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Was Billy Wilder Hollywood's greatest raconteur? There are many who answer in the affirmative, and Wilder was renowned for being one of the wittiest men of his era. Many of his choice anecdotes are on display in Billy Wilder Speaks, a freewheeling session originally filmed for German television. Volker Schlondorff, an accomplished filmmaker himself, sat down with Wilder in the latter's Hollywood office for a series of (seemingly offhand) interviews, during which the two pros switch from English to German with fluid ease. Wilder tells of the famous actors he worked with and befriended, such as Marlene Dietrich, William Holden, and Jack Lemmon, and he touches on the enigma that was Marilyn Monroe, with whom he worked in The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot. The stories will be familiar to longtime Wilder fans, although Schlondorff does well in drawing Wilder out about his experiences for the U.S. military during and after World War II, when Wilder was involved in obtaining footage of the concentration camps. He also tells a scathing story about his bitter reaction when a studio executive suggested changing the nationality of a villainous character in Stalag 17 from German to Polish, in order to make the film more palatable in the profitable market of early-1950s Germany. The documentary itself is 71 minutes, but there's another 70 minutes of footage, with Schlondorff introducing various clips. Oddly enough, the effect of all this is lightweight rather than substantive; this is more like an after-dinner chat than an in-depth seminar. Newcomers to Wilder's personality will probably enjoy it, while Wilder fans may be disappointed. An extensive collection of trailers for Wilder movies is included. 


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