A film by Billy Wilder
Fedora, a Hollywood legend who never seems to grow old, commits suicide. When producer Dutch Detweiler, her friend and confidant, becomes suspicious of the circumstances of her death, she discovers a truth stranger than any Hollywood fantasy.
Billy Wilder adapted “Fedora” from former actor Thomas Tryon’s 1976 novella of the same name.
As underlined by cinema critic Melissa Anderson Wilder’s penultimate film “may be a wan companion to one of his most celebrated, ‘Sunset Boulevard’ (1950). But several of its tawdry observations about stardom and vanity give it a kicky kind of sordidness, suggesting a squarer version of ‘Hollywood Babylon’, republished just three years before Fedora’s release.”
Wilder originally wanted to engage Marlene Dietrich as Fedora and Faye Dunaway as her daughter Antonia, but Dietrich didn’t accept the role because she didn’t love the original story and the screenplay. According to the book “On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder” by Ed Sikov, Allied Artists studios dropped its deal to distribute the film after it was screened in a special event in New York City and the audience response was unenthusiastic. The film was picked up by United Artists that asked Wilder to cut 12 minutes of his film. The first preview in Santa Barbara, California was a disaster. Halfway through it the audience began derisively laughing at all the wrong places. Dejected by the response and all the encountered problems, the director refused to make any more edits. Even if it had its World Premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 1978, as part of a retrospective program devoted to Billy Wilder’s work, this movie had only a limited release in some European and American markets with little publicity. Apparently, an upset Billy Wilder complained that only “about $625 on a marketing campaign” was spent.
The feedback from the critics was in general very positive and sometimes enthusiastic. For instance, Variety defined it a “bittersweet bow to the old star system”, while The New York Times called it
“old-fashioned with a vengeance, a proud, passionate remembrance of the way movies used to be, and a bitter smile at what they have become. It is rich, majestic, very close to ridiculous, and also a little bit mad”. A sort of self-portrait of Billy Wilder or maybe an anarchist epitaph written by the great master.