Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kiss Me, Stupid (1964, Billy Wilder)

Wilder's late-period farce is sinfully fun, and not just because it got condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency. One of Wilder's biggest assets was his understanding that placing characters at cross purposes is positively ripe with comedic potential. And so it is here, as Ray Walston's Orville Spooner is so at war with his impulses- his jealousy over his wife Zelda, his desire to make it as a songwriter, etc.- that he ends up painting himself into the proverbial corner, and half the fun of the film is watching him trying to get out. But if he's the comedic crux of the film, Kim Novak's Polly is its heart. On the surface, the character seems like your garden variety tart-with-a-heart, but Novak gives the character a touching vulnerability, with her head cold and her attempts at domesticity. One of the most magical moments in the film comes when Orville realizes that he genuinely cares about Polly as well- not as a husband or a lover, so much as a protector of the honor she mostly lost years ago. The film isn't so much an flat-out farce a la ONE, TWO, THREE as a classic comedy of remarriage, but what sets it apart is that both husband and wife end up getting their hands dirty before coming back together (more so in the European version than in the American). SPOILER: The film's title ends up doubling as its final line of dialogue, and one that takes on a poignant meaning in light of what has come before. Zelda says more in three simple words than she could in a long and teary-eyed soliloquy- "OK, honey, we both fucked up. You put me in a terrible spot and I didn't exactly act like a saint when I was in that spot. But I know that your mistake came from a place of love, and even if I had some selfish reasons for what I did, I also did it to help you. And it worked. But it won't mean anything unless we can forgive each other. And to do that we have to put it behind us, accept the past, and above all stop worrying so damn much about the impossible perfection we want from our marriage. So..." Also, Dean Martin is nothing if not a good sport here, and if his role is more as a plot device than an emotional anchor for the film, he nonetheless plays the part impeccably. Rating: ***1/2.

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