The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Friday, July 23, 2010

Who Was That Lady?

In the age of the 24 hours new cycle, TMZ and tabloids everywhere, a lot is made when movie star couples work together in a movie.  Think of the debacle of Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck in Gigli as a worst possible scenario.  As long as there's been movies there have been movie couples, it's just that they are in the news more than ever before.  Supply and demand I guess.  One such couple, Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, worked together twice in two very different movies.

The first I can find is 1958's The Vikings, a historical epic where a Viking tribe attacks England with Kirk Douglas and Ernest Borgnine starring along with Curtis and Leigh.  Fast forward two years and we've got 1960's Who Was That Lady?, a screwball comedy if there ever was one.  With a plotline that most sitcoms would be jealous of, this is a comedy that in all honesty is a truly bad movie.  But thanks to the three stars, the quick pace and the surprisingly funny moments the story produces, it's a truly bad movie that's at least worth checking out.

One day visiting her husband, Dave (Curtis), at work, Ann (Leigh) walks in on a foreign exchange student kissing her husband in his laboratory.  She storms out, demanding he move out of the apartment and getting ready to sign divorce papers.  Claiming the student kissed him -- not the other way around -- Dave tries to come up with a plan, any plan, that will convince his wife he's telling the truth.  He turns to his best friend Mike (Dean Martin), a TV mystery writer, to come up with something. Their solution? Tell Ann that Dave is an FBI agent, and that it was all part of a mission.  Somehow, some way, she buys it, and it looks like Dave is sitting pretty.  That is, until an FBI agent (James Whitmore) and his supervisor (John McIntire) get involved with reports of a rogue agent floating around.   

More than the average comedy, the beauty of the screwball comedy is that nothing, not one thing, has to be based in reality at all.  That is the only reason they're even somewhat enjoyable to watch.  A wife actually buying that explanation that her husband is a FBI agent? Sure, it's a movie.  Actual FBI agents going along with the ploy once they figure out what's going on?  You bet.  It's the type of story (a thin one at that) that keeps getting worse and worse as a simple lie turns into something much, much worse.  Think of a 30-minute episode of I Love Lucy with a crazy story, add about 75 minutes, a bigger budget, a ridiculous story, and a good cast and you've got this movie.

Now as stupid as the proceedings really are, I laughed. I enjoyed the movie. Go figure.  The cast is what sells it for me mostly because of the quick, witty dialogue, the fast pacing, and the chemistry among the group.  Curtis and Martin together are a comedic dream, at times over the top and other times improvising golden lines left and right.  At a certain point, you feel bad for Leigh's character because really, could anyone be that gullible?  But she sells it so well as she gets wrapped up in it all that Ann is as funny as anyone.  Whitmore and McIntire steal every scene they are in as an agent and his supervisor trying to figure out what's going on while also preventing the breakup of a young married couple.  Also look for Simon Oakland and Larry Storch as two Russian agents, bumbling agents of course.

Because the cast plays so well off each other, the lines that would otherwise fall flat end up producing some honestly funny laughs.  From Curtis to McIntire and everyone in between, the cast commits to these ridiculous, darn right stupid parts.  And as dumb as it is? I laughed more than I would have expected.  On the stupidity charts, it just gets dumber and dumber as the story escalates.  My favorite bit was the finale as Curtis and Martin, believing they're in a Russian sub, try to sink the sub not realizing they're in the basement of the Empire State Building.  Singing God Bless America as they await their "deaths" while delivering a crippling blow to Russia, it's all too much and in a good way. There's an extended bit in a Chinese restaurant that keeps going and going, building to one climax after another.  That's the movie.  It keeps building and building until the end. 

That's the whole movie in a nutshell.  Absolutely nuts, over the top, not an ounce of reality, and a movie that's the better for it.  Curtis and Leigh, Martin and Curtis, Whitmore and anyone, they work together like a finely tuned machine to make a really stupid storyline entertaining to watch and interesting from start to finish. Couldn't find a trailer, but TCM does have a clip available through their website.

Who Was That Lady?<-----TCM clip (1960): ***/****

No comments:

Post a Comment