I can never understand how people who laugh the 800th time they see a man kicked or punched or hit with some object in the groin and find it hilarious when a man catches his private parts in the zipper of his pants can become outraged when a little good-natured fun is poked at women.
"How to Murder Your Wife" is a 1965 comic satire that pokes fun at the husband-wife stereotypes of the day; women as manipulating creatures who control the marital relationship, and men as little more than beasts of burden acting boldly at work and then becoming brainless boobs at home. The male half of this stereotype has been the backbone of popular sitcoms since they first appeared on the small screen: Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden, William Bendix (and, briefly, Jackie Gleason) as Chester A. Riley, Carroll O'Connor as Archie Bunker, Ray Romano as the Ray everybody loves. So, no one was surprised or offended when Jack Lemmon as cartoonist Stanley Ford and Eddie Mayehoff as Ford's lawyer Harold Lampson, a henpecked wimp who is afraid to disagree with his domineering wife, played effectively by Claire Trevor, played the stereotypical roles.
In 1965, when I saw the movie in a theater with my wife of one year, we both thought it was hilarious. Perhaps part of my wife's enjoyment came from having just engineered our move into a brand new apartment that I was convinced was beyond our means and then filled it with furniture I did not believe we could afford. Of course, I came to love the apartment and the beautiful furniture now, forty years later, has a place in our den and guest room.
After the opening scenes showing Lemmon's character act out, on the streets of New York City, elaborate scenarios (that even major movie studios would hesitate to finance) for the purpose of establishing credibility for the escapades of his cartoon character, Bash Brannigan, no one in the audience should believe this movie is to be taken seriously in any way.
The plot, such as it is, revolves around Stanley Ford's marriage, while in an alcoholic stupor, to the beautiful Virna Lisi. His first reaction is to get out of the marriage, which was not that easy to do in 1965, especially in New York. Of course, she totally disrupts his orderly, healthy lifestyle causing him no end of grief. But, in spite of all his protests, it is clear that he is hooked. He loves her. But, she has become a part of his cartoon, which he does not like, and he decides to kill her in the comic strip. When she disappears in real life, he is accused of her murder.
It is the courtroom scene that causes the feminist outrage. But, thanks to the comic talents of Jack Lemmon and an unbelievably funny performance by Eddie Mayehoff the scene is simply hilarious, and when we watched the movie on DVD a few nights ago my wife and I laughed as hard as we did forty years ago. People know that America was very different forty years ago, but most seem to think the changes have all been for the better. That depends on your point of view. One place where the change has not been for the better is in long-term male-female relationships (that meant marriage in 1965). Contrary to what many have been led to believe, most men really loved their wives and put their happiness and welfare above their own (and in my experience, they still do), and their wives knew this and did not take seriously a movie like "How to Murder Your Wife." They were able to have a sense of humor: just as men must have in order to take their wives and girlfriends to movies that consistently demean men.
If you are a woman, you can decide whether you have a sense of humor. If you do you might very well find "How to Murder Your Wife" to be very funny. On the other hand, if a kick to a man's groin is your idea of humor no matter how many times you see it, perhaps this movie is not for you.
A bonus that light jazz lovers will enjoy (at least, my wife and I did) is Neal Hefti's score (worth listening to in its own right) which is used very effectively in setting the mood for each scene.
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