Wednesday, December 19, 2012

"What's a Joint Like This Doing on a Girl Like You?"

Another round of marital infidelity as I continue my Dino-fication while taking in Billy Wilder's 1964 effort, Kiss Me, Stupid.

The sequel happened in Intercourse, Pennsylvania...
Generally left out of the majors of Wilder's considerable canon (Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, Some Like It Hot, among many other greats), Kiss Me Stupid was condemned by the Catholic Legion of decency and was largely considered vulgar by reviewers.  Time, however, has done its usual work at toning down what might have ruffled feathers in 1964.  To me, it stood up well, and was an enjoyable, if farcical, concocted comedy of errors.

In the film, a small town duo of songwriters, Orville Spooner (Ray Walston) and Barney Millsap (Cliff Osmond), luck into their first contact with a big star when Vegas sensation, Dino (Dean Martin) rolls through their town on his way to Los Angeles. Barney, who runs the filling station, sabotages Dino's car to keep him around while they pitch the singer their horde of near-miss songs. Orville, an insanely jealous husband, fears having his wife anywhere near the famous lothario, so Barney cooks up a plan to get Zelda (Felicia Farr) out of the house and substitute another woman for her, the pretty barmaid, Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak). Despite his best efforts, Orville barely gets his wife out the door before Polly turns up. Of course, hijinks have already ensued from the word go, but at this point they're merely knocked up another dozen notches as Polly ends up falling for Orville rather than Dino, and Zelda ends up passed out in Polly's trailer behind the roadhouse.

Walston's in Nevada after leaving Roswell...but before moving in with Bill Bixby...(look it up)
At this point, I don't want to give too much more away though I've already hinted at the problems the public had with it above. It's sort of hilarious to me that five years before, the public and critics had far less trouble with a pair of musicians going in drag to chase girls...and escape the Some Like it Hot. Naturally, fifty years and movies like Indecent Proposal, have made the elements of Kiss Me, Stupid ludicrously tame. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that this movie does a fine job of making marital infidelity quite touching considering the scenario involved.

Wilder is a master, and not just because film history books tell us so. The Austrian-born filmmaker first escaped to France as the Nazis came to power to start making pictures before continuing on to Hollywood. His films have both the meticulous feeling of a powerful hand in charge while still managing to be light and often wildly inventive (I recommend reading about some of the crazier things he wanted to do with Sunset Boulevard, a film that still ended up pretty damned inventive with what he did do with it). And while this one lacks some of the flair and zany fun of a Some Like it Hot, it's still firmly in the master's hands.

Dino's commentary on chianti or lady's footwear?
Ray Walston does a wonderful, if occasionally over-the-top job as Orville. He's a little too archetypal jealous husband, constantly chasing away anything with a Y chromosome, but is still entertaining to watch as he's able to pivot emotional direction on a dime. Felicia Farr as Zelda is very obviously desirable both in terms of looks and personality, but gets a little less of a chance to shine as character in comparison to Kim Novak as Polly. Polly, like Orville, is again a touch too archetypal in the "hooker with a heart of gold vein," but still managed to tug at a few heart strings as the story progressed. The biggest surprise is Dino, who in many respects is presented as playing himself, and it's none too flattering. The film opens with him charming a crowd with song and jokes from the stage, but once in Orville's house he's all "Roman Hands and Russian Fingers" as the saying goes. He comes off as a first class heel, but at least he does it well.

Sexier to Billy: being on set with Kim Novak or writing with Raymond Chandler?
Kiss Me, Stupid may not be the one you choose to show if only allowed to present one Billy Wilder vehicle, but I admit to having a soft spot for interesting if lesser-known works. After all, I'd probably show The Wild Bunch if I could only show one Peckinpah, but I savor the flawed and highly personal Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid on a more personal level.  As I mentioned in my review of Who's Been Sleeping in My Bed?, I do love the movie world created especially well in older movies, and while Kiss Me, Stupid delivers on that, it's also nice that it has just the right amount of real world honesty.

1 comment:

dino martin peters said...

Hey pallie, likes Ry, thanks for 'nother great review of a truly greatly under appreciated Dino-flick. Know your reflections have been shared this day with all the pallies gathered 'round ilovedinomartin.