Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE

Jack Lemmon and Terry Thomas
HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (1965). Director: Richard Quine.

Confirmed bachelor Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon), the very successful writer-artist of a popular newspaper strip, Brash Brannigan -- Secret Agent, lives in a fabulous Manhattan townhouse with his devoted butler/houseman Charles (Terry-Thomas of The Vault of Horror). One night at a bachelor party for a friend, Stanley gets drunk and wakes up in the morning married to a stranger (Virna Lisi) who speaks only Italian and turns out to be the gal who jumped out of the cake. With the help of his lawyer Harold (Eddie Mayehoff of Off-Limits) and his wife, Edna (Claire Trevor of The Velvet Touch), Mrs. Ford begins taking over the house, the kitchen, and threatens to fly her mother in from Italy. When Charles quits in disgust, Stanley decides it's time to take action. But when he kills off Brash's wife in the comic strip and the real Mrs. Ford disappears, he finds himself in very hot water ...

Jack Lemmon and Eddie Mayehoff
The first thing that must be said about How to Murder Your Wife is that in the style of many films of the sixties it is outrageously misogynistic. Sure there are men who resent their wives' interference in their lives and miss their bachelor days, but the thesis of George Axlerod's incredibly sexist screenplay is that all men hate married life, every wife is a battle axe (despite the fact that Mrs. Ford seems like an ideal spouse in many ways) and if men could only push a button to get rid of them they would all do so with glee. The film not only ignores all the men who are perfectly happy with their spouses, but all the women who have had to put up with horrible husbands, not to mention the sexism many women have had to endure even before the days of #metoo.  True, How to Murder Your Wife is not supposed to be taken seriously, but even so! A courtroom scene is staggeringly -- even shockingly -- chauvinistic.

Mary Wickes, Lemmon, Claire Trevor
On the other hand, despite this major problem, the movie is often very funny, bolstered by fine performances from the entire cast. Mary Wickes even manages to practically steal a scene when she's playing Harold's secretary and gets drunk on champagne. Sidney Blackmer is also notable as the drunken Judge Blackstone, as is Jack Albertson as Stanley's doctor. One might wonder why Stanley almost seems to cringe whenever his sexy wife gets affectionate, even if the ending suggests that it is sex -- certainly not love -- that makes him decide that he may prefer to stay married. In other words, the only way to enjoy this movie -- and it is enjoyable -- is to recognize its dated qualities and take it on its own terms. The funny thing about misogynous males is that they want women for sex and nothing else, but develop the screaming mimis if anyone dares suggest they might prefer the more-than-company of other guys, but then there's always been a link between sexism and homophobia.

Verdict: Women-hatred at its worst, but with a few chuckles and adept performances. **3/4. 

2 comments:

angelman66 said...

So true, Bill, this genre of movies is extremely misogynistic...but Hollywood was driven by a Madonna/Whore complex ever since the Production Code. It did reach its height here with movies like this, The Guide to the Married Man and Kiss Me, Stupid. No wonder we never got to see the full talents of a Kim Novak, Marilyn Monroe or Jayne Mansfield, always typecast...
-Chris

William said...

Excellent point, Chris. So many women were exploited for their sex appeal and turned into mindless kewpie dolls, when there was and could have been so much more to them.