Jealous piano teacher Orville Spooner sends his beautiful wife, Zelda, away for the night while he tries to sell a song to famous nightclub singer Dino, who is stranded in town.Jealous piano teacher Orville Spooner sends his beautiful wife, Zelda, away for the night while he tries to sell a song to famous nightclub singer Dino, who is stranded in town.Jealous piano teacher Orville Spooner sends his beautiful wife, Zelda, away for the night while he tries to sell a song to famous nightclub singer Dino, who is stranded in town.
An undeserved bad reputation
When writer-director Billy Wilder made `Kiss Me, Stupid' in 1964, he was riding high: His comedy-drama `The Apartment' had won the Oscar as best picture in 1960 and Wilder's `Irma La Douce,' released in 1963, had been a smash. `Stupid,' however, would not receive critical raves or a warm reception at the box office. Instead it would be condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, banned in several cities and dropped by its original distributor United Artists, which gave `Stupid' a limited and unsuccessful release through its art-film branch Lopert Films. Seen today, it's laughable to think that this innuendo-laden but mostly innocuous comedy created such a furor. Admittedly, Wilder pushed the boundaries of good taste with some of the dialogue and imagery. Even so the movie is far more nutty than smutty. Set in the Nevada hamlet of Climax, `Stupid' tells the story of church organist and piano teacher Orville J. Spooner (Ray Walston), who is insanely overprotective of his adoring and adorable wife Zelda (Felicia Farr, who was married to Jack Lemmon offscreen). Orville and buddy Barney (Cliff Osmond) write songs in their spare time one is called `I'm Taking Mom to the Junior Prom Cuz She's a Better Twister Than My Sister,' and another begins, `I'm a poached egg without a piece of toast/Yorkshire Pudding without a beef to roast' and they're excited when singing sensation Dino (Dean Martin as the same kind of leering lush he usually played in his nightclub act and on TV) is stranded in town. Orville thinks he can sell some material to Dino, but the aspiring tunesmith is alarmed by Dino's reputation as a great seducer and fears Zelda, a Dino fan, will end up in the star's clutches. So Orville hires Polly (Kim Novak), a trampy type with teased platinum hair who works at the local dive known as The Belly Button, to pretend to be his wife while he entertains Dino for an evening. Thanks to a series of surprises, it becomes a night to remember for all concerned, including Zelda, who wasn't even supposed to be a part of it in the first place. As the somewhat similar `Indecent Proposal' would do almost 30 years later, `Stupid' ultimately states that the best way to test a relationship is to walk away from it for a while and see what happens. What separates `Stupid' from so many of the so-called `sex comedies' of the period is its combination of cynicism and directness. Beneath the teasing and the titillation there are some genuinely provocative themes about human nature and the sacrifices we're willing to make to catch a break. Although the movie has what might be termed a happy ending, it's a conclusion with more than a few dark clouds hanging over it. Wilder and Diamond must have somehow known that the second half of the 1960s would be fraught with social changes and the re-evaluation of old standards. What looked like trash in 1964 seems pretty prescient when screened today.
- Aug 2, 2003
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