine, Richard Haydn, Sig Ruman, Roland Culver, Lucile Watson, Harold Vermilyea.
Never one to do the same thing twice, Wilder followed up his Oscar-winning addiction drama “The Lost Weekend” with a much more lighthearted affair. “The Emperor Waltz” casts Bing Crosby as a cocky American gramophone salesman who hopes to boost his trade abroad by gaining the endorsement of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph (Richard Haydn). Though sumptuous to look at, this treacly musical comedy strikes a rather minor chord within the director’s greater symphony. An Academy Award nominee for costumes and score.
23. FEDORA (1978)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the novella by Tom Tryon. Starring William Holden, Marthe Keller, Hildegard Knef, Jose Ferrer, Frances Sternhagen, Stephen Collins, Michael York, Henry Fonda.
“Fedora” feels like a pale imitation of Wilder’s masterpiece “Sunset Boulevard,” right down to the casting of William Holden, who once again narrates. Struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis ages into washed-up producer Barry Detweiler (Holden), while Norma Desmond changes from a delusional silent film queen into a secluded ingenue named Fedora (Marthe Keller). The plot revolves around Detweiler’s efforts to cast the Garbo-esque star in his next picture. Michael York appears as himself, while Henry Fonda pops up as President of the Academy.
22. THE SPIRIT OF ST. LOUIS (1957)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Charles Lederer, Wendell Mayes, and Billy Wilder, based on the book by Charles Lindbergh. Starring James Stewart, Murray Hamilton, Patricia Smith, Bartlett Robinson, Arthur Space, Marc Connelly, Charles Watts.
If you know nothing of Charles Lindbergh’s appalling views on race and eugenics, then “The Spirit of St. Louis” is a rousing cinematic experience. James Stewart stars as the legendary pilot, who flies across the Atlantic from New York to Paris. Stewart’s pretty much the whole show here, so it’s a good thing he’s always compelling to watch. The Oscar-nominated special effects, which convincingly portray Lindbergh’s historic journey, are equally impressive. Incidentally, this was one of three films Wilder released in 1957, along with “Love in the Afternoon” and “Witness for the Prosecution.”
21. BUDDY, BUDDY (1981)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the film ‘L’emmerdeur’ and the play ‘Le contrat’ by Francis Veber. Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Paula Prentiss, Klaus Kinski, Dana Elcar, Miles Chapin, Ed Begley Jr., Michael Ensign.
When working with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Wilder could often mine comedic gold. With “Buddy, Buddy,” which was the legendary filmmaker’s final outing behind the camera, the trio came up with something more closely resembling bronze. Yet this comedy about a Mafia hitman (Matthau) befriending a suicidal television censor (Lemmon) when they end up in the same hotel is likable enough thanks in large part to the chemistry between its two leads, who make just about anything worth seeing.
20. THE FRONT PAGE (1974)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur. Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Susan Sarandon, Allen Garfield, David Wayne, Charles Durning, Austin Pendleton, Carol Burnett.
Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s classic play has been translated to the screen several times (most famously by Howard Hawks as “His Girl Friday”), including this vehicle for Wilder and his favorite onscreen duo, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Lemmon is a 1920s reporter who’s all set to retire and marry his sweetheart (Susan Sarandon), only to stumble upon the biggest scoop of his life when a convict (Austin Pendleton) escapes from death row. His ruthless editor (Matthau) keeps him on the case, hoping he won’t leave the paper. Wilder and cowriter I.A.L. Diamond relish in the newly relaxed censorship standards by adding some foul language to their adaptation.
19. THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR (1942)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based on the play ‘Connie Goes Home’ by Edward Childs Carpenter and the short story ‘Sunny Goes Home’ by Fannie Kilbourne. Starring Ginger Rogers, Ray Milland, Rita Johnson, Diana Lynn, Edward Fielding, Robert Benchley.
Though not technically his directorial debut (he co-directed the French movie “Mauvaise Graine” in 1934), “The Major and the Minor” was the first American feature Wilder helmed after years as a Hollywood screenwriter. Ginger Rogers stars as a New York working girl who poses as a 12-year-old child to save on a train fare to Iowa, only to fall in with an Army major (Ray Milland) who takes her into his military school. With his big breakthrough, the director shows he learned well at the hand of his mentor, Ernst Lubitsch, displaying the same ability to balance comedy and drama in equal measure.
18. THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES (1970)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on characters created by Sir. Arthur Conan Doyle. Starring Robert Stephens, Genevieve Page, Colin Blakely, Christopher Lee.
Dismissed in its time, “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” has gained a second life amongst Wilder aficionados. It’s a more melancholy look at the famous sleuth (played here by Robert Stephens), who takes on a case from a Belgian beauty (Genevieve Page) fished out of the River Thames after an attempt on her life. His hunt for her missing husband takes him to Loch Ness, where the mythical monster makes an appearance. This version is particularly fascinating for its hidden gay subtext: Holmes is portrayed as a closeted homosexual who isolates himself to hide his true identity, confiding only in his pal Dr. Watson (Colin Blakely). It’s that twist on a familiar character that makes this version endlessly fascinating.
17. LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (1957)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play ‘Ariane, jeune fille russe’ by Claude Anet. Starring Gary Cooper, Audrey Hepburn, Maurice Chevalier, John McGiver.
Wilder reunited with “Sabrina” star Audrey Hepburn for another sparkling romantic comedy. “Love in the Afternoon” centers on an aging playboy (Gary Cooper) who’s being investigated by a widowed private detective (Maurice Chevalier) hoping to entrap him with the wife of a client. But he soon becomes infatuated with the P.I.’s daughter (Hepburn). Sure, the age difference between 56-year-old Cooper and his 28-year-old costar is a bit jarring, but that doesn’t distract from the fun of this pitch-perfect bauble that’s a tribute to Wilder’s mentor, Ernst Lubitsch (right down to the casting of his favorite leading man Chevalier).
16. A FOREIGN AFFAIR (1948)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, Richard L. Breen, adaptation by Robert Harari, based on a story by David Shaw. Starring Jean Arthur, Marlene Dietrich, John Lund, Millard Mitchell.
Although it’s in concept a romantic comedy, “A Foreign Affair” is as dark and cynical as they come. John Lund stars as an army captain in post-WWII Berlin who falls in love with a German cabaret singer (a luminous Marlene Dietrich) and the U.S. congresswoman (Jean Arthur) who’s sent from Washington to investigate her involvement with a former Nazi. Wilder brings an added hint of pessimism to the comedic love triangle, making for a rather melancholy affair indeed. The film brought him yet another Oscar nomination for screenwriting and earned an additional bid for its cinematography.
15. FIVE GRAVES TO CAIRO (1943)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, based on the play ‘Hotel Imperial’ by Lajos Biro. Starring Franchot Tone, Anne Baxter, Akim Tamiroff, Erich von Stroheim, Peter van Eyck, Fortunio Bonanova.
In his second American feature as a director, Wilder changed course and firmly established himself as a major Hollywood player. Based on the oft-adapted play by Lajos Biro, “Five Graves to Cairo” centers on a British soldier (Franchot Tone) stranded in the Sahara during WWII. He finds refuge in an oasis hotel run by an embittered Frenchwoman (Anne Baxter), but it’s soon taken over by the Germans, led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel (a scene-stealing Erich von Stroheim). It’s up to Tone to get information to the Allies before it’s too late. An Oscar nominee for its cinematography, art direction and film editing.
14. THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH (1955)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by George Axelrod and Billy Wilder, based on the play by Axelrod. Starring Marilyn Monroe, Tom Ewell, Sonny Tufts, Robert Strauss.
Though it might not be one of the director’s best, “The Seven Year Itch” did provide Marilyn Monroe with the image that would come to define her: as a subway passes underground, the gust from the sidewalk gate blows her white dress upward, creating an iconic bombshell sex symbol for the ages. A heavily-censored version of George Axelrod’s hit play, the film centers on a faithful husband (Tom Ewell) whose eye starts to wander towards his smoking hot upstairs neighbor (Monroe) when his wife and kids are out of town. Wilder makes up for what he can’t explicitly say with innuendo, allowing Monroe to help fill in the gaps in our dirty minds.
13. AVANTI! (1972)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play by Samuel A. Taylor. Starring Jack Lemmon, Juliet Mills, Clive Revill, Edward Andrews.
Of the many films Wilder made with Jack Lemmon, “Avanti!” falls somewhere in the middle quality-wise: not nearly as pitch-perfect as “The Apartment,” but also not as forgettable as “Buddy, Buddy.” It casts him as a successful Baltimore businessman who travels to Italy to bury his father, only to fall in love with the dead man’s much-younger mistress (Juliet Mills). Clive Revill is a standout as a stuffy hotel manager. The film brought Lemmon a Golden Globe win as Best Comedy/Musical Actor and earned bids for Best Film, Mills and Revill in acting, and Wilder in writing and directing, though the Academy snubbed it across the board.
12. IRMA LA DOUCE (1963)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the musical by Marguerite Monnot and Alexandre Breffort. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Lou Jacobi, Bruce Yarnell, Grace Lee Whitney.
Following the critical and commercial triumph of “The Apartment,” Wilder reunited with Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine for this comedic adaptation of the famous French musical by Alexandre Breffort and Marguerite Monnot. Set in City of Lights, “Irma la Douce” centers on a sweet-natured cop (Lemmon) who falls in love with an alluring prostitute (MacLaine), hoping to claim her for himself. The film lovingly captures the romantic streets of Paris, while the stars and director prove yet again why they’re a winning combination. MacLaine in particular does wonderful things with a role that could’ve easily amounted to just another hooker with a heart of gold, earning an Oscar nomination as Best Actress for her efforts.
11. ONE, TWO, THREE (1961)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the play ‘Egy, ketto, harom’ by Ferenc Molnar. Starring James Cagney, Horst Buchholz, Pamela Tiffin, Arlene Francis, Howard St. John, Hanns Lothar, Liselotte Pulver.
“One, Two, Three” was James Cagney’s final screen appearance before he reemerged 20 years later for a supporting turn in “Ragtime” (1981). He’s a treat to watch in this farcical comedy about a Coca-Cola executive in Cold War-era West Berlin who has to take care of his boss’s Southern belle daughter (Pamela Tiffin). Turns out the girl has married an anti-capitalist East German Communist (Horst Buchholz), which Cagney has to keep under wraps if he wants to get a big promotion. There’s barely a moment to catch your breath in this fast-paced laugh-fest, which Wilder directs with a speed that’s both manic and nimble. An Oscar nominee for its widescreen, black-and-white cinematography.
10. WITNESS FOR THE PROSECUTION (1957)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Harry Kurnitz, adaptation by Larry Marcus, based on the play by Agatha Christie. Starring Tyrone Power, Marlene Dietrich, Charles Laughton, Elsa Lancaster, John Williams.
In adapting Agatha Christie’s famous play, Wilder crafts a delectably entertaining courtroom thriller. Charles Laughton gives another to-the-rafters performance as a sickly British barrister who’s pulled out of retirement to defend a poor American (Tyrone Power) accused of murdering a wealthy French widow. Marlene Dietrich is at her very best as the defendant’s loyal wife, a former German dance hall girl. There’s one surprise after another in this first-rate mystery, which has all the trappings of a pulpy pot boiler wrapped in a pristine package. The film earned six Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for Wilder, and lead and supporting acting bids respectively for Laughton and Elsa Lancaster as his live-in nurse.
9. THE FORTUNE COOKIE (1966)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Ron Rich, Judi West, Cliff Osmond, Lurene Tuttle.
“The Fortune Cookie” was the first of 11 films Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made together (including Lemmon’s solo directorial outing, “Kotch”), and it’s clear from the get-go why this odd couple belonged together: one’s fastidiousness contrasts beautifully with the other’s scruffiness. Another in a long line of biting satires by Wilder, “The Fortune Cookie” centers on an ambulance-chasing attorney (Matthau) who convinces his brother-in-law (Lemmon), a TV news cameraman, to exaggerate an on-the-job injury for insurance purposes. The film earned Matthau a Supporting Actor Oscar, plus nominations for Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s script, cinematography and art direction.
8. THE LOST WEEKEND (1945)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Charles Brackett, based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson. Starring Ray Milland, Jane Wyman, Phillip Terry, Howard Da Silva, Doris Dowling, Frank Faylen.
Wilder hit the Oscar jackpot for the first time with this with harrowing look at the effects of alcoholism. Based on the novel by Charles R. Jackson, it centers on a writer (Ray Milland) who blows off a weekend getaway with his girlfriend (Jane Wyman) and brother (Phillip Terry) to go on a four day drinking binge (in the original book, the boozing stems from him being a closeted homosexual, which the movie leaves out). Though it tends to sermonize a bit more the the filmmaker’s other works, it’s grittier and more authentic than other addiction dramas from Hollywood’s golden age, thanks in large part to Milland’s sterling performance and some striking visuals. The film took home four Academy Awards: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor (Milland) and Best Adapted Screenplay (Wilder and Charles Brackett).
7. SABRINA (1954)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Ernest Lehman, and Samuel A. Taylor, based on Taylor’s play. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn, William Holden, Walter Hampden, John Williams, Martha Hyer, Joan Vohs.
Since the world fell in love with Audrey Hepburn, it’s not surprising that Humphrey Bogart and William Holden would as well. She stars in this sparkling, effervescent romantic comedy as Sabrina, the glamorous daughter of a chauffeur who works for the wealthy Larrabee family. She has been in love with playboy son David (Holden) all her life, and he suddenly starts returning her affections. But older brother Linus (Bogart) finds himself drawn to her as well, and just might be a better match. It’s a testament to Wilder’s modern sensibilities that this holds up better than the 1995 remake, with Julia Ormond trying to fill Hepburn’s fashionable shoes. The film snagged six Oscar nominations, including writing and directing bids for Wilder and Best Actress for Hepburn, winning for Edith Head’s dazzling costumes.
6. STALAG 17 (1953)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Edwin Blum and Billy Wilder, based on the play by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski. Starring William Holden, Don Taylor, Otto Preminger, Robert Strauss, Harvey Lembeck, Peter Graves, Sig Ruman.
It’s rare for an actor to win the Oscar for his career-best performance, but such was the case with William Holden and “Stalag 17.” He plays J. J. Sefton, a cynical American POW who openly barters with the German camp leaders to receive special treatment, much to the consternation of the other inmates. When two escapees are killed, his fellow soldiers begin to suspect he’s an informant, forcing him to snuff out the real rat. Per usual with Wilder, the satire is pitch black and biting. Holden tears his teeth into this meaty role, spewing Sefton’s venom and disenchantment with glee. Wilder competed in Best Director, while Robert Strauss contended in Best Supporting Actor for playing camp cut-up Stanislaus “Animal” Kuzawa (a role he played in the original Broadway production).
5. ACE IN THE HOLE (1951)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Walter Newman, Lesser Samuels, Billy Wilder, story by Victor Desny. Starring Kirk Douglas, Jan Sterling, Bob Arthur, Porter Hall.
This scathing media satire has a heart that’s black as coal and a wit that’s sharp as a knife, so it’s little wonder that 1951 audiences wholly rejected it. Yet time has provided a different verdict, and “Ace in the Hole” feels more relevant than ever. Kirk Douglas is at his most vicious as a ruthless, hard-drinking reporter kicked out of every major news outlet in the country. Stuck at a small-time Albuquerque newspaper, he sees an opportunity to revive his career when a man becomes trapped in a mine. As he exploits the story for all it’s worth, the situation soon turns into an out-of-control circus. Ahead of his time as always, Wilder indicts both carnival-like journalism and the audiences who eat it up. Though it tanked at the box office, the film did earn the director yet another Oscar nomination for screenwriting.
4. DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on the novel by James M. Cain. Starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson, Porter Hall, Jean Heather, Byron Barr, Richard Gaines, John Philliber.
“Double Indemnity” is deliciously cynical and cold-blooded, a film noir masterpiece that holds up well in our age of irony. Based on James M. Cain’s hardboiled novel (adapted by fellow hardboiled author Raymond Chandler), it centers on two horrible people who were made for each other: insurance salesman Walter Neff (“Two ff’s, like in Philadelphia”) and femme fatale Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck). Together, they hatch a scheme to bump off Phyllis’s husband and collect his accidental death claim. Only problem is Walter’s boss and mentor (Edward G. Robinson) is hot on the case. (It’s rather telling that there’s more affection between these two men than there is between the scheming love birds.) The film earned seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and writing and directing bids for Wilder.
3. SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on the story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan. Starring Jack Lemmon, Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, George Raft, Joe E. Brown, Pat O’Brien.
“Some Like It Hot” has a premise of almost Olympian silliness that’s executed with wit, sex and style by Wilder. It also features Marilyn Monroe at her most tantalizing and Jack Lemmon as his comedic best. Lemmon and Tony Curtis star as Chicago musicians who have to go on the run after witnessing a mob hit. Desperate to not draw attention to themselves, they decide to don dresses and join an all-women’s band, led by the alluring Sugar Kane (Monroe). While Curtis tries to romance Monroe by also playing a Cary Grant lookalike, Lemmon finds himself being chased by a wealthy bachelor (Joe E. Brown), leading to one of the all-time greatest final lines (“Well, nobody’s perfect” says Brown when he finds out his beloved is actually a man). The film earned six Oscar nominations, including writing and directing bids for Wilder.
2. THE APARTMENT (1960)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond. Starring Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Jack Kruschen, Ray Walston, Edie Adams.
“The Apartment” is a perfect star vehicle for Jack Lemmon, that most melancholy of comedic leads, and Shirley MacLaine, whose cheerfulness masks a deeper pain. It’s also a career highlight for Wilder, who finds the perfect balance between sorrow and laughter. It centers on C.C. Baxter (Lemmon), who hopes to work his way up the corporate ladder by renting out his home to his employers for their extramarital affairs. He falls in love with the beautiful elevator girl Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), who’s waiting for the boss (Fred MacMurray) to leave his wife for her. By the time these two get together (“Shut up and deal,” MacLaine tells Lemmon in an all-time great closing line) our hearts swoon. The film won five Oscars, including three for Wilder: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (shared with I.A.L. Diamond).
1. SUNSET BLVD. (1950)
Directed by Billy Wilder. Written by Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and D.M. Marshman Jr., Starring William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson, Fred Clark, Lloyd Gough, Cecil B. DeMille.
The image of Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson), a fading, delusional silent film star wasting away in her decrepit mansion, burns brightly in the memories of any cinema lover, and “Sunset Blvd.” holds a special place in their hearts. William Holden stars in Wilder’s classic Hollywood noir as Joe Gillis, a struggling screenwriter who allows himself to be taken in by the actress twice his age. Erich Von Stroheim is her loyal butler, Max, a once-great director now tending to his ex-wife’s needs, and Nancy Olson is Betty Schaefer, a perky young script reader who falls in love with the doomed wordsmith. Wilder won an Oscar for his screenplay, which features one memorable line of dialogue after another (“All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”), and competed in Best Director. Swanson, Holden, von Stroheim and Olsen all earned acting bids, and the film contended in Best Picture.