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Kiss Me, Stupid

     There are those who consider Billy Wilder's sex farce, Kiss Me, Stupid (1964) his underrated masterpiece, and more who agree with the Time dismissal of "One of the longest traveling-salesman jokes ever committed to film." I'm in-between, appreciating the attempts of Wilder (and his co-writer, I.A.L. Diamond) to step all over the then-still-potent Hollywood Code with smutty jokes and amoral behavior, but finding the movie only intermittently funny. If all the double-entendres could be as salaciously inspired as when Dean Martin maneuvers a woman into the garden "so she can show me her parsley."

     The lively story of Kiss Me, Stupid's making is told with aplomb in Kevin Lally's excellent 1996 bio, Wilder Times: The Life of Billy Wilder. Four weeks into the shooting, star Peter Sellers, says Lally, "suffered a mild heart attack after making love to his wife of less than two months, the actress Britt Ekland (and using amyl nitrate to prolong his performance). "Sellers's replacement by the lesser Ray Walston was the first of many problems, climaxing with the Catholic Church's Legion of Decency dooming Kiss Me, Stupid with a "Condemned" rating, as priests across America used their pulpits to urge a Catholic boycott.

     Kiss Me, Stupid bombed at the box office, and most reviewers despised it. Wilder, shaken, left for a European trip. "The uproar stunned me," he told The New York Times. "Okay, I had made a bad picture, but why the indignation, why the charges that I had undermined the nation's morals?" In 1965, Hollywood screenwriter, Erenst Lehman, walked into a room where Wilder and Diamond sat in depressed silence. 'We're like two parents who have given birth to a mongoloid idiot," Wilder told Lehman, "and we're afraid to screw again."

(February, 2000)

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