Synopsis: He’s got to get to L.A… And she’s the only thing that can stop him.
Dean Martin is full of charm, wit and snappy one-liners in this “sly, irreverent, brash and daring comedy” (The Film Daily) from the legendary team of Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond (Some Like It Hot, The Apartment)!
When the world-renowned singer “Dino” (Martin in a hilarious self-parody) passes through Climax, Nevada, he doesn’t count on meeting two would-be songwriters with a plan to trap him there and serenade him with their songs. But then again, they weren’t counting on Dino’s insatiable appetite… for wine and women! And when one of the men learns that his own wife was once president of Dino’s fan club, he hires a replacement wife (Kim Novak) to help lure the carousing star into a song-buying mood!
Kiss Me, Stupid 6.5
Imagine a film with the following cast:
Sounds intriguing? You betcha!
But, what if, instead, due to various uncontrollable elements, you ended up with:
It changes the formula quite a bit, doesn’t it? And it might not have the same pull, either! Hmmm…
Well, this is exactly what happened to Billy Wilder’s ‘Kiss Me, Stupid’! It turns out that Wilder originally offered the lead to Jack Lemmon, but he couldn’t free up. He then offered it to Peter Sellers, started shooting, and then Sellers got a series of heart attacks – so he replaced him with Walston and reshot Sellers’ scenes.
As for Novak, she ended up with a role that was originally destined for Marilyn Monroe. Alas, it was never meant to be, as Monroe died before they could even get it together. But Wilder obviously had not forgotten Marilyn’s turns in ‘The Seven year Itch’ and ‘Some Like it Hot’ and, as with Lemmon, she had become a favourite of his.
Except that Monroe is almost impossible to replace (even though Wilder would try time and again in future films!); like her or not, very few women then or now have the qualities that made her stand out on the silver screen. The character shows that it was written specifically with Monroe in mind – and another take on it simply wouldn’t work, even if it was still a good part.
In fact, watching Novak made me hurt; she truly wasn’t the right fit to replace Monroe. I’ve only seen her in two other films, ‘Vertigo’ and ‘Bell, Book and Candle’, and hadn’t found her captivating at all. In ‘Kiss Me, Stupid’, she irritated me slightly: the sound of the husky voice she gave her character, her offbeat delivery, her dazed look – they all bothered me.
Naturally, Dean Martin fits the bill of a Vegas lounge singer perfectly – it was a satirical take on his own stage persona and reputation, so it must have been effortless. Unfortunately, while he’s a fairly decent singer, he’s not much of an actor; that is, while he can be relatively credible, he doesn’t have the magnetism this role required. He felt flat.
Cliff Osmond played Spooner’s selfish oaf of a side-kick. The character was alright, but Osmond’s interpretation was too goofy to make him believable – or likeable. I really couldn’t understand why he was the omnipresent best friend: he’s such an obvious jerk and turncoat that no one in their right mind would keep him around. He deserved to be jettisoned. Or, at most, kept around as a songwriting partner – but no more.
Ray Walston’s take on his character was slightly annoying: he kept going into hissy fits that would have been improved with a touch of finesse. But I’m not even sure if Lemmon or Sellers could have made that much out Spooner: his actions, his motives… they just didn’t make sense to me. And I simply could not figure out why his wife had stuck by him for five loooong years.
Which brings me to the only bright spot in the whole cast: Felicia Farr (who, coincidentally enough, was married to Jack Lemmon by then! ). I liked her delivery, the emotions felt real, and there appeared to be intelligence behind those eyes – instead of the robotic rattling off of memorized lines. And she’s beautiful to boot. What a mix. I’d love to see more of her, but, bizarrely, she hasn’t made a lot of films since…
Watching this film was a minor challenge: I really couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that Spooner was such an @$$hole to his loveable, adorable wife. To me, she was a victim of his selfishness and simple-mindness and she didn’t deserve all that happened to her; her life was being torn apart out of sheer stupidity and all she could do was be subjected to it.
I couldn’t help but think of this throughout, so getting into the spirit of things was impossible; ultimately, much of what was meant to be funny was offensive to me. In my mind, nothing that Spooner did could be justified; he’s just an insecure dickweed, with very little redeeming value. And the fact that he ends up getting everything he wanted in the first place totally doesn’t jive with me; there should have been serious consequences!
The only outcome that felt right to me was that of Novak’s character. Despite the performance, the character is easy to sympathize with and all one wants is for something good to happen to her. So, while she doesn’t walk out of this as the big winner, her fate felt real, upbeat and in keeping with the path she was on in the first place. It’s, honestly, the only truly pleasant thing that I got out of this film aside from discovering Farr – and it’s but a blip on the radar.
‘Kiss me, Stupid’ had a troubled release, being condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency for its portrayal of adultery – despite many other previous films having similar themes (including Wilder’s classics ‘The Seven Year Itch’ and ‘The Apartment’). Apparently, Wilder would later avoid mentioning this film – no doubt he had tainted recollections of it after all that had happened from the onset.
But the problems weren’t just the unfortunate stumbling blocks along the way: the material wasn’t as sharp as Wilder and (co-writer) Diamond tend to make it. If it had been, perhaps it would have worked out despite everything else. As it is, however, it’s hardly a stinker, but it’s not Wilder’s best either: he’s done better before and since.
Mind you, ‘Kiss Me, Stupid’ isn’t completely unloveable either. It just won’t win a lot of people over.