Kiss Me, Stupid

| February 17, 2015

I went into this fully expecting to hate it.  I’ve seen the movie before, as it came in a Billy Wilder box set I bought years ago.  I remember really despising the movie my first time through; hating the cartoonishly jealous husband character (Ray Walston; The Apartment) as well as the over-sexed Dean Martin parody (Dean Martin).  However, I leaped at the chance to review this because Olive Films has now released the film on blu-ray and old black and white films on blu-ray look amazing.  Billy Wilder is my filmmaking god.  He’s made several of my favorite films including Double Indemnity, The Apartment, and Some Like it Hot.  I’ve been rewatching a few of his movies that I didn’t enjoy the first time around lately.  Most notably would be Sunset Boulevard, which I found really dull the first time through but actually really enjoyed this time except for the terrible voice-over narration.

Rewatching Kiss Me, Stupid was a similar experience.  There is a lot of really great comedic moments here.  Yes, Orville’s constant suspicion that his wife (Felicia Farr) is having an affair isn’t much to go on, but I have to give credit to Wilder for building a one note character who plays that note so beautifully.  The greatest assets to the film are the two female leads, Kim Novak and Felicia Farr.  Farr as Orville’s wife is charming, funny, independent, and generally perfect, which helps justify Orville’s concerns that she’s going to leave him for someone better.  Novak’s loose bombshell, Polly, who has to pretend to be Orville’s wife as a decoy for Dean Martin to seduce in place of his real wife is wonderful.  She goes very quickly from wanting to make a few bucks to actually falling for Orville and wanting to be his wife for real, but she does it with such nuance that it’s never unbelievable.  Her character represents an interesting paradox of wanting to do what she can for her new husband, but not actually being married to him, so going along with the plan to have sex with Martin to sell Orville’s songs ends up making a lot of sense and makes the film structurally very interesting.

I also forgot that Dean Martin was playing himself here.  I knew he was playing to type, but actually having the character be Dean Martin and be this lecherous is incredibly bold.  I’m often fascinated by actors who play satirical versions of themselves.  Adam West on Family Guy, Tom Hanks playing himself on one of the SNL Jeopardy sketches, any number of actors on Ricky Gervais’s Extras and Life’s Too Short.  I have an enormous amount of respect for these people and Dino’s role here has to be one of the earliest examples of an actor doing this.  

My one huge problem with the film is the ending.  I won’t go into too much detail because I want to avoid spoilers.  Despite the movie being made in 1964, it’s not one of Wilder’s more popular works so I don’t imagine the average person watching this has actually seen it.  I’ve definitely never seen a film quite like it, and while I disagree with how things play out near the end, at least they’ve ended up with something really unique.  Still, the ending is a mess, and I can’t justify Orville’s or Zelda’s (Farr) choices during the climax.  It feels like they had no idea how to end it, so they just threw something together.  Or, even worse, it feels like they had this ending in mind the entire time and refused to change it even though the characters changed so much while they were developing the script.  Either way, to me, it keeps it from being one of Wilder’s great films.

Available now on blu-ray from Olive Films.

About the Author:

Joe Ketchum Joe Sanders is a podcaster, playwright, and college instructor in Kalamazoo, MI. He has a master's degree in playwriting and a bachelor's degree in creative writing from Western Michigan University, where he currently teaches thought and writing, and is the host of the Quote Unquote Guilty podcast, part of the Word Salad Network.
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