KISS ME, STUPID—is three times enough? Spurred by admiration for the acumen of critic Glenn Erickson, appreciation for the talent of director Billy Wilder, affection for Dean Martin and Ray Walston and panting desire for Kim Novak, I’ve sat through the 126 minutes of this 1965 comedy three times, hoping to unlock its charms. My conclusion is that four or five won’t do it either.
Drawing ire from critics, furor from the studio and a stall at the tills, it has moments here and there, but generally just beats everything into the ground with a mallet. A little smut goes a long way, but if you’re going to wallow in it, it would be helpful if at least one of the characters were likable.
‘Dino’ (Martin, boldly playing an unflattering riff off his lounge-persona) gets ensnared by struggling song-writers Walston and Cliff Osmond (about as unfunny and unappealing as you can get short of torturing animals) in the desert burg of ‘Climax’ (HUGE SNICKER! GET IT!? YOU RUBES! YOU SCHMUCKS!). Rabidly jealous Walston (his pliant wife is Felicia Farr) has local waitress/hooker Novak pretend she’s his wife, so Dino will stick around long enough to boff her and hopefully fall under the spell of the songwriting duos composing.
The cast give it what they can and Andre Previn’s score is amusing. The jokes are weak, and scenes take forever, going on through irritation to exhaustion. The black & white photography further dulls the bleak setting and dismal art direction. Those who champion it see Wilder’s patented subversion at work, co-writing with I.A. L. Diamond, once again chewing the mores of a hypocritical populace. His bites worked in The Seven Year Itch, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment, but this farce isn’t a ticklish nibble, or even a tasty chomp. It’s more like being gummed by some old man who just pulled out his false teeth.
It came in 59th for the year, tanking with $3,450,000 against a budget of $3,500,000 (studio not laughing). Wilder/Diamond leered up the script from a play written by Anna Bonacci, which had been filmed in Italy in 1952 as Wife For A Night (Moglie per una notte) with Gina Lollobrigida. The updated, transplanted version was plagued with flat tires from day one. Walston took over from an unhappy, unpleasant Peter Sellers, who crumpled during filming with a series of heart attacks.* Walston drew a lot of grief for the role. His take: “When I read it, I thought, holy mackerel, this is not going to work; there’s something wrong: it’s not that funny. But at the same time, I thought ‘who the hell am I to say?'” Novak tries, but misfires (her part originally written with Marilyn Monroe in mind) and was likewise lambasted. Martin coasted it off in stride with hits The Sons Of Katie Elder and The Silencers and the launch of his smash TV series. Wilder offered to a friend: “We feel like parents who have given birth to a mongoloid child – Now we keep asking ourselves – do we dare screw again?” That delicate reflection could serve as headstone to this tasteless bungle.
With Barbara Pepper, Doro Merande, Howard McNear, Tommy Nolan, Alice Pearce, Cliff Norton, Mel Blanc, Skip Ward and Henry Gibson.
*Coming Off A Flush Dept: After the dazzling quartet of The Pink Panther, Dr.Strangelove, The World Of Henry Orient and A Shot In The Dark, Sellers was filming this when he had a series of thirteen heart attacks, apparently helped along by popping amyl nitrate while having sex with Britt Ekland in Las Vegas—which rates a round of applause however you cut it. Back in England, Sellers vented spleen on the production, earning a retaliatory telegram from Wilder, Novak, Martin and Farr calling him a “unprofessional rat fink”. The director piled on: “Heart attack? You have to have a heart before you can have an attack.” No wonder it all turned out rancid.