Thursday, September 20, 2012
HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE
(September 1965, U.S.)
In my entire film collection, I own only to "How To" movies. Interestingly, they both don't exactly focus on the positive, do they? First, how to lose a guy and then HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE. Nice.
Before I begin, first a quick backstory on how I first came to know this outrageous comedy. You see, I'm a big fan of the classic British comedy series FAWLTY TOWERS and in one particular episode Basil Fawlty is so pissed off at his wife that he maliciously asks one of his guests, "Did you see that movie 'How To Murder Your Wife'? It was wonderful! I saw it SIX times!" From John Cleese's mouth to my ears, that was all I needed to hear to spark my interest.
I recall the first time I ever heard of or saw the famous actor Jack Lemmon was in the 1977 disaster film, AIRPORT '77. Based on that first impression, I came to believe that he was some sort of tough guy, action movie type. Nothing could be further from the truth, right? After that I saw him in THE CHINA SYNDROME (1978) where he was nothing but serious and practically a prophet of doom. It would be years into my young adulthood until I'd discover with films like SOME LIKE IT HOT (1959), this film and THE ODD COUPLE (1968) that the man is quite irresistably funny. And with a very brazen title like HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE, funny is key.
For a film released in 1965, it serves as quite the quintessential "guy" film. Men watching this film are designed to feel envious, jealous and perhaps resentful of Stanley Ford's (played by Jack Lemmon) life as a successful newspaper cartoonist, happily UNmarried cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do existence in an urban townhouse, including the services of his loyal and attentive valet, Charles Firbank (played by Terry-Thomas). Sounds great, huh? It is until one night at a bachelor party where he gets real drunk and fall head over heels for the girl that pops out of the big cake; an absolutely stunningly georgeous Italian blonde woman that just epitomizes sexual desire. We never learn her name but she's played by Virna Lisi, and one look at her and you'd never in a million years imagine that today she's actually seventy-five years old! Anyway, the morning after the party, Stanley is not only very hung over, but also realizes that he actually married this girl. Three problems exist now; she speaks no English, she loves him and he just wants to get rid of her. She's Italian, so she doesn't believe in divorce. Only one solution left...murder!
Murder is not something Stanley could actually commit, though, so he sort of acts out the fantasy of it by physically acting out the murder of a substitute dummy (with blonde hair) and then drawing it out in his popular comic strip. By the time things escalate, his wife is gone (on her own accord) and Stanley is on trial because it's believed that he actually did murder his wife. Now because the year 1965 is still a man's sexist world, the entire jury is comprised of men and Stanley's actually able to get himself acquitted of (fake) murder by appealing to the jury's desires and fantasies of having the freedom to get rid of their wives and live the freedom they've so longed for.
The comedy in HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE is not so much, in my opinion, the outrageous plot of one man's desire to be rid of his wife, but rather the institute of marriage portrayed as a form of horrid slavery to every man in America who's stupid enough to allow himself to be suckered into it. You understand, that's the FILM'S comic message, not my own...really...I swear.
(I love you, Beth!)
Favorite line or dialogue:
Stanley Ford: "Too long has the American man allowed himself to be bullied, coddled, and mothered, and tyrannized, and in general meant to feel like a feeble-minded idiot by the female of the species!"