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March 27, 2011

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The Siren

Unprompted, Jad just came upstairs and said the exact same thing about the exact same two movies, which just amuses me no freaking end. You guys should be married and I should take up with YLW.

Glenn Kenny

That would be WEIRD.

roy edroso

I've long had a soft spot for Kiss Me Stupid and now I know why. Well said. I would add that the film is very good about acknowledging the role of flop-sweat and desperation in everyday life -- which distinguishes it from nearly all Hollywood movies of our own time.

Also, Dino. That man was not afraid to be sleazy. And Wilder knew how to take advantage of that.

Robert Karol

I think you've just summed up what Tosches was doing with his Dean Martin biography. You have also summed up why I hated his Dean Martin biography for the most part. Occasionally, nihilism can be bracing. Too often, it's just annoying.

Kevyn Knox

I have always liked Kiss Me Stupid (well, ever since I saw it for the first time that is) but I was never sure exactly why I liked it so much. I always assumed it was the jaded crassness (and I suppose that is a lot of it) but now adding your ideas to that already predetermination makes it all make so much sense. In other words, I guess I am as taken by the awesomeness as much as you.

Asher

I like parts the biography, but I wasn't sure that his Dean Martin wasn't an entirely fictitious character. How can one be, when half of it is written in this third-person interior monologue that, by definition, can't be substantiated by anything? Besides, it didn't seem that plausible. If Martin was this cynical nihilist who didn't give a damn about his craft or anything else, where does, say, the performance in RIO BRAVO come from? Why was Martin (as Tosches details) so interested in playing the part? I suppose there's some truth to his portrayal, but probably a great deal of exaggeration as well. And as Robert says, it gets rather annoying and repetitive. Every chapter, something new happens in Dean's life, a new hit, a new movie, a contract, and then Tosches will repeat some variation on how Dean didn't give a damn about any of it and just sleepwalked through the part/song/marriage. It's like reading a Wikipedia entry with periodic interruptions as to how none of what you're reading matters.

lipranzer

Glenn, I agree with you about these "films I don't like which everyone else loves", mostly because it seems like the writer's main purpose seems to be, "Look how cool I am by trashing all of these favorites!" (needless to say, this doesn't apply to the Siren's list column, not just because of her wit, nuance, and critical eye, but also her humility)

However, I can't join the praise for KISS ME, STUPID. Nothing to do with the vulgarity (which had been present in Wilder's earlier movies, though he does mask it more than he does here) or with Martin (who may have just been playing "himself", but he's still compelling while doing so). It's the casting of Ray Walston in the lead. Walston can be good in supporting roles - I still think his portrayal of Mr. Hand is one of, if not the best, comic portraits of a teacher who continues to howl against the wind (so to speak) ever put on film - but he doesn't have the weight to carry a movie like this, and he plays one note over and over again until he just becomes annoying. I wonder what would have happened if Wilder had found Walter Matthau for this film instead of THE FORTUNE COOKIE.

Asher and Robert: I can't deny Tosches does luxuriate in Martin's screw-you cynicism a little too much in his biography, but he's not the only one to note it; in "the Real" Shawn Levy's (tm David Poland, and if it isn't, I apologize in advance to whoever first came up with that phrase) book about the Rat Pack, he makes the point in more measured terms, but even he notes how Martin refused to take it all too seriously. And as for RIO BRAVO, Tosches does point out Westerns were the one genre of film Martin unreservedly loved, and were practically the only type of movie he did take seriously.

Kent Jones

Didn't Nick Tosches send Dean Martin a copy of the book, and get it mailed back to him with a note that read: "Dear Mr. Tosches, I've never read a book in my life and I don't intend to start now."

Tom Fuchs

I really wish we lived in a world where Peter Sellers didn't have a heart attack that forced him out of this movie in the early going. Combined with Martin's performance I think that really could've been something special.

Brian Dauth

The scene in Polly the Pistol's trailer between Polly and Zelda is one of my favorites in all cinema (not just Wilder's). It stands in sublime, elegant, and witty contrast to all the vulgarity that proceeds it - Lubitsch reborn in a morning-after conversation between a prostitute and the woman whose husband she has just slept with (who had her own sexual assignation during the night). Wilder will become even more Lubitschian in AVANTI! (my favorite of his films). Lastly, I wish Jack Lemmon who was supposed to play the role of Orville Spooner had made the film - as good as Walston is, I keep hearing Lemmon's voice in the Wilder/Diamond dialogue.

Glenn Kenny

Brian, that's a very interesting observation about "Avanti!". I say that because I was feeling something similar myself. As I was composing this post, I was reflecting on how Wilder tried to adapt a Lubitschean mode to an R-rated process with "Avanti!" which is actually one of his warmest films. I couldn't concoct a way to fit that in in the time I had given myself. Thank you for bringing it up. It is a very unusual picture and I'll try to write on it at more length one of these days.

skelly

Avanti really is great (though not without a dark edge, despite some warmness). Count me in as a KISS ME, STUPID fan as well as the equally crass (though not in a sexual way) ONE, TWO, THREE. The closest Wilder ever really got to Lubitsch was with LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON, it certainly wasn't THE EMPEROR WALTZ which, on paper, should have been (caught for the first time on TCM last month - a less than great film but what a beautiful print! - half expected the Siren to write about that one - technicolor Joan Fontaine!)

Speaking of TCM - a few months back they aired the Italian film WIFE FOR A NIGHT (1952, Mario Camerini), a Gina Lollobrigida movie that adapted the play ("L'Ora della Fantasia") that was the source for KISS ME, STUPID (Gina has the Felicia Farr role). It was quite good - I recommend it. Warmer than the Wilder film.

bill

I don't have much to add to all this, but while I find KISS ME, STUPID somewhat, I guess, troubling, I think Dean Martin gives one of his very best performances here. "Fuck it" is right.

Erich Kuersten

Well I agree with everything lipranzer says, Ray Walston sinks it. He's got no game, so his character just comes off as repulsive- an exortionist/pimp kidnapper out for no one but himself and his own success, who wastes everyone's time only to fuck it all up as a greedy bitch who talks himself into sleeping with the girl he procured for Martin - he wants to steal a cake, sell it, and then eat it himself. He's a bit of a Rupert Pupkin, but the script seems to make it all all right. The girls are great, Martin is in full swing (love his pounding wine out of the slipper and that huge necked bottle) but Walston and his beady-eyed co-writer are just wrong. Peter Sellers was supposed to play the part, Jack Lemmon would have been okay though he's played that role a dozen times.

Tom Carson

Poor Ray Walston, man. He gets no love at all. No question KMS would have been more of a romp with Sellers playing the part, but I'm lonesomely grateful Walston did it instead. His vibe of genuinely curdled failure, unattractiveness and frustration at his unrecognized talent may be none too pleasant, but you'd never have believed that Sellers was really *trapped* in that hick town the way you do with Walston. Considering how atrociously the character behaves, making him delightfully silly in that manic Sellers way would have been more offensive, not less. Besides, Walston probably spent the whole shoot seething with fatuous resentment at how much better (and worse rewarded) his acting and even singing chops were than Martin's insouciant version, which kind of adds to the effect.

James Keepnews

Thanks for that, Tom -- it's clear Ray was many observers' least-favorite Martian, and he inexplicably has become a punching bag over the years. What's wrong with him? Too low-key, exacting, nuanced? Wilder, having worked with him (excellently -- disagreements?) in THE APARTMENT, must've known what he was doing casting him in KMS. SOUTH PACIFIC, DAMN YANKESS, THE STING, Mis-stair Hon-n-d, and a personal late-period fave the mini-series THE STAND (possibly the best thing in it, which I guess is not saying very much at all, but he's terrific) and tons of TV work are clearly the work of a fine craftsman and distinctive character actor.

Beat up on Britney all you want --- LEAVE RAY ALONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (choking sobs)

jbryant

At least Ray achieved respect before he died (jeez, has it been 10 years already?), with most folks knowing and loving him from FAST TIMES and back-to-back Emmys for PICKET FENCES.

Jette

I think Walston was TOO realistic, and that's part of what makes the movie repellant. Put someone like Jack Lemmon (or maybe Sellers, who knows) in there and it's more apparent that you're working with an artificially constructed comedy, not believably creepy losers. But we're seeing a lot of Walston-like losers on film today, in movies like Greenberg and Cyrus and (more realistically, since the actor is less well-known) Lovers of Hate.

I am very fond of Kiss Me, Stupid and for me, it's the last watchable Wilder film. It's a lovely antidote to all the pastel-hued sophisticated Sixties sex comedies, and it holds up much better than Irma La Douce, which I can't abide. Someday I hope to make the time to write up a delightful essay on Felicia Farr's character as the incarnation of the Gnostic spirit Sophia.

Stephen Winer

I'll step up for Ray Walston too. I have always had mixed feelings about Kiss Me Stupid, but if the crassness of that film is part of its appeal, then Walston and Osmond nail the tone. I'd also add that the traditional Dean Martin movie character gets away with his moves by virtue of his charm. "Dino" in KMS seems to ask the question: "What do you have if you take Dean Martin and strip that charm away from him?" Thus, he is just as unappealing in the film as Walston and Osmond. And, for better or worse, that seems to be the movie Wilder wanted to make.
As a general note, Walston as an actor seemed to get better and better as he aged. He gave a nuanced and engaging performance week after week on "Picket Fences".

Glenn Kenny

I dig Ray Walston on both general principle AND in "KMS." The account he gives of that film's set in Tosches' "Dino" is pretty, erm, stimulating and a bit unnerving, given the nature of Mr. Walston's language.

Tom Carson

@Jette: re "the last watchable Wilder film," are you including THE PRIVATE LIFE OF SHERLOCK HOLMES? I think it's pretty great, even in its butchered (and only available) form. On the flip side, not only have I never been able to get all the way through IRMA LA DOUCE, but I'm mystified by ONE, TWO, THREE's partisans -- despite liking bits of it a lot and desperately wishing I could like the rest more.

Brian Dauth

Thanks, Glenn. I look forward to what you post on AVANTI! Moments in the film like Wilder's return to the mortuary for a shot bathed in afternoon light after everyone has left or Pamela's carriage ride exploration around Ischia are almost unique in his oeuvre. There is a definite increase in warmth to go with the more usual Wilderian blackness.

I think the film is very much of the Vietnam era in political critique - Wendell, Jr. is whisked away in time for the funeral by a deus ex machina from the American military-industrial complex, while the final union of the lovers is only accomplished as a result of Old World/European bureaucracy and open-heartedness. For me, Wilder truly channels Lubitsch in the burial sequence when he cuts to the small band (shades of LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON) playing while the burial occurs off-screen left, leaving the audience to imagine what passes between Pamela and Wendell at this climatic/emotional moment.

Erich: I agree that the role would have been easy for Lemmon, but I think part of the reason was because Wilder wrote so well for Lemmon – the dialogue he crafted fits the cadences of Lemmon’s voice (same with William Holden). Wilder wrote to his actors, but he just never caught Walston’s rhythm, so the Lemmon inflections peak through.

lipranzer

Just to clarify; I do think Walston is a good actor (hey, he was great in THE APARTMENT as well), I just didn't like him in KISS ME, STUPID.

James Keepnews

Tom, I adore ONE, TWO, THREE -- Cold War screwball! For me, the cadences that sell it are partially Wilder/Diamond's, but mostly Cagney's. It was, admittedly, a strange damned way for him to retire, though I guess not as much as that weird TV movie where Ellen Barkin played his granddaughter (and long after his voice had become nearly unintelligible) where/when I guess he ultimately did end his career.

Tom Carson

James, the gutsiness of "Cold War screwball" is exactly why I wish I liked One, Two, Three better. I admire it for that, but I just don't have a very good time watching it.

forked tongue

Back when I disliked Dean Martin and the Rat Pack, I liked to imagine Wilder taking him aside and saying "Now Dean, you're playing a sleazy, repellent, self-entitled creep here--it's going to be the biggest acting challenge of your life, but I know you can do it..." But now that I love Dean Martin and know more about him, I think he was more self-aware than that, and did a rather gutsy thing by playing, as someone said above, Dean Martin without the charm.

Love the story in Tosches' book where the dictatorial Wilder is barking detailed instructions to Walston and Martin pipes up, "Don't listen to that cocksucker, just do it your own way!" and Wilder cracks up.

dino martin peters

Mr. Kenny, thanks ever so much for this liftin' up the name of our Dino in this outstandin' way. As often was the case with our Dino, his performance in this classic film was way ahead of his times. You have done an amazin' job of puttin' words on the page to capture the wonder of Dino playin' his amazin' Dino-persona in KMS.
Never was, enver will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool. Know that your efforts are bein' shared this day at ilovedinomartin.

christian

Where's that footage with Peter Sellers?

christian

And there is footage:

"However, it was Mr. Sellers who stole the show without saying a word. He broke up Mr. Martin repeatedly with a few sly, deadpan glances. Mr. Martin, like a schoolboy with the giggles, was unable to recover for a few minutes, while the cinematographer, Joseph LaShelle, waited for a word from an astonished Mr. Wilder. "I can't help it," Mr. Martin apologized, trying not to look at Mr. Sellers while he smothered laughter. The English actor allowed himself the trace of a smirk, but his eyes glittered. Soon laughter was general.

"He makes jokes," said a visiting executive of Mr. Sellers. "But don't let it fool you. He is the damndest worrier. He is like all perfectionists. One time in England, he woke up a director in the middle of the night because he was worried about his performance the day before."

The situation being filmed this day was crucial since, with typical Wilder-Diamond verbal economy, it established key characters and presented the basic problem from which all subsequent complications and humor would flow. Here are a couple of impecunious gasoline-station attendants (Mr. Sellers and Mr. Osmond) dreaming in a small Nevada town of fame as songwriters. Along comes an internationally famous entertainer (Mr. Martin) fresh from another Las Vegas conquest, stopping his expensive dual Ghia convertible at the station for gasoline en route to Hollywood. The problem: To persuade the entertainer to record one of their songs. Basically, Mr. Wilder conceded, this was a variation on how the country bumpkins bilk the city slicker.

As "Dino," king of pop singers, prepared to drive away from the gasoline station, Orville J. Spooner (Sellers) begins his pitch. He is wearing a sweatshirt with the front covered by a massive head of Beethoven. He receives no encouragement and presses with: "We also have an Italian-type song, like 'Volare,' only better--be just perfect for you."

http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/12/27/specials/wilder-stupid.html

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