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In 1960 Tony Curtis was at the top of his game. 1959 had given him some of his biggest movie hits including Some Like It Hot and Operation Petticoat. The year before that, Curtis was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actor for his performance in The Defiant Ones (1958). When the opportunity came for him to make the madcap comedy Who Was That Lady? with director George Sidney, he jumped at the chance. Not only would he be able to show off his comedic chops again, but it also provided an opportunity to work with his wife at the time, Janet Leigh, and good friend Dean Martin.
The zany plot, based on the Norman Krasna play Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?, begins when Curtis, an Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Columbia University, is caught by his wife (Janet Leigh) kissing one of his sexy female students. In a desperate bid to keep his marriage together, Curtis employs the help of his TV writer friend (Dean Martin) to concoct an excuse to explain his illicit behavior to his jealous wife. The elaborate ruse they come up with has Curtis working secretly with the F.B.I. Before they know it, Curtis and Martin are in over their heads and find themselves mixed up with some real life Russian spies that leads to some outrageously fun complications.
According to Janet Leigh, she, Curtis and Martin had the time of their lives making Who Was That Lady?. "This was a romp from start to finish; I hope the audience had as much fun as we did," she says in her 1984 autobiography There Really Was a Hollywood. "We really rolled with this one. The personal familiarity of the three of us allowed absolute freedom, and the interplay was wild and woolly and inventive." There was an atmosphere of playfulness on the set that lent itself to practical jokes, attempts to make each other laugh in the middle of takes, and escalating water fights. "...it started innocently and quietly," Leigh explains about the water fights in her book. "A paper cup here, a flick there. It grew to water guns, first casually, then ambush. We would wait on top of our dressing rooms for one unsuspecting victim to return from lunch or the restroom and attacked from above with one or two weapons." The good times on the set helped mask the otherwise troubled marriage between Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis. Who Was That Lady? was the fifth and final film the pair made together before their divorce in 1962.
Who Was That Lady? did respectable business at the box office, and both audiences and critics responded positively to the clever comedy. Variety called it "an often hilarious romp made somewhat sedate only in a compromise between farce and romantic comedy... Curtis and Martin work nicely together, and much of the film depends upon their teamwork. James Whitmore, not ordinarily thought of as a comedian, gets the film's biggest single laughs, mostly on reaction shots of no lines, just looks." The New York Times said, "...the real fun is watching the two bland schemers (Curtis and Martin) as they whip up their fantastic yarn about the husband's sideline 'career,' with some wry throwbacks to their past prowlings. Mr. Martin, especially, is fine, as a highly seasoned bachelor and a glib concocter of video shows."
Who Was That Lady? also features a spirited jazz score by Andr Previn; Dean Martin sings the title song written by Sammy Cahn.
Producer: Norman Krasna
Director: George Sidney
Screenplay: Norman Krasna (play "Who Was That Lady I Saw You With?")
Cinematography: Harry Stradling, Sr.
Art Direction: Ted Haworth
Music: Andr Previn
Film Editing: Viola Lawrence
Cast: Tony Curtis (David Wilson), Dean Martin (Michael Haney), Janet Leigh (Ann Wilson), James Whitmore (Harry Powell), John McIntire (Bob Doyle), Barbara Nichols (Gloria Coogle), Larry Keating (Parker), Larry Storch (Orenov), Simon Oakland (Belka).
by Andrea Passafiume