Kiss Me Stupid | United Artists | Billy Wilder | 1964
Ray Walston is Tom Ewell circa Seven-Year Itch shorn of all bumbling affability—creepily, manically possessive of a wife too gorgeous and (surprisingly?) humanized to realistically have anything to do with such a flaccid cretin. His face mangled by crazed cartoon anxiety, Walston shirks his own spouse’s advances in obeisance to a paranoiac sonar that red-alerts at the slightest misinterpretation of Beethoven (of all things!). This dipshit has his (actual, not Jamesian counterfeit) golden bowl of a marriage under microscopic scrutiny for the slightest defect while Felicia Farr is literally dragging him into bed!
Dean Martin steps into his own shoes for a change and scrapes away whatever likability had clung to his screen persona up to this point in his weird career. He’s a force of raw ego, bathed in misogyny, cooked to a golden crisp. The rest of the cast schemes and strategizes and reacts and emotes, but Martin simply devours. He’s a frightening presence.
Kim Novak goes all in on sex, and Billy ‘ogler extraordinaire’ Wilder nudges her close to the edge of the proverbial pervert’s abyss. But she sidles that edge and achieves some kinda wonderful humanity (the women in this movie are the only characters constructed out of material more durable than phallic cardboard). As sacrificial lamb in a for-profit burlesque of gleeful extramarital surrender, she has the most emotionally at stake, even if it’s difficult to articulate the what or the why of it. In any event, Walston and Dino are grossly transparent in their scuzzy desires, where Novak seems to have a lot more going on perceptually, self-conceptually, existentially!!!!!
For a notoriously vulgar farce pile-driven by critics for its sub-adolescent wit, this is…a dark movie. Dreary, sand-strewn nowheresville exteriors ‘Scoped for maxed-out aridity, interiors crammed and dark-lit to the breaking point of claustrophobic psychodrama. America’s favorite crooner wants nothing less than to fuck your wife, and the only road to matrimonial redemption runs through mutual adulterous detox. It’s shameless juvenilia, but it’s a pained, guilted juvenilia, the shrieks of free-for-all ribaldry sharing aural space with the creaky floorboards of Walston’s unhinged mind.
Well, after weeks of not having watched a new movie, this horndog freakfest was just what the doctor ordered! My ITBS bros Tom Sutpen and Dan Patterson have recorded a great commentary track here, which everyone should check out. I’m gonna pester Tom to help me collaborate with him on an unfinished essay he once attempted about this movie. Wish me luck, faithful readers! And if you happen to know this Sutpen clown, be sure to pester him one for me!