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Kiss Me, Stupid

Original poster
Directed by Billy Wilder
Produced by Billy Wilder
Written by Billy Wilder
I.A.L. Diamond
Based on a play by Anna Bonacci
Starring Dean Martin
Kim Novak
Ray Walston
Felicia Farr
Music by André Previn
Cinematography Joseph LaShelle
Editing by Daniel Mandell
Distributed by Lopert Pictures Corporation
Release date(s) December 22, 1964
Running time 126 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Kiss Me, Stupid is a 1964 American comedy film directed by Billy Wilder. The screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond is based on Wife For a Night (1952), an Italian film starring Gina Lolobrigida--which was itself taken from a play (L'Ora della Fantasia) by Anna Bonacci.

Contents

Plot

While driving his Dual-Ghia from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, lecherous, heavy-drinking pop singer Dino is forced to detour through Climax, Nevada. There he meets the amateur songwriting team of Barney Millsap, a gas station attendant, and piano teacher Orville J. Spooner. Hoping to interest Dino in their songs, Barney disables the Italian sports car and tells Dino he will need to remain in town until new parts arrive from Milan.

Orville invites Dino to stay with him and his wife Zelda, but he becomes concerned when he learns the singer needs to have sex every night to avoid awakening with a headache. Anxious to accommodate Dino but safeguard his marriage, Orville provokes an argument with his wife that leads to Zelda fleeing in tears. He and Barney then arrange for Polly the Pistol, a waitress and prostitute at a saloon on the edge of town called the Belly Button, to pose as Orville's wife and satisfy Dino.

That evening after the three have eaten dinner, Orville is playing his tunes for Dino and Polly requests a particular song. It is one she knows he wrote for his wife when he was trying to persuade her to marry him. Doing so, Orville gets lost in emotion, as does Polly, who has fallen a little for the dream of a domestic life that she doesn't have. Under the influence of the song and a lot of wine, Orville gets so lost he starts thinking of Polly as his wife, and is no longer willing to let Dino have her for the night. Orville tosses Dino out for making advances at his alleged wife and then spends the night with Polly.

Dino seeks shelter at the Belly Button, where Zelda earlier had gone to drown her sorrows. When she became drunk and rowdy, the manager deposited her in Polly's trailer to sleep. Hearing about the talents of Polly the Pistol and declaring himself eager "to shoot it out with her," Dino goes to the trailer and finds Zelda there and mistakes her for Polly. A longtime fan, she succumbs to Dino's charms and allows him to seduce her, persuading him how perfect Orville's song would be for him at the same time.

Zelda meets Polly the next morning and figures out the trick Orville played on her. She gives Dino's money to Polly, who needs it to leave Climax and start a new life.

A few nights later, Orville is distraught knowing that Zelda intends to divorce him. Suddenly he hears Dino singing one of his songs on coast-to-coast television. He is at a total loss as to how this could have happened. He wants an explanation, but Zelda simply orders him: "Kiss me, stupid."

Production

Wilder initially offered the role of Orville Spooner to Jack Lemmon, whom he had directed in Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and Irma la Douce, but prior commitments forced the actor to decline. The director then signed Peter Sellers for the role. Six weeks into filming, Sellers suffered a series of six minor strokes and was hospitalized in Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. Upon his release, the actor returned to England under doctor's orders. Unwilling to wait while Sellers completed a six-month recuperation period, Wilder opted to replace him and reshoot all his scenes. [1]

Wilder approached friend Ira Gershwin and asked if he would like to compose the songs written by Barney and Orville. Gershwin suggested he write lyrics to unpublished music by his late brother George, and as a result three new songs by the Gershwins - "Sophia," "I'm a Poached Egg," and "All the Livelong Day" - debuted in the film. [1]

The film was shot on location in Twentynine Palms, California. The opening sequence was filmed at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas, using a portion of Dean Martin's actual show and the hotel's marquee from his appearance there. Some interior scenes were filmed in the Aquarius Theatre and the Moulin Rouge Night Club in Los Angeles.

The Catholic Legion of Decency strongly objected to the completed film. Wilder was willing to soften the suggestion Zelda had committed adultery with Dino, but he refused to comply with other demands, and the film was condemned, the first American film to be so designated since Baby Doll in 1956. As a direct result of the rating, United Artists decided to release the film under the banner of Lopert Pictures, a subsidiary previously used for imported films. [1]

Wilder rarely mentioned the film in later interviews, although he discussed it briefly for On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder, a biography by Ed Sikov. "I don't know why the film shocked people. It's the most bourgeois film there is," he declared. "A man wants a career and the person who wants to help him wants to sleep with his wife. He replaces his wife with another, but when he is nearest to success, he refuses it and throws the guy out . . . The public accepted it better in The Apartment because it was better conceived, better written, better lubricated." [1]

Cast

Critical reception

A. H. Weiler of the New York Times called the film "pitifully unfunny" and "obvious, plodding, short on laughs and performances and long on vulgarity." He added, "The finesse, speed, artistry and imagination of . . . Some Like It Hot are sadly missing in this pungent exercise. Instead, we have cheapness that will not shock a grownup. However, this heavy-handed sex fable does call for a light, subtle approach that is rarely apparent." [2]

The Time review called the film "a jape that seems to have scraped its blue-black humor off the floor of a honky-tonk nightclub" and "professionally shrewd and zippy [with] a kind of vulgar integrity." It concluded, "The result, spelled out in dialogue that sounds like a series of gamy punch lines, is one of the longest traveling-salesman stories ever committed to film. Like all dirty jokes, it will probably evoke a shock wave of self-conscious laughter and pass swiftly into oblivion." [3]

Variety said the script "calls for a generous seasoning of Noël Coward but, unfortunately, it provides a dash of same only now and again . . . Wilder, usually a director of considerable flair and inventiveness (if not always impeccable taste), has not been able this time out to rise above a basically vulgar, as well as creatively delinquent, screenplay, and he has got at best only plodding help from two of his principals, Dean Martin and Kim Novak . . . [He] has directed with frontal assault rather than suggestive finesse." [4]

Michael Scheinfeld of TV Guide rated the film 3½ out of four stars, calling it "a kind of cinematic litmus test that separates the casual Billy Wilder fan from the true connoisseur" and "a monument of satirical tastelessness that . . . in retrospect, is now seen as one of Wilder's most fascinatingly original films." He added, "Amid the [original] furor, it's easy to miss the film's comedic accomplishments, which are considerable. Its idiomatic wordplay and social satire is vintage Wilder, and the opening sequence where Dino performs in a nightclub is one of the funniest things that Wilder has ever done. Sprinkling in bad jokes and Rat Pack references, Dean Martin's comic timing and delivery is impeccable . . . The rest of the cast is equally superb, right down to the smallest bit part . . . although Ray Walston's relentless mugging becomes a bit much." [5]

In 2002, J. Hoberman of The Village Voice discussed the film when Film Forum in Manhattan ran a restored print. He observed, "The first half is an unending parade of smutty gags and single entendres, with a few toilet jokes thrown in for good measure. The constant tumult in the Spooners' cramped bungalow betrays the movie's stage origins, and indeed, Climax itself is an appropriately desolate stage-set. Kiss Me, Stupid is likely Wilder's harshest view of the American landscape since the orchestrated media feeding frenzy of Ace in the Hole . . . The rancid atmosphere conceals the virtues of the movie's classical structure, detailed mise-en-scène, and deft comic timing . . . Kiss Me, Stupid's mutually redemptive adultery is closer to the grown-up world of John Cassavetes's Faces than to Wilder's adolescent Seven Year Itch — but it's ultimately a more knowingly tolerant, not to mention funnier, movie than either." [6]

References

External links

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