Stephen Frears and Christopher Hampton‘s Billy Wilder & Me, set to film next spring, will be film-maven catnip. The story will have to be sad, given the gradual downturn of Wilder’s career when he hit his late 60s. It’ll be one thing for serious Wilder devotionals, and another for casual viewers who might know him from Some Like It Hot or The Apartment.

Set in 1977, pic will star Christoph Waltz as the masterly Austrian-born director, the ultimate cynical romantic or vice versa, as he directs his commercially ill-fated Fedora. Hampton’s script is based on Jonathan Coe‘s “Mr. Wilder and Me.”

Wilder’s legendary directing career peaked from the mid ’40s to early ’60s, but went south after Kiss Me Stupid (’64). He rebounded with The Fortune Cookie and held his ground with The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes and Avanti!, but the glory days were over. His last three films — The Front Page, Fedora and Buddy Buddy — finished him off.

Official synopsis: “In the summer of 1977, an innocent young woman begins working for Billy Wilder and his screenwriter Izzy Diamond on a Greek island during the filming of Fedora. When she follows Wilder to Germany to continue the shoot, she finds herself joining him on a journey of memory into the heart of his family history.”

Fedora Wiki page excerpt: “Allied Artists dropped its deal to distribute Fedora after it was screened at a Myasthenia Gravis Foundation benefit in New York City and the audience response was unenthusiastic. The film was picked up by Lorimar Productions, which planned to sell the screening rights to CBS as a television movie.

“Before the network could agree to the offer, United Artists stepped in. After cutting 12 minutes of the film based on studio recommendations, Wilder previewed it in Santa Barbara. Halfway through the audience began derisively laughing at all the wrong places. Dejected by the response and despondent from all the problems he had encountered up to this point, the director refused to make any more edits.”