I’ve been quoted over on normblog on the subject of Hitchock vs. Wilder as film directors. You can read it here.
I would like to add, though, that when I defend Alfred Hitchcock from a rather sweeping charge of not having many quotable lines in his movies, I am defending him against the accusation, not against Wilder. For, you see, if I am asked who was the greater filmmaker I would always and without hesitation choose Billy Wilder for four reasons.
1. Hitchcock was a genius in only one genre: suspense, although he mastered all its variations (action, horror, drama, and comedy). Wilder was a genius at drama (Ace in the Hole, Lost Weekend), suspense (Double Indemnity, Witness for the Prosecution, Stalag 17), romantic comedy (Sabrina, The Seven-Year Itch), cynical comedy (The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie), and farce (Some Like It Hot). That is, Wilder had the greater range.
2. Hitchcock created the psychological horror movie with Psycho. Wilder created the archetypal Production-Code-era film noir with Double Indemnity. That is, Wilder had a greater impact on the way films are made.
3. Hitchcock did not write his own films, by and large, and none of his best films. Wilder wrote all of his own scripts except for one WW2 propaganda film (Death Mills), as well as scripts for Ninotchka and script-doctoring the original Ocean’s Eleven. I don’t think it diminishes Hitchcock’s films that others wrote them — if anything I wish more directors would take Hitchcock’s lead and let real writers do the script — but if we’re comparing creative prowess, this has to count in Wilder’s favour.
4. Hitchcock took his skills from England to Hollywood. Wilder went from Berlin to Hollywood. Both tookÂ great leaps across the Atlantic, but Wilder came from a greater cultural divide and a different language. I think it speaks to Wilder’s greatness that he could make better films about American culture than the Americans themselves.
Feel free to argue.