Whenever I see that "Written by Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond" credit at the opening of a film, I know there will be cleverness ahead. They are one of my favorite screenwriting pairs for sure. Between THE APARTMENT and SOME LIKE IT HOT, they are responsible for a couple of the greatest comedies ever. Not only are they masters of the turning of phrases, but they are also remarkable with structure. I often think about Bob Zemeckis and Bob Gale's amazing script for BACK TO THE FUTURE and how the structure is gorgeous and all kinds of things are set up and paid off in the most wonderful way. Wilder and Diamond did that kind of stuff in all their scripts. It wasn't as flashy as an 80s time travel movie, but they did it and they did it with exquisite craftsmanship. One of my favorite things in all of cinema is a scene in THE APARTMENT with Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine and a broken compact mirror. It is such a powerful moment, but what it comes down to is solid story construction (and a bit of great acting). Wilder and Diamond taught me that so much can brought across with good writing. Construction is one thing that needs to be strong, but these guys go beyond that. When I see KISS ME, STUPID and early on there's a scene where Ray Walston (as a piano teacher) is criticizing his student for adding an extra "deedle" to a classical piece he's practicing, I have to smile. That's just the kind of thing I love from them. Goofy, but clever. Something about their senses of humor and how many of the jokes still hold up. Wilder and Diamond's dialogue is right up there with Preston Sturges, very sharp and often rapid fire. As with some other writers, their words sound best when coming from certain actors. For Wilder Ray Walston is one of those guys. He's a unique comic actor in that he can play just big enough to slot right into the heightened Wilder universe without looking totally ridiculous (unless that's the gag they are going for). Before Sam Jackson for Tarantino or Jason Lee for Kevin Smith, Ray Walston was killing it fur Billy Wilder. Typically this was in smaller (but essential) supporting roles, but in the case of KISS ME, STUPID, Walston us given a more sizable, juicy part to sink his over zealous choppers into. Those that remember Walston from his classic role in FAST TIME AT RIDGEMONT HIGH (or even RAD) will be quite surprised to see the level of manic goofy energy that he is capable of during this period and under Wilder's direction. Between Walston's performance (plus the details of his lack of talent as a songwriter) and Dean Martin's womanizing Wilder-ized version of himself there's much to enjoy in this underrated entry in Wilder's filmography.
(For a good snicker - watch for the the song titles on Ray Walston's sheet music.)
THE ROAD TO HONG KONG (1962; Norman Panama)
I miss comedy teams. Seems all we get nowadays is solo stuff and ensembles in films. At least we have KEY & PEELE on comedy central to keep things going on the team front.
Bob Hope is one of my absolute favorite comic actors ever. I must admit to having only known him from the occasional late night TV appearance and his cameo in SPIES LIKE US before Woody Allen's fandom made me dig deeper. When I read some interviews with Allen calling out specific Hope films that he loved (THE GREAT LOVER, MONSIEUR BEAUCAIRE), I sought them out immediately. Within a few jokes, it was clear how much Woody had cribbed from Mr. Hope in terms of developing his onscreen persona in his early comedies. The cadence, the self deprecation and unabashed cowardice - Hope really is a master of all these things. I kind of feel like he created a comic persona that not only Woody Allen, but many many others would attempt to emulate for decades and decades. I'm not saying that Bob Hope invented the comic coward character, but he really did bring it to the next level.
THE ROAD TO HONG KONG is a swan song for this great duo's memorable film series. They made seven "ROAD TO.." films starting with ROAD TO SINGAPORE in 1940 and ending twenty-two years later with HONG KONG. While it's not their best outing (I reserve the right to give that award to ROAD TO RIO), it is quite funny and these guys still have a remarkable chemistry and timing that makes them a joy to watch. And the songs for this film by Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen (who famously wrote "High Hopes", "Three Coins in a Fountain", & "Come Fly With Me" among countless others) are quite delightful. What a great way to end this series than by starting this movie with their song "Teamwork".
Though there were still many films released in black & white in 1962 (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, THE LONGEST DAY, BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ, CAPE FEAR), some of the highest grossers were in color (LAWRENCE OF ARABIA, THE MUSIC MAN, THAT TOUCH OF MINK, MUTINY ON THE BOUNTY). I find it interesting that they decided on B&W for this final Road film instead of bringing the boys to the screen in color as they had with their previous outing (ROAD TO BALI). I guess their comedy plays best this way and maybe they wanted to go back to their roots for this last entry.
Joan Collins being the headlining lady is a nice thing too.
There's a groovy Peter Sellers drop-in role early on
Tonight Show with guest host Jerry Lewis interviewing Bob Hope in June of 1970:
This movie opens with a fourth-wall-breaking speech by Terry Thomas in which he explains how the Jack Lemmon character once had such a wonderful bachelor lifestyle. He gives a tour of Lemmon's NYC bachelor townhouse and explains how we the viewers could have has this if only we hadn't decided to get married. It's the perfect introduction to the movie and it lays out some very misogynistic, very dated and yet supposedly humorous crap for the makes of the 1965 audience to lap up. You see, this kind of thing is one if my biggest problems with the films of the 1960s as a whole. The gender politics are all messed up and there's this almost institutionalized sexism that was passed off as acceptable and it just sits in my craw and pisses me off. The hole idea/joke of marriage being the end of happiness for men in America is just so obnoxious as to almost make me want to turn a movie off the minute I hear them starting to act this way. The way that women, especially wives, are often portrayed as shrewish and bullying is just so lame (and more to the point - so boring). It just saddens me that there was a time when men could be so blatantly mysoginyst and it was not only alright, but a point of mainstream studio comedy is just something I really hate to think about. Not that things are so much better for women today I suppose, but still this kind of crap just irks me to no end. Anyway, my apologies for the rant. Allow me to delve into a few things I enjoyed about this movie. Number one: Jack Lemmon. One of the greatest actors ever and one of my absolute favorites. There are very few performances he's given that aren't the best thing about whatever movie he might be in. In this particular film he enacts something of a jewel heist near the beginning and shows off some of the more action-oriented stuff I've ever seen him do in a movie. It is a clever and charming setup and is explained after the fact. Lemmon is in his usual affable form here and he and Terry Thomas (who plays his butler) have a lovely and funny rapport. It's almost as good as the rapport that Walter Matthau and George Rose have in A NEW LEAF, but not quite. The script is by the prolific scribe George Axelrod whose credits include THE SEVEN YEAR ITCH, BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY, THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, LORD LOVE A DUCK and PARIS WHEN IT SIZZLES. This is a passable 60s comedy with a fun opening and an enjoyable final courtoom scene.