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  Kiss Me, Stupid Mean Dean
Year: 1964
Director: Billy Wilder
Stars: Dean Martin, Kim Novak, Ray Walston, Felicia Farr, Cliff Osmond, Barbara Pepper, Skip Ward, Doro Merande, Bobo Lewis, Tom Nolan, Alice Pearce, John Fiedler, Arlen Stuart, Howard McNear, Cliff Norton, Mel Blanc, Eileen O'Neill, Susan Wedell, Henry Gibson
Genre: ComedyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Popular singing star Dino (Dean Martin) has just performed yet another sell out show in Las Vegas, firing off the quips and crooning the tunes like a trouper all to rapturous applause from the audience. When he left the stage he promised some of the showgirls he would visit them in their rooms again for a bit of slap and tickle, but he was actually employing a diversionary tactic to make a clean getaway, knowing if he is distracted he'll never make his drive to the television studio for a special broadcast nationwide. Unfortunately, there's a diversion anyway, a roadblock so he must take an alternate route... straight into smalltown America.

The movie that disgusted America, and possibly quite a few other countries as well, arrived at a strange point in pop culture, when the old censorship rules were buckling under the weight of the new permissiveness, but not so much that general audiences found the subject of adultery fit for lewd comedy. Billy Wilder, a director no stranger to the innuendo and hidden meaning, collaborated with his regular writing partner I.A.L. Diamond to create what they hoped would be a sex farce which captured the spirit of those a-changin' times, but if anything rather than being groundbreaking he was probably a little too early with the vulgarity for the punters to take.

It was certainly a brave move for Dean Martin, who liked to play up his louche public image because he knew that was what his fans enjoyed, no matter how different he was in private; here his Dino character was essentially that persona dialled up to extreme levels, making for a personality who was - there was no getting away from it - deeply obnoxious. This could have been one of those movies where the filmmakers patronised the audience out in Middle America by representing them as fine, upstanding folks in comparison to the decadent showbiz types they watched in movies and TV or heard on record, and if it had it might have been a hit, except Wilder and Diamond had wider ranging target in mind.

So those smalltown denizens were not the backbone of society but uptight hypocrites who preferred to criticise and shame anyone not perceived to reach their own impossibly high standards, offering them no greater joy than to be offended and decry those they deigned beneath them regularly and with great enthusiasm. And Wilder wondered where he had gone wrong when Kiss Me, Stupid flopped, dismissing it thereafter yet learning no lessons as his work became coarser, though to be fair so did many of the Hollywood veterans' movies. It didn't do Martin's career any harm in the long run, unless you wanted to see his not inconsiderable acting talents truly employed: the Matt Helm series beckoned to be coasted through. The plot giving so much offence had Dino stopping at the gas station in the suggestively-named desert town of Climax and the attendant, Barney (Cliff Osmond) hoping to become a published songwriter if he can sell Dino a song or two.

He doesn't write them alone, his partner is piano teacher Orville, played by Ray Walston who replaced Peter Sellers quite some way into filming when the British comedian suffered a heart attack from stress, leaving footage lost as a tantalising "what if?" Nevertheless, Kiss Me, Stupid did become a cult movie mostly thanks to its bad taste, as Orville's wife Zelda (Felicia Farr), the most beautiful woman in town, is a source of pathological, unjustified jealousy to him and when Barney "fixes" Dino's car to ensure he spends the night with Orville and hears those songs, his big fan Zelda is sent packing and local cocktail waitress Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak doing a solid yet uncomfortable Marilyn Monroe impersonation) is drafted in to pose as Mrs Orville. Yes, the sexual politics were dodgy, but there was an audacious joke every so often which was funny in spite of the sour tone, and the move towards forgiveness for the finale was unexpectedly sweet, if a bit of a cheek after all we'd seen, the womanising infecting the minds of anyone it came into contact with. Songs, even the bad ones, by George and Ira Gershwin, and the score was by André Previn.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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