Doris Day never quite replaced Cary Grant or Rock Hudson in her romantic comedy ventures. This is her second outing with James Garner – The Thrill of It All had appeared earlier the same year. Ironically, it’s based on a Cary Grant film, My Favorite Wife (1940) with Irene Dunne. Having been lost at sea for the requisite five years, this version kicks off with Day being pronounced legally dead in court to pave the way for Garner to marry Polly Bergen (Cape Fear, 1962). Naturally, she turns up on the day of their wedding and the first part of the movie is Garner trying to keep the women apart. Cue comic pratfalls, double takes, diving in an out of bedrooms, but Day and Bergen seem to be trying to out-screech each other. The idea of bigamy, scandalous at the time, has lost its power to shock.
While Day spent much of the picture in hysterics, I didn’t, and wished they had moved quicker to the complication which was that she had shared her desert island with a hunk (Chuck Connors). The pace picks up a bit after that as Day has to pretend that it was nerd (Don Knotts) with whom she was stranded while Garner knows the truth. There is some good reversal, her kids, who naturally don’t recognize her, complaining about her singing. A number of set pieces save the day – two court scenes with an exasperated judge (Edgar Buchanan), Day disguised as a Swedish masseuse giving Bergen a savage work-over and Day trapped in car wash.
Michael Gordon had helmed Pillow Talk (1959) but missed the mark here. Don Knotts, prior to his incarnation as The Incredible Mr Limpet (1964) show his potential as the shoe salesman recruited by Day to impersonate Connors. Accomplished comedienne Thelma Ritter holds back on the comedy instead playing a straight role as the meddling mother-in-law. Fred Clark as the alternately bemused and suspicious hotel manager gets the best of the double takes. Garner, unfortunately, has little opportunity to exhibit his sly sense of humor or the laid-style that worked a treat in Support Your Local Sheriff (1969).
Hal Kanter, who worked on the George Gobel and Milton Berle television shows and scripted Blue Hawaii (1961) fashioned the screenplay along with the more versatile and sometime director Jack Sher (Paris Blues, 1961).
When it was known as Something’s Got to Give, George Cukor was set to direct a cast that included Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, Cyd Charisse, Tom Tryon and Phil Silvers from a script by Nunnally Johnson and Walter Bernstein. Monroe had nixed working with Garner and Knotts. When Monroe was fired, Kim Novak and Shirley Maclaine refused offers to replace her. Dean Martin refused to continue without Monroe and although re-hired she died before production recommenced.
Heist pictures break down into planning, execution and reprisal. Here the planning stage moves at a leisurely pace, a bit of recruitment, and setting up bitebacks that will cripple the military-precision plan by ex-army buddies to rob five Las Vegas casinos of millions of dollars on New Year’s Eve. There’s a bit of reversal, Mr Big (Akim Tamiroff) is a collection of nervous tics, Jimmy Foster (Peter Lawford) a rich guy seeking financial independence from a possessive mother, Sam Harmon (Dean Martin) having second thoughts about the operation, and Danny Ocean (Frank Sinatra) trying to win back estranged wife Beatrice (Angie Dickinson) who surmises he prefers danger to intimacy. Mostly, it’s repartee between Harmon and Ocean while Foster makes a chump out of his mother’s next potential husband Duke Santos (Cesar Romero).
There’s not much hi-tech about the audacious plan, knocking out the electricity supply to the casinos, the switch to auxiliary power allowing the gang access to the inner sanctum where the cash is held, finding their way in and out of the darkness by nothing more sophisticated than luminous spray paint, and with a clever ruse to get the money out once all hell breaks loose.
The fun starts when one of the team (Richard Conte) drops dead post-raid and it transpires Santos is a big-shot underworld figure who investigates the robbery on behalf of the casinos and starts tracking the gang down, leading to a pay-off you don’t see coming.
Given the comedy element, there’s no great tension but it’s a pleasant enough diversion and Sinatra and Martin display an easy camaraderie that lights up the screen. It could have been funded by the Las Vegas Tourist Bureau so much attention is given to the wonder of the casinos, at a time when gambling was still only otherwise legal on racetracks, and with snippets of floorshows and the deluxe atmosphere. Add in a couple of numbers delivered a couple of times by Dean Martin (“Ain’t That a Kick in the Head”), legitimately since he is a cocktail bar singer, and Sammy Davis Jr. (“Eee-O-11”), somewhat shoehorned-in given he is a truck driver.
There’s a couple of neat reversals: Ocean’s dumped girlfriend Adele (Patrice Wymore) gets short shrift from Beatrice when she reveals the affair; casino bosses offered a double-or-quits gamble refuse to consider such a dangerous notion. Red Skelton and George Raft have credited cameos, Shirley MacLaine does not. As well as Richard Conte, Henry Silva (The Secret Invasion, 1964) has a small part as does Norman Fell (The Graduate, 1967).
Although there are on occasion outdated sexist attitudes, there is also a strong anti-racist statement in the hiring of Sammy Davis Jr., showcasing his talents in a big-budget picture, and clearly making the point that he has been welcomed by stars as big as Sinatra and Martin.
And it’s worth also considering the picture in terms of early-onset brand management. The “Rat Pack” was a loose group of entertainers which not only became a well-known stand-alone entity in its own right that celebrated what was considered “hip” at the time (assuming you excluded Elvis and his ilk), but as individuals supported each other on television and in live performance. They would make another two pictures as a team and another dozen or so where two or more of the players appeared. The principals were all major attractions at the nascent Las Vegas so they were also promoting their home patch. During the day they made the movie, at night they wove in and out of each others’ acts, creating an entertainment sensation. On top of that, Sinatra had his own record label Reprise – among the early acts Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. So, in a sense, all this cross-promotion was money in their pockets.
Also of note are the opening and closing, the former for the credits devised by Saul Bass, the latter for the famous shot later appropriated by Quentin Tarantino for Reservoir Dogs. Ironically, Lewis Milestone, who devised the original shot, and long before that won two Best Director Oscars, is less well regarded these days than Tarantino.
This affectionate homage to 1920s vaudeville goes awfully astray under the heavy-handed direction of William Friedkin. Never mind the sexist approach, there’s an epidemic of over-acting apart from a delightful turn from Britt Ekland as the innocent star-struck Amish who accidentally invents striptease and former British music hall star Norman Wisdom who knows what he’s doing on the stage. The plot is minimal – burlesque theater manager (Elliott Gould) needs to save theater from going bust in a few days’ time. That’s it – honest!
The rest of the story looks tacked on – the overbearing leering other half (Jason Robards) of the Norman Wisdom double act tries to bed anything that moves, Amish father (Harry Andrews) in pursuit of his daughter, vice squad official (Denholm Elliott) determined to shut the theater down.
The saving grace of this debacle is Ekland’s performance which carries off a difficult part. Could anyone really be so dumb? She is endearing in a murky world but still capable of interpreting the Bible to her own ends (there is dance in the Good Book, for example) and she has confidence that the Lord will give her the go-ahead to have sex. Her innocence appears to transcend reality and since she doesn’t know a showbiz shark when she sees one she carries on as if life is just wonderful. Somehow this should never work but Ekland is so convincing that it does.
What might have been another saving grace is the documentary feel of much of the background, black-and-white pictures of the epoch transmuting into color, but too often the movie simply cuts to that without any real purpose. Equally, the various song-and-dance acts, chorus lines and comic turns provide an insight into burlesque reality but, again, all too often, that goes nowhere. There are plenty of people trying to be funny without much in the way of decent laughs. There’s altogether too much of everything else and not enough of the ingredients you might have considered essential.
This scarcely sounds like William Friedkin material given that although this preceded The French Connection and The Exorcist, by this point he had already made his mark with an adaptation of Harold Pinter play The Birthday Party (1968). In fact, his original cut was re-edited once he had departed the picture. Might it have worked better with Tony Curtis in the Jason Robards role as originally planned – he certainly had more charm than the jaundiced Robards. Regardless of who was cast what it needed most was a better story and less in the way of stock characters. And since in American theater folklore Minsky’s is synonymous with the invention of the striptease it meant that quite a few of the audience were there just to see how much skin would be revealed – which is not really the basis for a good mainstream picture.
A more misleading title would be hard to find – and that goes for the posters too. This is a misfit movie – a bunch of raw recruits knocked into shape by an unwilling captain tasked with sailing a ship into a South Pacific war zone in WWII. Admittedly, Jack Lemmon is in exasperated double-take default in the opening section, but it quickly shifts from comedy to drama as Lemmon shepherds his inexperienced crew into a more compact team. Screenwriter Frank Murphy has an exceptionally good portfolio – Panic in the Streets (1950), The Desert Rats (1953), Broken Lance (1954) and Compulsion (1959) – but brings less to the table as a director, this only his second – and final – outing in that capacity. But given he is directing from his own screenplay, he must take the blame for the incongruous hybrid. Add in an unnecessary tune from Ricky Nelson and the briefest of brief romances and no wonder it’s hard to make head or tail of the movie until it does eventually head out to sea.
Once Lemmon is given more to do than shake or scratch his head the picture movies into more satisfactory territory. Instead of dismissing the crew as idiots, he takes command and shows dramatic chops that are a hint of things to come (Days of Wine and Roses just two pictures away) when he sloughed off comedy for more serious undertakings. Reason for Lemmon being assigned this motorised sailing ship rather than something more obviously U.S. Navy is that he is in the last chance saloon. Once under sail, setting aside some dodgy process work, and it becomes clear they are heading into harm’s way rather than simply delivering the boat to General MacArthur in more harmless waters, the story switches into perilous wartime perilous adventure with decent battle, a couple of twists and some dramatic confrontation.
Lemmon is always watchable and I always thought he could have done with more self-belief when it came to tackling more dramatic parts. When he goes ramrod-stiff and starts barking out orders and has to out-maneuver superiors and enemy, he is entirely convincing, as, too, safeguarding or rescuing or leading his men in battle. Setting aside the need for Ricky Nelson to register his credentials as a singer, he is not bad either, as an ensign making his way, an ingenue role that suits this ingenue. Veteran John Lund (My Friend Irma) appears as a crusty admiral and Chips Rafferty, the only Australian actor anybody had ever heard of at that point outside of Rod Taylor, has a cameo. Irishwoman Patricia O’Driscoll manages a passable Aussie accent as the brief romance, her role mostly confined to looks of longing while Lemmon is at sea. Raspy-voiced Mike Kellin as an out-of-his-depth chief mate turned up in the television series based on the picture. If ever there was a film of two halves (well, one-third and two-thirds) it’s this, but the second section passes muster.
I had my first belly-laugh within seconds, a wonderful sight gag, and was chortling all the way through this London-set battle-of-the-sexes comedy. Rock Hudson is a high-flying businessman who needs to win back long-estranged wife Gina Lollobrigida in order to gain promotion in a family-conscious oil company. Initially, Hudson re-discovers the reasons he had first fallen in love with her but then, of course, only too bitterly, why they split. Hudson and La Lollo had previously teamed up for Come September (1963) and Hudson had spent most of the early 1960s in romantic mishap with Doris Day so he could call on an extensive range of baffled and enraged expressions. Lollobrigida is an artist-cum-political-firebrand which sets up hilarious consequence. Gig Young is on hand to act as referee.
There’s some marvelous comic invention, a conversation between the two principals relayed through taxi controllers turns into a masterpiece of the misheard and misunderstood. Complications arise from Lollobrigida’s fiance Edward Judd (First Men on the Moon, 1964), also an activist, but on the pompous side, and an Italian lothario. Taking advantage of the less than congenial London weather, there are jokes aplenty about umbrellas and in a nod to farce occasions for Hudson to lose his trousers and share a bed with the fiance. Smoldering sexual tension also kindles many laughs. By the time the film enters its stride it’s one comedic situation after another. It being England, naturally enough Lady Godiva is involved.
Hudson in suave mode trying to cope with the feisty Lollobrigida is an ideal comedy match. Costume designer Jean Louis has swathed the actress in a stunning array of outfits, some of which leave little to the imagination. When Doris Day got angry you tended to laugh, not quite believing this was anything more than a moderate hissy fit, but if you crossed Lollobrigida you were apt to get both barrels and it never looked like acting, she was a very convincing when she switched on the fury engine, plus, of course, whatever she threw added both to the comedy and her character’s conviction. Both have terrific comic timing.
Writer-director Melvin Frank was something of a comedy specialist, a dab hand at suiting comedy to screen persona having previously set up Road to Hong Kong (1962) and Mr. Blandings Builds a Dream House (1948). Terry-Thomas makes an appearance as a comic mortician and there are parts for English comedian Arthur Haynes and Dave King. Hudson and Lollobrigida exude screen charisma and while not in the class of Come September this delivers enough laughs to make you wonder why they don’t make them like that anymore.
There’s a terrific western directed by John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, 1960) inside this Rat Pack offering, the second of four in the series. On the plus side are plenty twists on traditional scenarios, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin displaying a certain kind of easy screen charisma, and three exceptional and well-choreographed battle scenes. Sinatra, Martin and Peter Lawford play the eponymous sergeants, Lawford committing the cardinal sin of wanting to quit the regiment to get married, with Sammy Davis Jr. as a former slave, bugler (an important plot point) and horse-lover wanting to sign up, and Joey Bishop (television star and occasional movie actor) as their sergeant-major boss.
A fair bit of time is spent on the usual Rat Pack shenanigans, getting drunk, brawling, playing tricks on each other, and exploring odd comic notions such as playing poker with a blacksmith’s implements as chips. But when it gets down to proper western stuff, it fairly zings along, with a decent plot (a Native American uprising) and excellent action scenes. You could have had William Goldman writing the script for the number of reversals, where the picture keeps one step ahead of audience expectation. For a start, rather than flushing out outlaws from a town, the troopers have to remove Native Americans who have taken it over. Instead of the cavalry pursuing Native Americans, it is mostly the other way round. It is the soldiers rather than the Native Americans who attack a wagon. Sinatra finds himself employing a bow-and-arrow and then a tomahawk rather than being on the receiving end of such weaponry. Instead of dynamite, the good guys make do with fireworks. Where Native Americans are usually pinned down, this time it is Sinatra’s merry band. And when it comes to resorting to serious violence, that, too is usually the remit of the Native Americans, not as here, Sinatra chucking man off a cliff.
When it sticks to action, the picture is very well done and involving. When Sinatra has to take charge instead of larking about, the movie has focus. Both Sinatra and Martin were undertaking serious roles around this time, the former in The Manchurian Candidate (1962), the latter in political drama Ada (1961) so this might have appeared welcome relief. The comedy isn’t along the laugh-out-loud lines of Support Your Local Sheriff (1969) or Blazing Saddles (1973) and when the action is so full-on you wonder why anybody thought this required comedy at all, although there is a pretty good punchline ending. Action aside, it’s almost the equivalent of easy listening. The Rat Pack was a particular 1960s institution, the members joining each other on stage in Las Vegas or featuring in television programs, but there’s no real modern correlative.
Off-beat Oscar-nominated comedy-drama that is both a marvelous piece of whimsy and a slice of social realism set in the kind of Britain the tourist boards forget, all drizzle and grime. It zips from Edinburgh to Sheffield to Bath to London to Brighton to Jersey as if the characters had been dumped from an If It’s Tuesday It Must Be Belgium sketch. If your idea of Italy was Fellini’s glorious decadence or Hollywood romance amid historic ruins and fabulous beaches, then the upbringing of Assunta (Monica Vitti) is the repressive opposite. All women in her small Sicilian town wear black. Men are not allowed to dance with women and must make do with each other. A man like Vincenzo (Carlo Giuffre) desiring sex must kidnap a woman, in this case Assunta, to which she will consent as long as he marries her. When instead he runs off to Scotland, she is dishonored and must kill him, armed with the titular pistol.
Pursuit first takes her to Edinburgh and a job as a maid, has a hilarious encounter with a Scottish drunk, and various other cross-cultural misinterpretations – in a bar she cools herself down with an ice-cube then puts it back in the bucket. Then it’s off to Sheffield where she falls in with car mechanic Anthony Booth (television’s Till Death Do Us Part) because he is wearing Italian shoes. She can’t imagine he can watch sport for two hours. “You’re a man, I’m a woman, nobody in the house and you look at the television.” Although tormented by images of being attacked back home by a screaming mob of black-robed women, she begins to shed her inhibitions, wearing trendier clothes, although an umbrella is essential in rain-drenched Britain and given the Italian preference for shooting exteriors.
In between sightings of Vincenzo there are episodes with a suicidal gay man (Corin Redgrave) and a doctor (Stanley Baker). She becomes a nurse, then a part-time model, sings Italian songs in an Italian restaurant, drives a white mini, wears a red curly wig and more extravagant fashions. It turns out she can’t shoot straight. Gradually, the mad chorus of home gives way to feminist self-assertion as she becomes less dependent on men and a world run by chauvinists. It’s a starling mixture of laugh out loud humour and social observation. And while the narrative at times verges on the bizarre, Assunta’s actions all appear logical given her frame of mind.
Vitti was Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni’s muse (and companion) through L’Avventura (1960), La Notte (1961) and L’Eclisse (1962) to Red Desert (1964). She had a brief fling with the more commercial, though still somewhat arty, movie world in Joseph Losey’s Modesty Blaise and the nothing-artistic-about-it comedy On the Way to the Crusades (aka The Chastity Belt, 1968) with Tony Curtis. Director Mario Monicello had two Oscar nominations for writing but was best-known for Big Deal on Madonna Street (1958) and Casanova ’70 (1965). The Girl with a Pistol was nominated in the Best Foreign Language film category at the Oscars.
A new documentary on Hollywood icon Audrey Hepburn – Audrey: More Than an Icon – provides the perfect excuse to look back at some of her work. I have already reviewed her performance in an untypical role in John Huston western The Unforgiven (1960) in which she played “a skittish teenager on the brink of adulthood, on a spectrum between gauche and vivacious.” Perhaps more typical of her appeal is romantic comedy How to Steal a Million in which she once again tops the chic league.
This is her third go-round with director William Wyler after similar romantic shenanigans in Roman Holiday (1953) and the more serious The Children’s Hour (1961) and the French capital had previously provided the backdrop to Paris When It Sizzles (1964). Hepburn plays the daughter of a wealthy art forger who hires burglar Peter O’Toole to recover a fake sculpture which her father has donated to a museum unaware that its insurance package calls for a forensic examination.
Compared to such sophisticated classics as Rififi (1955), Topkapi (1964) and Gambit (1966) the theft is decidedly low-rent involving magnets, pieces of string and a boomerang. But the larceny is merely a “macguffin,” a way of bringing together two apparently disparate personalities and acclaimed stars to see if they strike sparks off each other. And they most certainly do but the romance is delightful rather than passionate.
Of course, it’s also a vehicle for the best clothes-horse in Hollywood. While some actresses might occasionally stir up a fashion bonanza (Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde, for example), Hepburn’s audiences for virtually every film (The Unforgiven a notable exception) expected their heroine attired in ultra-vogue outfits. De Givenchy, given carte blanche to design her wardrobe, begins as he means to go on and she first appears in a white hat that looks more like a helmet and wearing white sunglasses. Her clothes include a pink coat and a woollen skirt suit dress and at one point she resembles a cat burglar with a black lace eye mask and black Chantilly lace dress. As distinctive was her new short hairstyle created by Alexandre de Paris. Cartier supplied drop earrings and a watch. Her tiny red car was an Autobianchi Bianchina special Cabriolet.
As much as with his charisma, O’Toole was a fashion match. He looked as if he could have equally stepped from the pages of Vogue and drove a divine Jaguar. He appeared as rich as she. He could have been a languid playboy, but imminently more resourceful. But since the story is about committing a crime and not about the indulgent rich, their good looks and fancy dressing are just the backdrop to an endearing romance. Although there are few laugh-out-loud moments, the script by Harry Kurnitz (Witness for the Prosecution, 1957) remains sharp and since Hepburn’s first responsibility is to keep her father out of jail there is no thunderclap of love. An Eli Wallach, shorn of his normal rough edges, has a supporting role as an ardent suitor, Hugh Griffith with eyebrows that seemed poised on the point of take-off is the errant father while French stars Charles Boyer and Fernand Gravey put in an appearance.
There was no greater divide between audiences and critics in Britain than the long-running comedy “Carry On” series (outside of an occasional satirical bulls-eye like Carry On Up the Khyber (1968). And a similar gulf existed between the type of audiences the movies attracted in Britain and those in America. In Britain they were vastly popular general releases while in America their usual habitat was the arthouse as if they were seen as the natural successors to the Ealing comedies. And there was a third chasm – between the endearing risqué early comedies and the more lascivious later versions.
Carry On Nurse fell into the endearing camp. The humor was gentle rather than forced, the emphasis on misunderstanding and innuendo and smooth seducers like Leslie Phillips rather than exposed female flesh and the grasping likes of the ever-chortling Sid James. Perhaps you could define this earlier film as pre-nasal Kenneth Williams, his peculiar type of delivery not yet at full throttle. Here there is innocence rather than lust and the males quake in fear not just of the indomitable Hattie Jacques in brusque matron mode but of the other efficient nurses led by Shirley Eaton who have the measure of their rather hapless patients, although student nurse Joan Sims – making her series debut – is an accident-prone soul.
The action is mostly confined to a male ward. There are plenty of gags – alarms rung by mistake, boiling catheters burned to a turn, medication making a patient go wild, patients intoxicated by laughing gas and the famous replacement of a rectal thermometer by a daffodil. Wilfred Hyde-White as a constant complainer and obsessive radio listener Charles Hawtrey provide further ongoing amusement.
But the thrust of the story is romance. Journalist Terence Longdon fancies Shirley Eaton but his initial advances are spurned as she is in love with a doctor. In a role far removed from his later brazen characters, Williams plays a shy intellectual who finally comes round to the charms of Jill Ireland (later wife of Charles Bronson). Although Leslie Phillips is his usual suave self, he makes no designs on the female staff since he has a girlfriend elsewhere and his ailment – a bunion on the bum – makes him an unlikely candidate for a hospital liaison.
Hattie Jacques is in imperious form, Shirley Eaton shows what she is capable of, Kenneth Williams playing against type is a revelation.
The story of how Carry On Nurse unexpectedly conquered America is told tomorrow in “Follow that Nurse.”
Note: by and large this blog follows American release dates so although Carry On Nurse was shown in Britain in 1959 it did not reach America until 1960.
Many of the films made in the 1960s are now available free-to-view on a variety of television channels and on Youtube but if you’ve got no luck there, then here’s the DVD.
I caught this at my local arthouse a few days ago and it made me realise that big screen pristine prints have a way of making a movie pop and reminding you that movies were not meant for the constrictions of a DVD screen. It’s a trope to say everything is bigger on the big screen, but a classic like this is practically bursting at the seams, Jack Lemmon fizzes with energy, and you cannot take your eyes off Marilyn Monroe, nor any part of her, given her skin-tight (and Oscar-winning) outfits that must have given the censor conniptions.
Not surprisingly, there’s a lot more detail to notice, but what is revelatory is how detailed that detail sometimes is. There’s a tiny scene at the beginning of George Raft as gangster Spats closing a steel folding concertina door and you can see he is actually trying to make it close not pretending to do so. Attention to detail is what makes this picture sing. And there’s nothing more carefully constructed than the story. Sure, you can easily come up with some kind of mumbo-jumbo to make two guys cross-dress. But how to make it believable rather than pantomime? Easy enough to make them look like women and sound like women – but how to make them emotionally convincing? And to shift the story away from the obvious – fear of being found out.
Maybe you’re not familiar with the story so here’s the nutshell – two musicians having witnessed the St Valentine’s Day Massacre in 1929 dress up as women and hide out in an all-female band headed for Miami. There, Tony Curtis falls for Marilyn Monroe while Jack Lemmon finds himself/herself an object of lust from millionaire Joe E. Brown. Inevitably, they are rumbled, and they have to make the decision to keep on running or stay put.
The musicians hide out in an all-female band because if they try and hide anywhere else they will be easily caught. The female personalities they adopt are totally at odds with their male characteristics. Curtis, the womanising chancer, willing to risk everything on a horse, turns into a soft-spoken rather snooty woman lending a sympathetic ear to loser-in-love Monroe. And while admittedly this is originally for ulterior motives, it initiates a complete character change. Being a woman liberates Lemmon from his over-cautious male nature and he/she has a blast. Feminists turn away now, but Lemmon get so into his new identity that he appreciates being wooed and spoiled and shrieks with pure joy at the prospect of getting married. Curtis, meanwhile, has a third identity to play to fulfil Monroe’s fantasy of falling for a harmless intellectual be-spectacled playboy complete with Cary Grant mannerisms.
And there are two versions of Monroe on show, the sexy showgirl and the sweet and tender lass. This is the final twist. In every Monroe movie under the sun she is the object of desire. Here, she is the one who has to make the running. In the end, everyone has to give up their fantasies and settle for reality – except for Joe E. Brown who does not care if he is marrying a man, “nobody’s perfect,” he snaps in one of the greatest last lines. So it’s a master class in character development.
But it’s also as funny as hell. And that’s without going down the route of easy laughs. The script – developed over a year by director Billy Wilder (Double Indemnity, 1944) and co-conspirator I.A.L. Diamond – is a cracker and visual gags abound. There’s plenty of humour from the gender switch – Monroe cosying up to Ms Lemmon, Lemmon having his/her ass pinched, an over-confident bellboy making a pitch for Ms Curtis. And while Raft’s henchmen are straight from Stereotype Central, director Billy Wilder pays homage to the gangster greats – the idea for a minor character with a penchant for flipping coins lifted form a trick Raft himself used in Scarface (1931), the gangland supremo is Little Bonaparte instead of Little Caesar (1931), and Raft comes close to apeing Cagney in Public Enemy (1931) when he is tempted to squash a grapefruit into a confederate’s face..
You want exuberance, here it is in spades. Lemmon has turned the volume up to eleven, Joe E. Brown is continually on twelve, Monroe belts out a couple of great songs and if there was any limit on sexiness she breaks those barriers. And yet it is counterbalanced by Curtis’s myopic millionaire and the little-girl-lost Monroe. The kissing scene between Curtis and Monroe is so finely nuanced that you cannot help but be swept up in its innocence.
Curtis, who had just emerged from the Universal beefcake cocoon to gain more peer acceptance after his Oscar-nominated turn in The Defiant Ones (1958), did not quite gain the credit he deserved for his triple role, but Lemmon, who was Oscar-nominated, saw his career take off while Monroe, with a percentage of the gross, made a killing.
Of course, even such a genius as Wilder didn’t get everything right first time out. The original cast was meant to be Jerry Lewis, Frank Sinatra and Mitzi Gaynor. Go figure!
Catch it on the big screen: OCT 2-4 Gilson Cafe & Cinema, Winsted, CT, USA; OCT 6 Broadway Center, Salt Lake City, USA; OCT 13 Odeon St Michel, Paris, France; OCT 20 Folkbiografen, Hovmantorp, Sweden; OCT 22-NOV 18 LAB111, Amsterdam, Netherlands; OCT 25-OCT 27 CGV Apgujeong, Seoul, South Korea; and NOV 13 Astor Film Lounge, Koln, Germany. Contact distributor Park Circus on email@example.com for details of further showings.
If you’re not lucky enough to live in any of these cities, your best bet is DVD.