Also available in The Billy Wilder Collection Boxed set (129.96), with
The Apartment, Avanti!, The Fortune Cookie, Irma La Douce, One Two Three, The Private Life of
Sherlock Holmes, Some Like it Hot and Witness for the Prosecution.
Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
The Hollywood production code fell apart in the 1960s. Racy independent films and foreign imports made
Hollywood look tame, and a number of studio pictures bucked the system, looking for loopholes in
the rules. Serious efforts like Sidney Lumet's The Pawnbroker for instance, stretched the
code both in subject matter and taboos like nudity.
Other pictures were less likely to be described as having redeeming social content. The big offender
(or scapegoat) of 1965 was Billy Wilder's rowdy comedy,
Kiss Me, Stupid. I've read a number of new DVD reviews that treat it like a leper - it's crass,
vulgar, and definitely has smut on its mind ... but nobody knows his way around a dirty joke
better than Billy Wilder. His adherence to the formal rules of classic farce makes sure that all
the blue humor has a point, and viewers sufficiently open-minded to get past the non-P.C. attitudes
will see some wry truths about marriage in the picture's somewhat cynical message.
Amateur songwriters Orville J. Spooner (Ray Walston) and Barney Milsap (Cliff Osmond)
are so desperate to get a pro audition for their tunes (actually songs written by Ira Gershwin) that
they sabotage the car of entertainer Dino (Dean Martin) on his way back from Vegas. Dino is
one of those womanizing Rat-Pack hedonists that can take any attractive woman they meet, so the
pathologically jealous Orville is terrified to let him near his cute wife Zelda (Felicia Farr). But
Barney has the solution: Orville has to pick a fight with Zelda to get her out of the house ...
allowing Barney to substitute the local hooker, Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak) as a fake wife for Dino
to ravage. In between, Orville and Barney can sell him their songs ...
The key to what came to be known as the Hollywood Sex Farce was keeping the censors thinking
Comedy instead of Smut. Shirley MacLaine and Debbie Reynolds come to mind, but wholesome Doris
Day was the queen of repressed double-entendre. She'd do the jokes and think the thoughts,
but couples never got near a bed, and anything resembling real human behavior had to be buried in
slapstick. Marilyn Monroe threw
The Seven-Year Itch so far out
of balance that her character couldn't do any of the things that happened in the source play. For
the film, all the hot content had to be converted into fantasy material.
Kiss Me, Stupid plays the same sexus-interruptus game, but only so far: everybody really does
end up in bed, and the script finds a higher value in adultery unseen in Hollywood films since the
pre-code days of Trouble in Paradise.
How Kiss Me, Stupid wasn't curbed by the production office before it was shot is the
here - either films were no longer routinely submitted for pre-approval, or Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond
sent the censors a fake script as a decoy! Let's see, we have lechery, fornication, adultery, a lewd
emphasis on certain body parts, multiple pimping and a prostitute whose lifestyle isn't condemned.
The setting is in Climax, Nevada. Every dialogue line that isn't a double entendre
is a triple entendre: "Maybe she'll take me to her garden, so I can help her pick her parsley!"
Then we have the bizarre phenomenon known as
Dean Martin, whose fairly impressive acting career had degenerated into cheap comedies and the
trashiest of spy spoofs, the Matt Helm movies (rumored coming for DVD). Martin was at the time
best known for his variety show where he came on every Thursday night looking totally smashed,
a walking, singing liquor ad. All he did was sip drinks while slurring jokes about booze
and sex and his Rat Pack buddies, who made frequent guest visits.
The 'Dino' in Wilder's film is basically the same guy reduced to his basics - he sings, drinks, and
has to get what he calls 'Action Action' every night or he comes down with migraine headaches. Of
caricatures great comedies are made, but we have to credit Martin, who never revealed a different
guy behind his boozy stud front, with having the guts to allow himself to be lampooned so directly &
Dino comes off as a total sleaze. He practically froths at the mouth at the sight of Kim Novak,
leering at her chest and derriere for seconds at a time. He couldn't make the jokes dirtier if he
had his hands in his pants while saying them. The sex jokes are technically tame by today's standards,
but in 1965, Kiss Me, Stupid was incredibly raunchy.
The big sex comedies usually starred comedians who were less than virile, like Tom Ewell, Bob
Hope, and Terry-Thomas. They always had innocent
intentions behind their bedroom fantasies. Kiss Me, Stupid's heroes, Spooner and Milsap,
are neither cute nor innocent. Ray Walston has the look of a stupefied bloodhound, while the
jovial but mercenary Cliff Osmond is borderline repulsive ... his counterpart in the 'safe' sex
comedies was Gig Young or Tony Randall.
Kim Novak had done Doris Day-like pictures (Boy's Night Out) that played with promiscuity
while staying squeaky-clean. Neither a particularly accomplished comedienne, nor a type one
brings home to Mother, Novak didn't have Day's Good Housekeeping smile to defuse the direct
appeal of her body. Wilder gives her a bad cold to try and make her funnier, with little effect.
Put all these unsavory characters together in a broad comedy with real dirty jokes instead of
the infantile, smirking evasions of pictures like Guide for the Married Man or I'll Take
and you have a concoction guaranteed to ignite fires in censor land. Wilder's sex jokes were
overripe in Irma La Douce, but here they're out of control:
Dino, telling why he has to get out of Vegas and away from the demanding showgirls, says that if
he stayed, "They'd have to carry me out in a box - a cigar box!"
Walston, showing Novak his little house: "It's not large, but it's clean." Novak: "What is?"
Dino: "Why does your husband call you Lambchop?" Novak: "Because sometimes I wear paper panties."
Novak crawls on the floor to retrieve a jewel from her navel. Novak's parrot likes to say, 'Bang Bang',
feeding Dino at least one good setup line. Walston touts his 'wife' Novak to Dino like a creep
character from a Playboy Ribald Fairy Tale.
There are plenty of other great jokes, and not just verbal ones. Looney Tunes voice artist Mel Blanc
plays a dentist who can't stop laughing. Frustrated piano teacher Orville's uncontrollable
jealousy attacks are accompanied by furious bursts of classical music. Ira Gershwin's songs are funny in and of
themselves, especially I'm a Poached Egg. The single wittiest line is Walston's sage realization that,
"You know, if it wasn't for Venetian blinds, it'd be curtains for us!"
The story has a sophisticated farcical symmetry - for every joke in one direction, there's another to balance
it. The namby-pamby church types that darken Orville's doorstep are balanced by the excruciatingly un-sexy
waitresses at the raunchy roadhouse. Polly the Pistol's trailer is the mirror opposite of housewife
Zelda's happy home - the film has the gall to equate whore with housewife, at least as far as sexual desires
go. Polly and Zelda change places as if they
were in a revolving door. And Wilder and Diamond carry the farce to its logical - not cynical - end. Hooker
and wife reassert their roles by swapping material goods: cash earned for a wedding ring borrowed.
balance didn't charm the censors. The film was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency and UA chose
to give it a stealth release under their artsy Lopert banner. The release wasn't a wide one, and Wilder had
to chalk it up as a flop.
Wilder's best pictures often have an oddball scene in the middle, deep in the second act when the
plot is well underway and attention needs to be diverted from the main thread. In The Apartment,
it's Jack Lemmon's Christmas Eve drunk with Hope Holliday, the woman whose jockey husband is under arrest
in Cuba. Here, it's Zelda's abortive trip home to Mother. It's all in one shot, and totally belongs to the
fall-down funny Doro Merande, the nudist health-food waitress from The Seven-Year Itch. While her
husband sits like a lump, Merande assails Zelda with a litany of her failings as a wife and a daughter.
Merande has an hilarious delivery style that's hard to describe: "And he married Glady Bukich - uhh! I
could have cried - uhh!" In theater screenings of
Kiss Me, Stupid, crowds go crazy with laughter. If you have no intention of buying this disc, consider
renting or borrowing it.
MGM's DVD of Kiss Me, Stupid is a definite improvement over the old laser disc. The enhanced picture
brings out more detail in the classic gray-on-gray B&W photography, and the show looks great on a large monitor.
For extras there's an original trailer and an original animated teaser trailer, neither of which keeps
the show from looking like boozy smut.
The newsworthy extra is misleadingly listed as an 'alternate scene' with no further explanation offered.
Kiss Me, Stupid's MPAA production seal was withheld until Wilder re-shot the end of the encounter
between Dino and Zelda in Polly's trailer. The disc's 'alternate scene' is actually what's been seen in the
film for the last 38 years. (spoiler) Dino's back injury flares up, and it looks like he falls asleep before
he and Zelda can get it on. This bowdlerized two minutes or so never made much sense. In the morning,
Zelda has been paid her money and happily stretches nude under her bedsheets ... and Dino drives off
humming and headache-free. So we assume they made it anyway. Wilder movies are so densely written, nothing
can be changed without serious structural damage.
The change was also sexist. (still a spoiler) By making Wilder re-shoot only the wife's adulterous
liaison, the MPAA sent the message that Mr. Spooner, who was still seen bedding down with Polly, could stray
but his wife could not.
(last spoiler) The original version of the scene has a string of alternate jokes but leaves no
doubt that Zelda and Dino get together: they fade out in a definitive clinch. MGM archivist John Kirk
found this abandoned piece of film, seen only in some foreign markets, shortly before Billy Wilder
died last year. The director's wife Audrey confirmed that her husband preferred the uncensored one,
so John swapped it out in the printing negatives. Henceforth, the
little-seen original sequence will be the official one, and the compromised MPAA version, will be the
alternate left on the shelf.
Kiss Me, Stupid is perhaps Wilder's last classic comedy. Being a direct lampoon of pop culture, there
an inordinate number of movie references and 'echoed' jokes from his earlier work, like the grapefruit gag.
Spectacularly vulgar and shocking in its day, it'll seem less scandalous now, when even family comedies consist
of witless sex jokes and bodily function jokes, complete with full visuals and explicit dialogue. But
nobody ever made misbehavior as funny as Billy Wilder, and Kiss Me, Stupid is a delight for lovers
of his talent.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Kiss Me, Stupid rates:
Supplements: 'alternate scene' (actually the old scene, see above); trailer, teaser
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 15, 2003
1. The big behind-the-scenes story of
Kiss Me, Stupid is the fact that Wilder shot for a couple of weeks with star Peter Sellers, who
was so unhappy with the role and Wilder's style, that he worried himself into a heart attack and had to
back out. Critics frequently criticized Walston as insufficiently charismatic to defuse the story's smut
factor. Besides falling into the trap of thinking that
Kiss Me, Stupid was meant to be just another sexless Hollywood Sex Comedy, the critics implied
that Sellers' charm would have transformed the film to sweetness and light. Picturing Sellers in the
wasn't materially altered after he left) makes him seem much less appropriate than Walston. He would
have had to concoct some oddball accent, as he did in Lolita. I think Ray Walston, with his
'ordinary schlub' quality, is superb. Walston was mostly wasted in movies, and this show finally gave
him his big chance. It's a shame Walston was given the blame, when he did such good work.