Don Graham
May 24, 1996 AT 04:00 AM EDT

WILDER TIMES: THE LIFE OF BILLY WILDER Kevin Lally (Holt, $30) Billy Wilder, the Austrian cosmopolitan who became one of Hollywood’s greatest directors, began his career in his 20s, in Berlin, where he wrote scripts for avant-garde films and hung out with burgeoning movie mavens like Fred Zinnemann and Robert Siodmak. In 1934 the clever, dashing boulevardier fled Europe for his ”dream city” in America. Once in Hollywood, Wilder quickly scrambled up the ladder, deftly making the difficult transition from writer (Midnight, Ninotchka) to director. By the ’40s he enjoyed a series of box office smashes, including Double Indemnity and The Lost Weekend. In the ’50s came virtuoso hits such as Sunset Boulevard and Some Like It Hot, but by the late ’60s his career tapered off. Kevin Lally’s Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder offers a routine but reliable recital of the Wilder oeuvre, marching resolutely through each film — genesis, plot summary, reception. Wilder, who’ll be 90 in June, would still be making films if only he were granted final cut. He was what was once called Hollywood Royalty, and in the long run he’ll have the final laugh. B

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