Friday, August 13, 2010

Pucker up for 'Kiss Me, Stupid'

When I was about 15 or 16, I developed a great fondness for handsome crooner Dean Martin. I bought his music and watched Martin & Lewis films on AMC. Admittedly, I was smitten with the smooth-talking ladies' man with a voice like honey rolling off a bee's wings. However, I happened to miss out on many of his movies post-1960.

Last night, I watched the 1964 comedy "Kiss Me, Stupid," starring Martin, Ray Walston, Kim Novak and Felicia Farr. Dino plays himself (or a variation thereof) in the story of jealous husband Orville (Walston) who can't stand the thought of men talking, being near or even thinking about his hot wife Zelda (Farr). Orville and his friend Barney (Cliff Osmond) are songwriters, hoping to see their music make it big someday. To their great fortune, Dino stops into their small town of Climax, Nev., on his way from Vegas to Hollywood for gas and smokes when his car just so happens to break down after leaving Barney's station (in other words, Barney disconnected the fuel line) — turns out it will take Barney until the next morning to "repair" the vehicle. He'll have to spend the night in town, and hey, Dino, would you like to hear some of our awesome music while you're stuck here all night?

While Zelda is out running a mysterious errand (having a laugh with the dentist or boffing a teenaged piano pupil? Orville wonders), Orville shows Dino the guest room in his house where he'll be able to crash, and mentions his wife. Dino's interest perks and Orville feels suddenly threatened — no way can she meet Dino, or he'll certainly charm the wedding ring right off her wanton little finger.

Of course, the only solution is when Zelda returns, he needs to drive her away by being a total jackass and then send Barney to bring home a hooker to pretend to be his actual wife so that Dino can sleep with her. I mean, really, that just makes the most sense. To be fair, it's certainly an entertaining premise, and brings the lovely Novak into the picture as Polly the Pistol.

Polly is largely unimpressed with Dino's advances (um, hello, Polly, are your ovaries broken? Seriously, meee-ow) and instead finds herself romanced by Orville's devotion to Zelda. Okay, I guess I get that. A guy who really only wants the woman that he's with is kind of a turn-on, though it does sort of lose its potency when you try to steal him away from her because of how turned on you are ... and it works. Well, sort of. Let's just say that she was his wife-for-a-night in every respect. But the night wasn't a total loss! Orville sold a song to Dino, and Dino did get laid afterall!

After Polly's rejection and Orville giving him the ol' heave-ho off the front porch, Dino wandered on over to the friendly neighborhood gentlemen's club and got himself some sweet booty from none other than Zelda, who had gone that way to drown her sorrows in several rounds of Bloody Marys.

At first, I found this movie a little offputting — a couple deeply in love and devoted to one another torn apart so easily by the slightest temptation (though, if Dean Martin was coercing me into bed with him, I think it'd be wholly understandable that I give in. Again, I say meeee-ow!). On second thought however, it was an incredibly pleasing turn of events. Had the movie been made in the past 20 years, that probably would not have been how things ended up. Orville would have done the chivalrous thing and let Polly sleep in his bed while he took the couch for the night saying, "I could never do anything to hurt my wife," and Polly would have cried a little and said, "I understand." Zelda would have almost gone through with a steamy sweat session with Dino, but stopped at the last minute to say, "I'm sorry, but I love my husband." She would have spent the evening showing him their wedding photos and he would have been so impressed with her strength of will that he would dedicate a song to her in honor of her husband. Happily ever after and all that.

But 50 years ago, cinema had way more balls. They'll betray each other, it will be expected, and they'll still just laugh it off in the end like it meant nothing. Right there, balls. Of course, 50 years ago, female characters also said things like, "A woman without a man is like a trailer without a car: Not going anywhere," with a completely straight face. Eh, you win some you lose some.

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