The Film (4/5)
Independent Film producer Barry “Dutch” Detweiler (William Holden), is desperate to make another hit picture. With his luck fading quickly, he finds a dream project, a new adaptation of Anna Karenina. But there’s one small problem, He must cast retired and recluse actress Fedora (Marthe Keller). Traveling to Greece, he discovers Fedora is living in a hostile situation and is under the care of The Countess (Hildegard Knef) and her maid Miss Balfour (Frances Sternhagen). As Barry gets closer, he discovers that there’s more than meets the eye.
FEDORA (1978) is an interesting film in the career of Director Billy Wilder. It’s his next to final movie he ever directed (his last was 1981’s BUDDY BUDDY), and it’s in many ways an unofficial sequel to his 1950 classic SUNSET BOULEVARD. While SUNSET, dealt with the bittersweet past of silent film stars, FEDORA deals with the death of the old star system and the extremes to keep the legacy of a movie star. The movie is also a fine fusion of old Hollywood melodrama and the bright locations and lively camerawork of the New Wave and New Hollywood of the 1970’s.
While not as bleak or sharp witted as SUNSET BOULEVARD, FEDORA shows off Billy Wilder’s brilliant writing, even if the film’s main mystery is predictable and flat. The characters are all selfish and unsympathetic, but Wilder gives the characters some charm and fleshes them out. The first two acts may seem like a rehash or Wilder in Auto pilot, but the movie finally becomes its own beast with the final act. As for dialogue, Wilder stills has it, especially when spoofing New Hollywood, with great lines like, “They Don’t need scripts, just give ‘em a hand-held camera with Zoom lens”.
Cast wise, everyone is top notch. William Holden (SUNSET BOULEVARD, THE WILD BUNCH) is likeable and gives the movie some great emotional impact. Film narration can be a problematic device, but together Wilder and Holden give the movie fascinating and clever narration. Martha Keller (MARATHON MAN) is a little flat in her role, but given the character’s nature, it could’ve been worse. Mario Adorf (Fernando Di Leo’s THE ITALIAN CONNECTION) plays a hilarious geek hotel manager, whose running gag is all the luxurious services keep backfiring in his face. Hildegard Knef (DECISION BEFORE DAWN) gives the Countess some depth, but her best scenes are in the end that I’m not going to spoil. Frances Sternhagen (OUTLAND) is always good to have on hand to take a one note role like the maid and beef it up. Jose Ferrer (THE CAINE MUTINY) is also great in his role as the drunk Doctor with a fondness for Russian classics. It’s cool to spot Gottfried John (GOLDENEYE) in a minor role as the driver and handy man who throws a mean punch. And finally, in Cameos are Michael York (LOGAN’S RUN), Henry Fonda (ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST), and Stephen Collins (STAR TREK THE MOTION PICTURE).
Audio/ Video (5/5)
FEDORA comes with an English LPCM 2.0 Channel audio track. The sound mix is excellent with no hiss. The soundtrack, sound effects, and dialogue are all fine-tuned and sound excellent. There’s a few moments where you can spot the ADRed dialogue, but it’s not too distracting.
The movie has a near perfect 1080p HD transfer. The Restoration work really paid off, as the movie jumps off the screen. The sun-bathed locations in Greece and the vivid colors shine. There’s little noticeable film grain. By far one of the best Transfers I’ve seen this year.
Extras on the disc itself, is a little scare. There’s a deleted scenes gallery, but most are just small chunks of film that didn’t make the cut, instead of full scenes. There’s also a brief Restoration Demo, showing the before and after of the restoration process. Rounding out the package is a 48- page booklet of liner notes with essays by Film Scholar Neil Sinyard, Critic/filmmaker David Cairns, also there’s a behind the scenes account by assistant director Rex McGee and production stills.
FEDORA may not be a perfect mystery, but Billy Wilder delivers a highly entertaining movie about the extremes one goes through to be a star, and keeping one’s legacy. It’s also a fine sister film to SUNSET BOULEVARD and shows that Wilder’s work hasn’t lost any of its class. Eureka’s Blu-ray/ DVD combo, may be light on extras, but the stunning audio and video quality make this a worthwhile release. Highly Recommended.
*Extras are the same on the DVD.