27 Days With Billy Wilder And Me

Every Movie He Directed…From Mauvaise Graine to Buddy Buddy

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Day One: Mauvaise Graine

June 30th, 2011 · No Comments · 1934, Bad Seed, Danielle Darrieux, Day One, Directorial Debut, French Film, Mauvaise Graine

Mauvaise GraineBilly Wilder directed his first movie, the French film Mauvaise Graine (“Bad Seed”), in 1934. He was 28 years old.

Despite the movie’s age, and the hammy way actors often portrayed characters on film in the early 1930s, the movie is remarkably watchable. It holds up.

According to its entry on Wikipedia, Mauvaise Graine was co-directed by Billy Wilder and Alexander Esway, although (says the Wiki entry) “the leading lady Danielle Darrieux recalled Esway was involved with the project in some capacity but clearly remembered she never saw him on the set. In her opinion the film, which marked Wilder’s directorial debut, was his alone.”

“The screenplay by Wilder, H.G. Lustig, Max Kolpé, and Claude-André Puget focuses on a wealthy young playboy who becomes involved with a gang of car thieves,” says the description on Wiki.

I took a look at its entry on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) and noted two things about the actors:
1. They lived remarkably long lives before they died, and
2. Danielle Darrieux appears to be the only actor from this movie who is still alive. As of today’s date (June 30, 2011) she is 94.

A few observations about the movie:
1. Wilder relies twice on the image of a superimposed clock to indicate the passage of time,
2. The music sounds like it could just as easily fit in a Laurel and Hardy or Marx Brothers movie,
3. It’s framed well and the acting is rather good,
4. Much of what happens on screen is without dialog, acted out as if it were a silent film — a marked difference from Wilder’s later films, which are often heavy with dialogue and exposition,
5. The night-time scenes were actually shot — and crudely lit — at night. No day-for-night stuff for this director!
6. There’s a scene about an hour into the film in which two characters walk along a road. The clamor of their shoes on the road is hideously loud, as is the sound of wind blowing into the microphone,
7. Although I assume the movie was supposed to be serious, much of it seems comedic.

Mauvaise Graine is English subtitled. Usually, that’s not a problem. After all, French film star Audrey Tautou is one of my favorites. So I enjoy watching French films. But this time I wanted to study the Wilder’s movie and I couldn’t because it was difficult to do so while also reading the bottom of the screen.

C’est la vie!


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