Of all the classic film genres I love to hate, I love to hate none more fervently than the mid-century sex farce. Mid-century sex farces suck.
As you know, by “mid-century sex farce,” I of course mean “bogus fucking misogynist fantasy crap.” And no classic film is more mid-century-sex-farcical than the one I watched the other day on the Turner Classic Movie channel. The flick to which I allude is so bogusly fucking misogynistical, they might as well have called it “How To Murder Your Wife.”
Oh wait, they did call it “How To Murder Your Wife.”
“Bring The Little Woman…Maybe She’ll Die Laughing!” The tagline was apparently written by somebody who thinks women should just get a sense of humor, already, about wife-murdering. Quoth an IMDB commenter who accurately articulates the enduring popularity of this fantasy:
A friend of a friend is one of those femi-nutzis. She hates this movie with a passion & proceeded to tell me why in a lengthy boring diatribe. After I woke from my slumber, (as femi-nutzis are prone to lull one to sleep with their “blah blah blahs”) I took it upon myself to get the movie as soon as possible. I was never offended by the alleged “sexism”: Why shouldn’t women be capable to take a men’s joke with humor?
The premise of this mind-bogglingly sexist 1965 Jack Lemmon comedy: the hero, a louche, martini-drinking playboy whose fabulous Manhattan bachelor pad comes equipped with Terry-Thomas as one of those droll and doting English valet sidekicks, wakes up to find that he got shitfaced and married Virna Lisi, the Italian beauty queen who jumped out of a cake at last night’s debauch. Lemmon is horrified by this fuck-up, since matrimony means an abrupt end to his with-it Hefneriffic swingertopia. Lemmon and Terry-Thomas spend the rest of the movie enmeshed in unfunny comedic hijinx related to springing Lemmon from the disastrous legal contract requiring him to be waited on hand and foot by a non-English-speaking sex goddess who worships him, cooks for him, and puts out 24/7. The hijinx include, it will not surprise you to learn, a plot to murder Virna Lisi.
Note: filmmakers who want to get maximum gyrations out of their non-English-speaking Italian bombshell actresses should take a hint from this movie: whatever you do, don’t write a translator into the script, or add subtitles, or your bitch won’t be able to wigglingly pantomime everything, such as how her clothes got stolen at the International Miss Jugs pageant. Having her clothes get stolen is pretty ingenious, too, since it means she can spend the rest of the first act naked under a shiny black plastic raincoat.
A waxy yellow build-up of sexist clichés — the battle-axe mother-in-law, the hen-pecked husband best friend — culminates in a courtroom scene in which Lemmon’s character beats the titular murder rap by postulating to the court that the essential emasculating nature of women justifies killing them, and that if they let him off the hook they’ll be striking a blow for American Male Justice everywhere. Lemmon’s speech:
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. Do you realize the power that you have in your hand here today? If one man – just one man – can stick his wife in the goop from the gloppitta-gloppitta machine, and get away with it! Whoa-ho-ho, boy, we’ve got it made. We have got it made. All of us.
Then, of course, Virna Lisi turns out not to have been murdered after all. They live, if you can stand it, happily ever after, because Virna Lisi is a bimbo, and still adores Jack Lemmon, even though he has humiliated her, drugged her, and spent a whole movie trying to get rid of her.
How this movie could pass for comedy, even in 1965, is beyond any sane person’s comprehension. “How To Murder Your Wife” is too ugly to pass for satire, and too mean-spirited and vulgar to rise even to the level of curious sociological artifact. It’s just a tarnished, tasteless old relic from that pervy rumpus-room interlude in honky dude American history — the period just after June Cleaver’s heyday and just before 2nd wave feminism — when stylish boozing, accessorizing, and womanizing was considered a sophisticated art form. It is unlikely that this glittering Rat Packian lifestyle actually existed anywhere but in movies and the pages of Playboy, but it nevertheless foreshadowed today’s mainstream Porn Nation.
This picture is so over-the-top hateful that even TCM’s host was moved to remark, in a sad and wistful tone, that it’s the kind of film that just wouldn’t get made today. Normally these TCM hosts are matter-of-fact about the female sexprops that parade with perfect cadence through the dude movies they show. Their idea of a feminist film is “The Women,” in which a bunch of rich white housewives sit around gossiping in a beauty parlor about their husbands’ mistresses. So it’s really saying something when a TCM dude actually quasi-acknowledges that one of their beloved classics might fail to delight women audiences today. That “How To Murder Your Wife” is 128 minutes of uninterrupted hate speech, however, does not prevent TCM from airing it. And on a Saturday afternoon, too, guaranteeing maximum exposure to two groups who can least tolerate it: invalids, who are already sick enough, and impressionable youths, whom it will scar for life.
In other words, blah blah blah.