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Senior Shackster
792 Posts
Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
I'm a big fan of Billy Wilder, specifically the films he produced, directed
and co-wrote with I.A.L. Diamond in the fifties and sixties.

How's this for a 'high concept'? A young executive decides to act as a
pimp to upper management, including his boss, by loaning out his apartment
for them to have affairs in. In return he moves up the corporate ladder.
The trouble is, he falls in love with his boss's mistress after she tries to
commit suicide in his room. Sound sordid and depressing? With
any other director it would've been but by casting goofy Jack Lemmon as
the young executive, affable Fred MacMurray as the boss and cute
Shirley MacLaine as the mistress it became one of the top comedies
of the sixties. "The Apartment" won the Oscar for best picture in 1960.

Here's another questionable premise. A Television cameraman accidently
gets tackled by a black football player at a game. It's a minor injury but the man's
ambulance chasing brother in law persuades him to pretend he has a back
injury so they can commit insurance fraud and sue the network. Sound
sleazy and unethical? Well it is but when you have Jack Lemmon again
playing the cameraman and Walter Matthau as the shyster you
have another hit comedy where even the bad guys are likeable.
It's called "The Fortune Cookie".

Now here's the premise of "Kiss Me Stupid"... An aspiring song
writer get the break of a lifetime when Dean Martin rides into town.
He wants to pitch his tune to Dino but needs some excuse to keep
him around so he offers his wife for the night as quid pro quo.
Not his real wife but a local prostitute he's hired to play
his wife while the real spouse is in town. However, due to some
complications the real wife ends up posing as the prostitute for
an evening and the hooker spends the night with the song writer
as his pretend wife and...both woman enjoy the temporary switch.
Sound smutty? It is so Wilder hired nutty Ray Walston ("My Favorite Martian")
as the song writer, Dean Martin as himself and Felicia Farr (Jack
Lemmon's real life wife) as the spouse and topped off the cast with Kim
Novak as the prostitute. How could he go wrong? Well this time he
did and the film was a huge bomb when it was released in 1965. Wilder's
first failure after an incredible winning streak that included two Oscars
for best picture (the other was "Stalag 17"). Critics detested and
condemned the movie and it really stretched the Production Code to
the maximum with the wife swapping and other outlandish material
like Dino drinking wine out of Kim Novak's shoe and a parrot that says
"Bang, Bang" to her Johns. The movie was such an embarassment to
UA, they sublicensed it to Lippert to distribute it in art theaters on a hit
and run basis before disappearing completely.

Over the years the movie became very difficult to see and was rarely
revived. It was finally released on DVD in an anamorphically
enhanced mono version. The black and white Panavision image is fine although
Wilder tends to prefer shades of gray rather than deep blacks. There is
a very light scratch on the left hand corner of the wide frame that appears in some
scenes but otherwise the copy is in good shape. This is the uncut version that
shows Felicia Farr spending the night with Dean Martin. In the theatrical cut prints
they made it less clear (that scene is included as a suppliment).

Now in the year 2008, how does this 1965 movie play? I'm not quite sure. It certainly
holds your interest and is fascinating to watch if you're familiar with
Wilder's other risque comedies. I wouldn't call it 'funny' and it is very smutty
and disturbing. The characters are nasty and repulsive without any
redeeming qualities unlike his other movies and maybe that's what makes it such a curio.
There's a haunting theme track that's unsettling because it doesn't suit
the story. It sounds like a romantic tune but this isn't a love story but a tale
about people using each other without concern for the consequences. Dean
Martin plays a "Film Noir" version of his Rat Pack persona. He's an alcoholic, amoral
womanizer who has no problem sleeping with someone else's wife or anyone
else that comes along. He tells Walston that he needs it every night with a new partner or he'll get a headache and won't be able to sing. I guess you'd call it a sex addiction now but he's not charming and pretty grotesque in this picture. Quite a contrast from the likeable lounge lizard on his variety show. The only player who generates a little sympathy is Kim Novak's world weary hooker but even she's pretty trashy.

I guess I'll go out on a limb and recommend this movie. It's very, very strange
and completely different than other sex farces of the era. You might call it
casual and arbitrary sleaziness.

In summary picture quality B +, sound design B, cinematography B+, story
and screenplay...beyond criticism.
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