Screwball comedies are pretty hit or miss typically for me, but I give most the benefit of the doubt depending on the talent involved. The talent here made it worthwhile and caught my eye from the start. The premise is not surprisingly pretty ridiculous with some digs at sex, affairs and some necessary miscommunication and confusion as to who everyone is. It is 1964 so it can be pretty tame although gasp, 'virgin' is said once but never again. Pretty scandalous stuff, right? But despite a really stupid ending that pushed my limits, I still liked the flick almost in spite of itself, even as stupid as it is at times.
A managing editor for Dirt magazine (think TMZ but dirtier and in print), Bob Weston (Curtis) is the best at what he does; trashing celebrities with blatant lies that readers eat up. His next target? Dr. Helen Brown (Natalie Wood), a sex and relationship therapist who has gained fame from her best-selling book about how a single woman should live her life. Unfortunately for Bob, there's no easy way to prove that the very pretty Dr. Brown is living what she preaches. Has she even been in a serious relationship with a man? He finds his way in though, posing as his neighbor (Henry Fonda) who after 10 years of marriage is constantly fighting with his wife (Lauren Bacall). But in looking to reveal her as a fraud (surprise, surprise), Bob falls for her hard. Can he still win her over, admitting what he's been trying to do?
Like a lot of the 1960s screwball comedies I've seen, there's something a little off, a little disturbing with the story. Weston is basically trying to figure out if Helen is a virgin, and he's going to lie, cheat and steal his way into finding out the truth, at one point even resorting to just getting her drunk. The 1960s weren't as classy as I figured I guess. Thankfully, Weston develops actual feelings for her before he drunkenly takes advantage of her. The whole thing seems tame at times and oddly inappropriate at others. It never goes too far though because a movie where Tony Curtis takes advantage of Natalie Wood just doesn't seem quite right.
Finding that nice middle ground, director Richard Quine allows his actors to do their thing in getting the most laughs possible out of the story. Curtis treads that fine line between being a completely disgusting chauvinist and an overly charming ladies man. I've always thought of Wood as more cute than out of this world hot, but she really turns it on here. Maybe its the innocence of her character, but she's great in the part and looks gorgeous. In the 1960s, few actresses had as much comedic talent (dramatic talent too), and with Curtis you've got quite a pair together. Their scenes together are dialogue heavy, but it's great seeing them go back and forth with some really snappy exchanges.
Now as perfect as Curtis and Wood are together, I was surprised by the names I saw in the opening credits, especially considering I was just about to watch a screwball comedy. Henry Fonda and Lauren Bacall, really? The joke was on me I guess because they create the perfect subplot that at times is funnier than the main plot. Fonda is a hosiery salesman who looks at womens' legs for a living, and Bacall as his wife objects thinking he's just a pervert who likes looking at women's legs. They fight constantly, and Curtis' Weston has a source for information that he can turn around and pose as a husband in a troubled marriage. For two actors like Fonda and Bacall who typically stuck with drama, it's great to see them branch out. Are they great parts? No, not at all, but seeing talent like that work in a comedy is always worthwhile.
Because they can't all be winners, we have the third and final act of 'Sex and the Single Girl.' With mistaken identity that I Love Lucy would have been jealous of, all these different people cross paths and start chasing each other on the expressway outside Los Angeles in a variety of different cars. Look for Larry Storch in a laughably bad part as a motorcycle cop caught up in the craziness. The humor leading up to all this wasn't exactly high-brow, but this chase reminded me of the lowest kind of slapstick, almost like a chase you'd see in The Monkees or maybe Scooby Doo. The movie limps into the finish line because of the ending, but I'll still give it a mild recommendation.
Sex and the Single Girl <---TCM trailer (1964): ** 1/2 /****