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Dean Martin was an enormously popular movie star for over twenty years. Surviving his teaming with Jerry Lewis, he made a number of movies as a 'serious' actor (The Young Lions, Some Came Running, Rio Bravo, Toys in the Attic) before settling into lazy Rat Pack pictures (Ocean's Eleven) and undemanding comedies. By 1964 he was a self-parody, a party clown pretending (?) to be roaring drunk on his television variety show and appearing four or five times a year in increasingly inane comedies. His Matt Helm series of spy spoofs combined cheaply filmed action with even cheaper sex jokes too witless to be called smutty.
The two Columbia comedies in this Dean Martin Double Feature represent some of Dean Martin's better work. Written by old Hollywood pros, the sexual politics of both shows are dated in different ways. Norman Krasna's farce reinforces both traditional marriage and the sanctity of the F.B.I., while Stanley Shapiro's 'with-it' comedy about the swing-a-ding-ding bachelor life labors under the delusion that it has something progressive to say. On the other hand, both movies (especially the first) are funny and give Dean lively, loveable co-stars.
Who Was That Lady?
1960 / B&W / 1:85 anamorphic 16:9 / 115 min.
Starring Tony Curtis, Dean Martin, Janet Leigh, James Whitmore, John McIntire, Barbara Nichols, Larry Keating, Larry Storch, Simon Oakland, Joi Lansing
Cinematography Harry Stradling Sr.
Art Direction Ted Haworth
Film Editor Viola Lawrence
Original Music Andre Previn
Written by Norman Krasna from his play Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?
Produced and Directed by George Sidney
The late fifties' idea of liberated marital comedies was about white-collar workers with perfect housewives who also wanted sexy flings on the side. The early Doris Day comedies played games with the sexual double standard; Shirley MacLaine also made several while Paula Prentiss and Jim Hutton fought the same battle at the collegiate level. Things only became insulting when a picture like Boys' Night Out actually had three bachelors setting up a swinger's pad to receive the (mistakenly) willing Kim Novak: None of these films deliver any real sex. Who Was That Lady? is a clever confection that inflates a sit-com premise into an absurd farce. Dean Martin plays a swinging TV writer, while Tony Curtis is the reluctant cheating husband. The absurdity becomes palpable when the wife being cheated on is played by the phenomenally sexy Janet Leigh.
Although the plot sounds like something that would fill 25 minutes on an episode of theI Love Lucy show, Who Was That Lady? is an engaging and amusing comedy. It's a cheat from the get-go, when David's illicit kiss looks more like a major romantic move than an innocent gesture from a grateful student. The characters are agreeably stylized. Dean Martin's promiscuous TV writer has an out-of-control libido, while Janet Leigh gives the earnest, clueless Ann a delightful spin. Ann is so excited about David's F.B.I connection that she sees nothing wrong with blabbing his affiliation to the TV news cameras. Tony Curtis is again charming as the chump husband talked into fooling his own wife "for the good of their marriage." It's basic Lucy Ricardo stuff, and because it doesn't try to be serious, it works.
Working from his play, Norman Krasna ratchets up the marital jeopardy with every scene. Stern agent James Whitmore is so impressed by Ann's faithfulness to her husband that he tries to rein in the boys without letting her know the truth. This culminates in a great farce situation at a Chinese restaurant. 1 The pneumatic Google sisters (Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing) are willing to go all the way because of Michael's lie that David is an NBC programming bigwig. Ann and Agent Powell slip into an adjoining booth; she assumes that the Googles are the treacherous enemy agents David mentioned. Agent Powell just wants to be a good guy and get our boys to 'retire' without disillusioning Ann. Chaos ensues.
Whitmore and John McIntire are hardworking F.B.I. agents frustrated when C.I.A. agent Parker (Larry Keating) comes to complain that 'agents' Michael and David are compromising an ongoing investigation. Who Was That Lady? involves both agencies in a silly comedy while making them look both efficient and compassionate. Aren't you glad that the F.B.I. will help keep your adulteries secret from your spouse? Secret police are great, let's hire more!
Old pro Krasna (Hands Across the Table Mr. and Mrs. Smith) finds an inspired resolution for his tale. Some comical Russian agents (Larry Storch, Simon Oakland) lure our heroes to the Empire State Building, trap them in an elevator and give them drugs. But they are unable to extract 'scientific secrets' from David because he doesn't know any. When Michael and David wake up in the building's subterranean boiler room they assume they're on a Russian submarine heading for Moscow, and proceed to wreck everything in a patriotic attempt to scuttle the ship. Realizing their sincerity (and the fact that the nasty Russkies have been rounded up), James Whitmore arranges a family reconciliation.
The film has snappy Krasna dialogue, okay direction from George Sidney and clever New York location work, although Dean Martin's double running up the steps to David's university lab isn't very convincing. Dino croons the title tune.
While making this film Curtis and Leigh were in the eighth year of their marriage, his first. His sixth and present wife (as of 2006) would be born eleven years later, in 1971. Jack Benny makes a cameo appearance and cult actress Dyanne Thorne is said to be hiding somewhere in the cast.
Sony's DVD of Who Was That Lady? is a snappy enhanced B&W show with great mono audio. Other Dino pix around this time can be pretty weak (All In a Night's Work) but this one still holds up well.
How to Save a Marriage (And Ruin Your Life)
1968 / Color / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 102 min.
Starring Dean Martin, Stella Stevens, Eli Wallach, Anne Jackson, Betty Field, Jack Albertson
Cinematography Lee Garmes
Production Design Robert Clatworthy
Film Editor Philip W. Anderson
Original Music Michel Legrand
Written by Nate Monaster, Stanley Shapiro
Produced by Stanley Shapiro
Directed by Fielder Cook
How to Save a Marriage (And Ruin Your Life) skips ahead eight years to just before the introduction of the ratings system, when so-called sophisticated comedies like Prudence and the Pill made jokes about swapping aspirins for birth control pills. Fielder Cook (Patterns, A Big Hand for the Little Lady) directed that film and this Dean Martin sex comedy about sticky negotiations between businessmen and their 'kept women.' Although attempting to be more than Martin's usual parade of infantile smut jokes, How to doesn't succeed in its uphill struggle against the calendar -- most of its ideas are ten years out of date.
Everybody loves a good dirty fairy tale, as Billy Wilder proved in his romantic triumph The Apartment. Stanley Shapiro works hard but hasn't a chance because his basic premise is flawed: Adultery is fine if the man is rich and clever enough to juggle both his wife and his lover. The coincidences and mistaken identities necessary to keep the premise afloat become tiring, even though the bit about Stella Stevens moving the burial plot of a complete stranger has a hilarious result ... the deceased woman's husband is convinced that his wife has come back from the dead!
How to Save a Marriage (And Ruin Your Life) connects with the audience only when poor Carol is dealing with real working girl problems. Middle manager Bauer (Alan Oppenheimer) offers Carol a job recommendation in exchange for a hot date -- a situation comparable to The Apartment. When Carol finds out about Harry's philandering, Harry tries to pay her off with a promotion to ensure her silence. She's too honest to accept on those terms, but takes the promotion to frustrate Bauer, convincing David that she's Harry's mistress. The lies and deceptions prevent us from respecting any of the male characters. Harry is an unhappy hypocrite and Dean Martin's David is a meddling ass. Carol thinks his offer to set her up in an apartment is a prelude to marriage, so she quits her job.
Thus Carol joins a sisterhood of women who allow themselves to be kept only to be cast out when they get too old, like Betty Field's Thelma. But the labor union proposed by Thelma ("We need to be taken care of in our old age!") equates sexual comfort with social security. When Muriel holds up Harry for outrageous ex-mistress perks, it makes the kept women seem little different from prostitutes: Our greatest concern is that they may have to leave their fantasy apartment and rejoin the dismal real world. True love rescues all three women in a finish that offers no answers for the male crimes and female retaliations. The title song re-plays over a merry-go-round that suggests that things were always like this and will continue in the same way.
Oddly, writer Shapiro's vision never considers that the women could always blackmail their lovers. Cheap sex comedies stop being funny when they spoil the sexual fantasyland with hard realities.
The interesting actors don't quite make it all work. Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson, another husband-wife acting team, are too good for the movie and play their parts as if the she show might add up to something important. Dean Martin is in his cool comedy mode, and only seems to be involved in his love scenes. For Stella Stevens this is just one more lost opportunity to break into top-rank stardom. She's sexy as all get-out, a quality that only gets in the way of our sympathy for her character: When Carol uses her charms to exact sneaky revenge on Dean Martin's character, she lowers herself to his level of dishonesty. For 1968, How to has a very old-fashioned double standard about sex. It wouldn't be funny if David did seduce Carol or Carol really had to make a choice about compromising herself, because then we'd have to take the basically dishonest situation seriously.
How to Save a Marriage (And Ruin Your Life) looks great and is crisply directed, and Stella Stevens is a pleasure to look at even if her role is not optimal. The enhanced transfer is near perfect and the audio unblemished. Both shows in the Dean Martin Double Feature are on one disc with no extras. The first movie overcomes its dated attitudes, and the second will provoke some good discussions of its own.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,