I Saw A Film!
OK I get it, this is what entertainment basically looked like in Shakespeare’s day. Billy Wilder channels the god of all ridiculous situation comedy set-ups and let’s the dominoes fall. I still don’t have to like it, as I don’t like Shakespeare comedies either (or the overwrought dramas for that matter–he has his moments). Why? Because they’re basically so ridiculous in concoction that you forget halfway through why the ludicrous card-house of lies needs to be built in the first place. In this particular case a blue-collar piano teacher and song-writer and his blubbery lyricist friend toil away dreaming of the day they’ll be able to sell one of their songs.
One character, played by the teacher from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (Ray Walston, he looks exactly the same), is also loopily jealous of his cute and outlandishly patient and tolerant wife (Felicia Farr). Now, here’s the silly gambit. Dean Martin comes to town, largely by accident. In order to wow Martin and sell him a song or two the fellows concoct a dumbass plan to give womanizer Martin the wife of our jealous songwriter. Though, instead of explaining this stupid, and wholly unlikely to work, clown process to the wife, they decide to punish the wife to get her to leave in a huff so they can bring in Kim Novak–playing a hooker with a cold. Why the wife, a most tolerant and patient sweetheart, can’t be trusted to pull one over on Martin . . . it’s not like anyone was having sex anyway (apparently the world was a sexless place when I was born). To bring that point home our protagonists side with a religious group trying to end the little business Kim Novak works at (the Belly Button bar) but of course, it being probably the best joke of this mudpie of a film, hypocrisy–they need the bar, and Novak’s lady of the night to make a sale . . . or so they think. About as sexy as this thing gets is Martin tickling Novak’s ginormous feet.
Dino behaves in the stylized asshole manner we expect from a star, but by the end his largess is what changes lives. It is unfortunate that this is the sort of bullshit our religion of capitalist culture is based on, the far-fetched hope of being able to hook a bigger fish with an ever more elaborate and unaffordable kit is where we dwell. MC Escher probably painted with less planning than the average American invests in his or her success day-dream. All we need is Dino to arrive. We just have to monkey with his car, sell him our wives, give him Italian products, and pretend we adore him while standing under him so the chips that fall out of his pockets land in our mouths. Get it? OK OK I know it’s a comedy, we’re supposed to be laughing at these goons, but there’s no escaping that we’re also supposed to identify with their harmless silliness and basically no-class existence in a place called, Climax. Mmm Hmm.
I hate this sort of film, philosophy and style with a kind of passion reserved for the square world that existed before rock and roll (a beige world in which the sole technical invention had been a pine-scented candle~ according to Tom Robbins). Dino quips that he can sing better than all three Beatles. When it’s pointed out there were four, he jokes that one died getting his hair caught in his electric guitar. Someone wrote that joke, and got Dino to perform it on film. This age’s days were numbered of course, and the folks who could adore this film are a generation long gone. So in a way it’s kind of ludicrous and overly exuberant for me to swing my battle axe at it. We don’t have to love everything, and while Tolstoi called Shakespeare a bad writer, and I understand why, it’s certainly the case that there are only so many building blocks of these kinds of genre pieces. If you seek to entertain a public you’re trapped in a system of film making Legos that must be put together in familiar and expected sequences otherwise, you’ll be relegated to “experimental” or “college” or “alternative” or what have you. Still, jokes like the one Dino uses at the start of the film while standing in front of a flock of women dressed like African storks, “There was a woman pounding on his door all night,” but he wouldn’t let her out. Definitely reek of a stale men’s room in a cheap hotel somewhere.
This runs free on Prime, and it’s history I suppose. But This ain’t Some Like It Hot.