During a high profile Mafia testimony case in California's Riverside County, a hired killer checks-in a hotel room near the courthouse while his next door depressed neighbor wants to commit suicide due to marital problems.
Dino, the charming and lecherous Las Vegas singer, stops for gas on his way to Hollywood in Climax, Nevada. The oily gas station attendant is Barney Millsap, a would-be lyricist who writes pop songs with Orville Spooner, the local piano teacher. By disabling Dino's car, Barney contrives a scheme to have Dino sing one of their songs on an upcoming TV special. To entertain Dino, Barney contacts the village tart, Polly, employing her to pretend to be Orville's wife, Zelda, for a night. She doesn't like Dino, but does love being Orville's surrogate wife. Dino goes to a bar, where he meets the real Zelda, and they spend the night together while Polly spends it with Orville. Written by
Billy Wilder could well have entitled his best known comedy "Nobody's Perfect" after its unforgettable last line. Instead he saved this ploy for a a later work that I admire almost as much, "Kiss Me, Stupid". Two things have always puzzled me about this film, one, that a work so innocently harmless unleashed such a furore of moral indignation on its first appearance and two, that it has never become one of the most revered of the Wilder canon. Comedies that retain a freshness long after one knows all the jokes are rare, but, for me, "Kiss Me, Stupid" is one of the chosen few. Like all the best comedies it builds on a situation that gets more and more out of hand. A pair of frustratedly unrecognised songwriters, a small town piano teacher (Ray Walston) and his garage mechanic friend (Cliff Osmond) sense a golden opportunity to become known when a famous pop-singer and stand up comic (Dean Martin) needs to stop off in their town for petrol. It's really a single gag film dealing with the pair's machinations to prevent the singer from continuing his journey before they have played him their songs. Their scheming includes getting the piano teacher's wife out of the way and hiring a substitute in the form of a sexy floozy (Kim Novak) who is one of the attractions of the town's recently opened nightclub. To say more would be to spoil the fun. Suffice to say that all the main protagonists are perfectly cast. It has often been remarked that Ray Walston is no match for Peter Sellers who was originally due to play the role. I cannot but disagree fearing that Sellers might have invested the jealousy obsessed piano teacher with that element of caricature that the role does not quite need. All it requires are a few quirky props such as the Beethoven tee-shirt and the buttermilk deposited in the piano and the rather less than over the top quality of Walston's performance is able to convey the humour and fun of the situation without smothering them . There is one superbly funny cameo by Doro Merande (the waitress in "The Seven Year Itch")as his tetchy mother-in-law. Add to this some stalwart work by the great production designer, Alexander Trauner in recreating the atmosphere of small town Nevada and a sparklingly inventive score by Andre Previn and the result is an extremely enjoyable piece of movie escapism.
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