Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
Crack producer Jerry Wald made hit after hit in the fifties, with this picture one of the notable exceptions.
Kiss Them for Me must have read like a great comedy, but casting exigencies fouled it up. It's rather
lavishly produced, with location CinemaScope lensing in San Francisco, yet it never quite catches fire. As
a result, it might be one of the first movies to give the nervous Cary Grant the idea of retiring from the screen.
Lt. Walter Wallace (Werner Klemperer) has organized some publicity events for Navy
fliers Andy Crewson (Cary Grant), McCann (Ray Walston) and Mississip (Larry Blyden), but Crewson
detours them on an unauthorized excursion to San Francisco. Finagling their way into a fancy hotel suite,
the group is diverted by sexy shipworker Alice Kratzner (Jayne Mansfield), while Crewson gravitates
toward the sleek Gwinnith Livingston (Suzy Parker, voiced by Deborah Kerr), fiancée to obnoxious
shipyard owner Eddie Turnbull (Leif Erickson). How the trio of A.W.O.L. celebrity fliers will
resolve their wild weekend without landing in the brig, is the question of the day.
Kiss Them for Me does a lot of things right. The script moves briskly, without too many military hijink nonsense of the Operation Mad Ball variety. The war itself is never a joke. Our heroes may want to stretch rules and have fun, but Grant's pilot becomes downright unpleasant when asked to use his 'vacation' to help a private contractor squeeze more work out of his employees with a morale-boosting visit.
Cary Grant at 52 is almost convincing as a Navy flier, the average age of which was probably 24 or younger. Straight from Broadway is the talented Ray Walston, along with his Damn Yankees buddy Nathaniel Frey in a smaller bit as a friendly chief petty officer. Stern Leif Erickson is the disagreeable bad guy with the drop-dead beautiful girlfriend for Cary to steal.
She's Suzy Parker, a top model who didn't make the crossover to films as smoothly as had Lauren Bacall a decade before. For this film, Fox dubbed her voice, adding insult to injury. Since her Gwinnith is just one part in a ten-character farce, it's not a breakthrough role by any means. Parker and Grant get cozy here and there, but no big sparks are generated.
The reason may be Kiss Them for Me's star performer Jayne Mansfield, just in her second year of
top billing. She's a dumb platinum blonde who shows up looking for promised nylon stockings and stays to
party. Her acting was improving, but audiences already thought she was too cartoonish and her bimbo act
works against the grain of the story. She's more of a special effect than an actress. When the hotel
suite overflows with revelers, one babe waves her chest at Jayne and says, "38". Jayne stops what she's
doing and flexes her glands right back at the usurper with a haughty, "40!" It's a real low in the annals
of 1950s breast fixation.
Mansfield's pneumatic makeover for The Girl Can't Help It in 1956 must have been a conscious image-job, as she looks much different in her films just previous, Pete Kelly's Blues and The Female Jungle. The breathy, squeaky voice and the hot-to-trot grin quickly wear thin. It's a trap that Marilyn Monroe recognized and strove to avoid.
Kiss Them for Me appears to have started as a tale of wild Navy fliers whose illegal R&R turns serious. They're harassed by shore patrolmen (including gravel-voiced John Doucette, a favorite) and incarcerated in a hospital for not playing ball with the authorities. Then they meet a dying pilot taken out for night on the town in a wheelchair, and Grant is reminded of the fact that they'll still have to go back and fight when their toot is finished. 1
The clichés are certainly there. Werner Klemperer (pre Hogan's Heroes) tears what's left
of his hair out when the boys he's publicizing keep messing up his plans. After giving up his best suite
under false pretenses, the hotel manager gets locked in a closet during the party. Ray Walston's
character is running for Congress in absentia from his home state, a ploy concocted to get out
of dangerous combat. When the third member of the trio finds himself a likely bedmate,
she locks his hands in her own and won't let go ... for hours.
The most fun in the show comes via the bit players. Nancy Kulp is there along with the always-entertaining Kathleen Freeman. Harry Carey Jr. flies the boys in on his PBY. Richard Deacon is another industrialist, a category unfairly tarred by the screenplay as greedy. Cary Grant's unhappy side is given a workout in a couple of tantrums about the stress of combat. Paddy Chayefsky articulated the contrast between voluntary heroism and careful cowardice much better in his later The Americanization of Emily.
Gap-toothed & monosyllabic Nathaniel Frey appears to be the gob best suited to Jayne - they end up dancing together blissfully. The pairing is good - they're somewhere in between The Honeymooners and
The Marrying Kind. We're left at the dockside for the finale, in a 'touching' farewell that we don't really share. This has to be chalked up as a reasonable but oddly muffed film in the Stanley Donen repertoire, part of his post-Gene Kelly period of adjustment. 2
Fox's DVD of the agreeable Kiss Them for Me is a solid entry in their Cary Grant mini-collection
for January. In crummy pan-scanned 16mm prints the movie was a television staple, and looks much better
in its proper 'Scope proportions. It's no visual beauty, unfortunately, which is odd for a movie with substantial
San Francisco locations. That city always looks attractive on film.
The back cover text misidentifies Mansfield as Leif Erickson's daughter in the film, a quibble of the sort
that Savant likes to pretend is significant.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Kiss Them for Me rates:
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: trailer, teaser
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: December 28, 2003
1. The wheelchair-bound
William Phipps, an almost actor seen in dozens of
50s genre films, including most
of our favorite Sci-fi movies. He must have been popular, because he gets plum roles in several
films like Kiss Them for Me, yet stayed anonymous to the larger public.
2. From Michael Evans, 1.2.04: Hi Glenn, Still enjoying your crits. Just thought you may want to
add to the above one that it is based on a play called Shore Leave written by Herbert Osborne
and first produced in 1922. It was musicalized by Vincent Youmans in the late '20's as
Hit the Deck and filmed by RKO in 1930 with Jack Oakie and Polly Walker, and then again in
1955 by MGM in CinemaScope with Tony Martin, Jane Powell, Ann Miller, Russ Tamblyn and Debbie
Reynolds. It's seen as the "grand-daddy of all those sailors-on-shore-leave musicals"
(The MGM Story) which I guess encompasses Anchors Aweigh and On the Town. I
recently saw Lock Up Your Daughters, the 1969 film of the Lionel Bart musical (filmed
straight) about British sailors on shore leave in the early 1800's getting up to all manner of
hi-jinks. It was based on an old play itself written in that century. I wondered if the author
of Shore Leave stole the idea from it! Cheers, Michael Evans (in Australia)
3. A counter-note to footnote B from Barry Lane, 1.13.07:
I read your review Kiss Them for Me and...thought the historic record should be set straight. Kiss Them for Me is based on a novel by Frederic Wakeman, author of the Hucksters. Luther Davis adapted it for the stage. Richard Widmark, Judy Holliday and Jayne Meadows played the principal parts. A dozen years later, Stanley Donen and Cary Grant did the film version, which in a substantial way differs from the novel and the play. Davis went on to write the libretto for Kismet, Grand Hotel and other important plays and pictures. I know there is confusion relative to the other Shore Leave, but this is all made clear in the opening credits. -- Barry Lane
A Note from Savant correspondent "B" aka 'woggly', 1/8/04: Hi Glenn - Is it just me, or is this
possibly the smuttiest
title for a studio film of the 1950s (or ever)? I mean, "Jayne
Mansfield in Kiss Them for Me"? Best, Always. -- B.
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson