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Kiss Me, Stupid

Marking the beginning of a career slide from which director Billy Wilder would never recover, 1964's Kiss Me, Stupid features a truly bizarre script by Wilder and long-time collaborator I.A.L. Diamond based on an Italian sex farce called L'Ora della Fantasia. Dean Martin stars as Dino, a debauched movie star/nightclub singer who gets hijacked in tiny Climax, Nev. by a couple of small-town rubes who want to sell him their songs. Barney (Cliff Osmond) owns the town gas station and wants nothing more than to be the next Ira Gershwin (whose songs are actually featured in the film); Orville (Ray Walston) is a piano teacher who's pathologically jealous of his pretty wife, Zelda (Felicia Farr). When Dino stays at Orville's while Barney "fixes" Dino's car, Orville figures he has to get his wife out of the way before she catches Dino's eye — but when Dino makes it clear that he demands female companionship as part of the arrangement, Barney gets a local waitress/hooker named "Polly the Pistol" (Kim Novak) to pretend to be Orville's wife and service the crooner. But Polly and Orville get carried away by their role-playing and fall into bed, while Orville's wife is mistaken for the wayward Polly and spends the night with Dino. The entire film is weird, crass, and tasteless — but hard to tear your eyes away from, because it's such a bizarre train wreck. Kiss Me, Stupid was condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency on it's release because it refused to punish the adultery of the characters, and it was torn asunder by critics; the Village Voice's Andrew Sarris called it "another exercise in joylessly jejune cynicism." Watching the film today, it's definitely jaded, yes, but also dated and more than a little sleazy. Despite the star billing, the film is more Walston's vehicle than Martin's, and he plays Orville as a high-strung lunatic while Martin offers up a caricature of himself as a wholly unsympathetic, self-absorbed cad. An ugly little film, it's possibly Wilder's most cynical movie outside of his other desert classic, Ace in the Hole (1951) — sometimes funny, often tasteless, and a fascinating example of how a brilliant director can go off the deep end. MGM's DVD release (part of their "Billy Wilder Collection") is clean and crisp, in anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) with clear monaural Dolby Digital sound. The theatrical trailer is on board, as well as an alternate "clean" version of the scene with Zelda and Dino, in which he hurts his back and then falls asleep, curtailing his seduction. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor



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