LOVE FOR SALE
by Pat Padua
VIRTUE (Eddie Buzzell, 1932).
orders Carole Lombard around. In 1932, just before the Hays code went
into effect and forbade Hollywood from showing or even speaking of the
seedy side of life, Lombard played Mae, a prostitute trying to make
good. Mae is a serious role, but Lombard's smart-alecky tough dame isn't
far from the screwball heroines for which she's best remembered.
As Virtue starts, a judge orders Mae to leave Manhattan with
all her other friends of ill repute. She boards a train but changes
her mind at the last minute, hopping a cab to her friend's (and fellow
harlot's) place. Pat O'Brien is Jimmy, the cab driver who picks her
up and thinks he knows all about dames. At first you think he has her
made for a hooker. Then he tells her - I got you pegged - you're a stenog!
Phew. Mae and Jimmy fall in love and get married. She doesn't tell Jimmy
about her past - she wants to, but as a colleague advises, a man likely
won't take it right. Jimmy finds out the hard way.
I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop but there was somehow a happy
ending after all. Kudos for liberal usage of "sap" and "chump".
KISS ME, STUPID (1964).
Billy Wilder's bawdy comedy has a mixed reputation. Several years earlier,
Wilder's The Apartment was considered pretty risqué too:
Jack Lemmon works in a Manhattan office and somehow ends up loaning
out his apartment to co-workers looking for a discreet place to take
their mistressess. Still, it won the Best Picture Oscar - I wonder if
that's because you really aren't meant to sympathize with any of the
cads - it's poor Jack Lemmon, sweet on kept woman Shirley MacLaine,
who you feel for.
In Kiss Me, Stupid the sleaze quotient is considerably raised
- it was roundly comdemned by the Pope! (Though I imagine The Apartment
was too) - and the sympathies, too, are changed. Orville (Ray Walston)
is an amateur songwriter in Climax, Nevada, a small town outside Las
Vegas. He's insanely jealous of any man - the milkman, the dentist,
even the teenage piano student he tutors - who encounters his foxy wife
Zelda (Felicia Farr). Dino (Dean Martin) is a sleazy Vegas singer who
stops at the Climax gas station, helmed by Orville's pal Barney (an
annoyingly mugging Cliff Osmond). Barney is also Orville's lyricist,
and he schemes to keep Dino around to hear and maybe buy some of their
songs. But Orville doesn't want Dino's famously lecherous paws near
Zelda. So Barney goes to the Belly Button Club, the local brothel, and
hires Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak) to pretend to be Orville's's wife.
Orville picks a fight with Zelda, which sends her packing off to her
mother's and makes room for Polly. And of course, Zelda ends up at the
Belly Button Club, holed up in Polly's trailer. It's all very Restoration
makes this all poignant - and controversial - is that the chemistry
between Polly and Orville is stronger than what you see between Orville
and Zelda. (And this is despite Novak's awful accent - I'm not sure
what she's going for, but her voice fails. Her eyes, however, succeed,
and you can see her falling when Orville plays a ballad he wrote for
his wife.) You end up rooting for them, but the film doesn't really
satisfy in the end.
For the Gerswhin fan: Kiss Me Stupid resurrected three obscure
George and Ira numbers. "Sophia" and "I'm a poached egg" are silly,
but the ballad, "All the live long day (and the long long night)" is
a nice surprise. Too bad nobody's recorded it.