Movies I Need To See Before I Die: Billy Wilder’s KISS ME, STUPID! (1964)


(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have.  Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films.  But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to.  Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already.  I’m a film geek for God’s sake!  I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old.  I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time.  So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see.  Enjoy!)

I don’t know about you, but when I see an excellent film, I find out who made it.  Then I immediately track down every movie that filmmaker has done, and make it a sort of mission to see every movie that filmmaker has made.  Certain directors I have done this with are Steven Spielberg, the Coen Bros, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, and John Carpenter… just to name a few.  Well, since I saw THE APARTMENT and SOME LIKE IT HOT, Billy Wilder has been on that list too.  He’s made something like 25 films, and I only have 5 left to watch.  He is definitely one of my favorite directors.  I love how he has dabbled in just about every genre, though he tends to specialize in farces.  The only film of his I was iffy on was THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES, but even that one was interesting in how it failed.  KISS ME, STUPID is one of his that I still needed to see.  It was made between IRMA LA DOUCE and THE FORTUNE COOKIE, both of which I really like.  So when I saw that this was streaming on Netflix, I jumped at the opportunity to watch it.

Dean Martin is virtually playing himself.  He’s a crooner named Dino who likes to bed down women and drink booze.  Not much of a stretch there, eh?  Anyhoo, while traveling from Vegas to L.A., he stops in a small town named Climax to fill up on gas.  In this town, there are 2 aspiring songwriters Orville and Barney.  Well, Barney works at the gas station that Dino stops at, so he disconnects his fuel line to keep the crooner there so they can possibly sell their songs to him.  Realizing that Dino’s weakness is women, they decide that in order to win over Dino, they must get him laid.  Barney suggests that Orville drives his wife off, and replace her with a “cocktail waitress” from a nasty bar called the Bellybutton.  So, Orville introduces the Waitress named Polly as his wife to Dino.  Dino is immediately attracted to her and begins to seduce her.  Everything seems to go as planned, but since this is a Billy Wilder comedy, of course things get plenty complicated in the typical screwball fashion.

I admit, even for a Wilder film the plot is a little too needlessly complicated.  But that doesn’t mean no laughs can be squeezed from this overcooked premise.  Surprisingly, Dean Martin is NOT  the lead.  It’s actually Ray Walston as Orville.  He’s a very jealous man.  The first 20 minutes has him suspecting his wife of having an affair with various townsfolk including the dentist (played by Mel Blanc!) and a 15-year-old boy.  There are some laughs here.  I love the little music cue that plays every time Orville gets a jealous feeling.  It was also a hoot seeing Dean Martin spoofing his drunken womanizing image.  There’s some wacky situational comedy that can be amusing at times during this first half.  My favorite scene is probably when Orville is trying to pick a fight with his wife, and no matter what he says to her, she just keeps turning his comments into a positive thing.  That was funny.

Unfortunately, there’s some casting issues.  Now, I am a fan of Walston, but I think he was a bit miscast here.  I don’t think he’s terrible, but I kept thinking that this role was tailor-made for common Wilder collaborator, Jack Lemmon. Well, I found out after watching this that Orville WAS written for Lemmon, but he couldn’t do it because of scheduling conflicts.  So they cast Peter Sellers, but Walston had to replace him due to Sellers having multiple heart attacks several weeks into filming.  Walston shines in the film’s broader moments, but sticks out like a sore thumb during the supposed quieter scenes, due to his theatrical style.  I also think he was too old for the part (he was 50).  I think Kim Novak is even more miscast.  After the movie, I thought that Marilyn Monroe would have been perfect for this role.  Well, wouldn’t you have it, she was lined up to play the part of Polly, but then she passed away.  Novak certainly looks the part of a slutty cocktail waitress, but her performance is all wrong.  It seemed like that she was impersonating Monroe throughout and that was distracting.  I wish she would’ve given a fresh approach to the part.  The other actors do a decent job though.  Cliff Osmond is amusing as Barney, but the real highlight here is Felicia Farr as Orville’s wife Zelda.  She’s terrific here, and displays subtle, but great comic timing.  Her scenes are the best.

I always love Wilder’s technical direction.  I also love his use of black and white.  This movie is no exception.  It looks great as he always uses long takes, and well choreographed master shots.  Unfortunately, the script is where the major problems lie.  I know it sounded like that if Lemmon and Monroe WERE in it, the film could have been saved. But that’s not the case here.  I don’t think they could have saved this because the script takes a wrong turn in the final 30 minutes.  I won’t say what happens, but it doesn’t ring true at all.  And not only doesn’t it ring true, but it makes almost every character as despicable as Dino.  How are you supposed to get behind a movie when you can’t even get behind its characters.  They’re supposed to be likable, right?  But they do things in the last act that make it impossible to sympathize with them.  For how talented Wilder is, I’m surprised he let his story get this far away from him.

There are some things worthwhile here.  The first half offers a few laughs and some of the shenanigans were amusing.  And it was funny to see Dino gamely poke fun at himself.  But that last act takes a giant step in the wrong direction.  Being a HUGE Wilder fan, I can honestly say that this was a HUGE disappointment.  I’d rather watch this than say, BIG MOMMA’S HOUSE 2, but I expected something much better from a director as talented as Wilder.  ★★ (out of ★★★★)

– Not Rated but is filled with lots of sexual innuendos and subject matter.  Some of which are not subtle (which is why the Catholic church condemned it at the time).  It might be PG-13 if it was released today, though it would probably be a weak PG13. 

– Running time: 2hrs. 4min.

(Streaming on Netflix)

Categories: Austin Kennedy, Movies I Need To See Before I Die, Reviews

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