1965 movie directed by Richard Quine, starring Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, and Terry-Thomas
This of course, is the 1965 poster, a very misleading one, by the way, while the new one on Amazon Prime is much more attractive. I hesitated before watching it, since the premise seems rather dark and not comedy material. I also dreaded a series of failing murder attempts with a comedy ending. Well, I was totally wrong. This was certainly NOT a predictable plot, except for the comedy ending, and it was quite enjoyable and entertaining.
Virna Lisi is an Italian actress, a cross between Brigitte Bardot and Sophia Loren, who pops out of a cake at a bachelor’s party. Stanley Ford is smitten by her and (we find out the next morning) is so drunk that he marries on the spot (yes, how?) with the help of an equally drunk judge. No, that’s not when he decides to kill her. He first tries to annul the marriage. Cannot. Tries to make the best of it, though his valet quits, and his previous life and his waistline change very quickly. Previously a cartoonist of Brash Brannigan, a daredevil spy, he now changes it to The Brannigans to draw from life. More women now read his cartoons, and he becomes even more popular. But that’s not what Stanley wanted! He wants his old life back, especially when his wife, under the tutelage of the judge’s wife Edna, starts to try controlling him and causes him to be kicked out of his gym club. He also wants his old cartoon back.
Thus comes the idea of murdering his wife, no, not in reality, but only in the cartoon, so that he can go back to the secret agent. We do not realize that, though, until Stanley pulls out a mannequin from a chest with a blond wig and the wife’s signature black raincoat (interestingly, we never find out her first name even after she learns to speak English). He falls asleep on his drawing table. The wife wakes up, sees the drafts of her murder, and sadly pulls off her wedding ring and leaves it on the drawing table. She leaves, we assume, to return to Italy to her mother.
Because of her disappearance after the publication of her cartoon murder, Stanley Ford is accused of her murder. This is where it turns even more farcical, and is the one part where I feel the comedy gives way to darkness: Stanley dismisses his bumbling lawyer to take over his own counsel. He admits to the murder but asks the jury to acquit him on grounds of justifiable homicide, appealing to all married men present to make this a groundbreaking case to strike fear in henpecking wives. He is acquitted unanimously and carried in triumph.
All’s well that ends well. The nameless wife returns, Stanley realizes he loves her, the butler falls for the wife’s mother.
I do applaud the movie for two hours of sheer entertainment, but… and this is a big but… Is the message of the movie that women are too tyrannical and guilty of pushing their husbands to murder? Men want their wives to be sexy in bed, but it’s their sexiness’s fault to have entrapped the poor husbands. Men want their wives to cook well — remember the key to a man’s heart?– but blame them for developing a beer gut. Men want their wives to love only them but resent their jealousy and consequent monitoring. None of this is the fault of the husband.
Who wanted a bachelor’s party? A man about to tie the knot (it ended up a celebration when the bride recanted). Who wanted a sexy woman to jump out of a cake? A man. Who got googly eyes from looking at the sexy kitten? A man. Who got drunk, proposed, officiated an impromptu wedding? Men. And I can keep going. This wife did everything a wife is supposed to, at least back in the 1960s. She was pretty, loving, sexy, cooked like an Italian chef and served him breakfast in bed, acted dumb (because she didn’t speak English), in other words, the epitome of what a macho egotistical man would want in a wife, yet, he wishes to murder her? Even if only virtually?