Today I watched a fabulous film from 1965, written by George Axelrod (“Bus Stop”, “Breakfast At Tiffany’s”). Directed by Richard Quine (“Bell Book And Candle”, “The Prisoner Of Zenda”) the movie is called “How To Murder Your Wife”.
The film begins with a piece to camera from Charles Firbank (Terry-Thomas – “School For Scoundrels”, “The Vault Of Horror”) who introduces himself as Mr. Ford’s manservant and takes the viewer on a tour of Mr. Ford’s New York townhouse, all the while explaining how Mr. Ford enjoys a happy and successful life as a result of not making the mistake of getting married!
Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon – “Some Like It Hot”, “The April Fools”) is a cartoonist who produces the very popular Bash Brannigan secret agent comic strip. He acts out the storylines, using actors and various gadgets, playing the lead role himself and using Charles to photograph the action for him to use as the basis of his drawings. This he does for realism as he “wouldn’t ask Bash to do anything that (he) hadn’t done first”.
Stanley goes to a bachelor party for his friend Tobey Rawlins (Max Showalter – “Niagara”, “10”). The downbeat affair comes to life when Tobey announces, to load cheering from all the men present, that his fiancée has decided not to marry him after all. Cue lots of drink flowing and a beautiful blonde woman appearing from inside a massive cake.
Stanley wakes the next morning with a hangover and discovers the girl from the cake asleep naked in his bed. When she wakes he finds that, on the plus side she is happy and very affectionate, but also that she is Italian and cannot speak English and, worst of all, that she is now his wife, Mrs. Ford (Virna Lisi – “Arabella”, “The Girl Who Couldn’t Say No”).
Charles is horrified but placated when Stanley assures him that Mrs. Ford (who is never actually given a first name!) will be on a plane to Las Vegas by the afternoon. Having met with his friend and lawyer Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff – “Artists And Models”, “That’s My Boy”) he realises that he is unable to divorce his new bride.
Harold’s overbearing wife Edna (Claire Trevor – “Farewell My Lovely”, “Key Largo”), who speaks Italian, takes Mrs. Ford under her wing and before he knows what’s going on Charles finds himself accepting deliveries of clothes and groceries purchased by Mrs. Ford who also takes over the kitchen.
Charles quits and goes to work for Stanley’s friend Tobey, and Stanley changes his comic strip to be about the domestic life of The Brannigans – which is even more successful than Bash had been.
However, it’s not long before Stanley finds his home being overrun with his wife’s cosmetics, drying stockings, etc., Mrs. Ford sleeping in her pyjamas with curlers in her hair, the TV on when he’s trying to sleep so she can learn English, and her checking up on him when he’s at “the club” – resulting in his expulsion. Frustrated, he decides that she has to go – at least as far as Bash Brannigan and the comic strip is concerned.
Seeking advice from a doctor and various others, Stanley concocts a plan for Bash to drug his wife and bury her in the neighbouring construction site so that he can resume his life as a secret agent. Stanley puts the plan into action during a party at his home, using his wife and a shop dummy as part of the action that he has again enlisted Charles to photograph.
When Mrs. Ford finds Stanley asleep at his drawing board and sees what he has drawn she realises that she isn’t wanted and disappears without a trace. When the comic strip showing Bash killing his wife appears people believe that Stanley must have killed Mrs. Ford in that way because he always does first what he then draws Bash doing…
I found this to be a very funny movie. Yes, it’s not remotely politically correct (PC) in this day and age and doesn’t portray any of the women in the film in a very positive light. However, I for one think that society has become too PC these days and that there’s nothing wrong with the humour in this film – especially when taking into account the very end of the story…