Teddy Pierce (Gene Wilder) is standing in a bathrobe on the ledge of a Los Angeles apartment building, looking down at the hundred foot drop, and wondering how he got into this predicament. He has a happy marriage, a stable job in advertising, two kids who love him, good friends who would do anything for him, yet here he is, willing to throw it all away, and for what? It started when he was driving into the underground car park at work and caught sight of a young woman in a red dress who walked by, nothing unusual there, but what really made him look was when she stood on an air vent which blew up that dress around her waist. Again, nothing that out of the ordinary, but when she paused and walked back over the grate to enjoy the feeling of the warm air under her skirt...
Well, let's just say that Teddy is smitten, much as Tom Ewell had been in the fifties comedy this harked back to, The Seven Year Itch, a film that offered a famous image of screen icon Marilyn Monroe who also stood over a blast of air, that time in a white dress. This did not quite deliver the same indelible image for model-turned actress Kelly LeBrock here, but it did not do her career any harm either even if she did not go on to be a sex symbol for the ages - just those who had been of an impressionable age when they watched either this or John Hughes' dumbed down comedy Weird Science, where she played the perfect woman as devised by two teenage nerds and their home computer skills.
LeBrock was meant to be playing an actual person in this, but her Charlotte was no less of a fantasy figure, the sort of knockout who would suddenly take an interest in a meek, middle-aged man who was no great catch simply thanks to the demands of farce and getting them both into a compromising situation. More compromising for him than her, it had to be said, as we have seen when the movie began with Teddy seemingly about to end it all through the effects of massive embarrassment, but that was where Wilder, here producing, directing and starring all at once, hoped the laughs would stem from. He must have been doing something right, as The Woman in Red was the biggest hit he ever directed.
He had grown interested in helming his own vehicles once Mel Brooks had made him a star, and had a few to his credit, though the general consensus was that Wilder never reached the hilarious heights of the likes of Young Frankenstein or Blazing Saddles when crafting his own material after those. Here he was more comfortable in the character of a foolish midlife crisis-afflicted businessman, it was a simple role but one he could mine some easy chuckles from, albeit many of those adapted from the original of this, the French comedy known as Pardon Mon Affaire in the United States which had done fairly well, but not so well as to act as a spoiler to this nearly ten years later. Jean Rochefort, one of France's greatest screen farceurs, had taken the lead in that, but Wilder did not attempt a mere copy of his performance.
This was tailored, by himself, to his strengths, and he generated some solid laughs although not, it had to be said, consistently from minute one to the end credits. This was actually responsible for one of the most maligned number one hit singles across the world of its decade, Stevie Wonder's I Just Called To Say I Love You, which graced the soundtrack along with other songs penned by the famed soul talent (including rather oddly Don't Drive Drunk, his charity release). If you were around in 1984 and grew sick of hearing that record, you only had this movie to blame. But it was not all bad, as Wilder generously gave other performers the limelight, with his wife Gilda Radner securing a nice bit as the co-worker under the misapprehension Teddy wants to have an affair with her and not LeBrock's fashion model, and Charles Grodin as one of his circle of friends who has a secret that was surprisingly sweetly handled for a movie that took a withering look at the delusions men subject themselves to as they grow older, but do not grow up. Truth be told, it was a little mild, but perfectly painless for the most part, one of Wilder's most confident directorial efforts, which were never his best work anyway.
With his striking blue eyes that could go from sensitive to crazed with ease, American actor Gene Wilder was a new sort of screen comic presence when he appeared in his film debut Bonnie and Clyde, a scene-stealer as the undertaker, and he quickly captured audience's interest. This led to him getting hired for Mel Brooks' directorial debut The Producers, where he suited the mayhem perfectly, and would go on to appear in two further Brooks classics, Young Frankenstein and Blazing Saddles.