How to Murder Your Wife
Films in BOLD will Air on TCM * | VIEW TCMDb ENTRY
There was a time, in the days before handguns were standard "back to school" supplies, that jokes could be made at the water cooler, and satires could be popular box-office fare without the resulting conversations about their appropriateness or effect on youth or special interest groups. Sadly, those days are gone, but fortunately we have as evidence of those less politically correct days - How To Murder Your Wife (1965), directed by Richard Quine from a screenplay by George Axelrod (The Manchurian Candidate, 1962).
As cartoonist of the wildly popular "Bash Brannigan, Secret Agent" comic strip, Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is the envy of every red blooded, 1960s American male! A devout bachelor, Ford is attended by butler-confidante Charles (Terry-Thomas) who takes care of his every whim, while the cartoonist swings from nightclub to nightclub, or dallies with a succession of ladies at his posh New York townhouse. By day, Ford's success has afforded him the opportunity to run around like a little boy playing make believe as he "tests" all of Bash Brannigan's capers in real life. As he explains to his attorney and best friend Harold (Eddie Mayehoff), he "wouldn't make Bash do anything he hasn't tried out" for himself, whether that means shoot outs with cap guns in the streets of New York, or jewelry heists in the harbor. Ford's martini drinking lifestyle bubbles along gleefully until one unfortunate morning when he wakes up married to the Italian sexpot who jumped out of a cake the previous unfortunate evening. His new bride (Virna Lisi) refuses divorce as a strict Roman Catholic, and annulment is out of the question since Ford has "sampled" married life, as it were, so the ex-bachelor reluctantly accepts his fate. Naturally, married life soon takes a toll on Ford's comic strip with "Bash Brannigan, Secret Agent" evolving into "The Brannigans", a strip about a married superhero. Ironically, the strip strikes a chord with women readers, becoming more popular than ever, but Ford feels he has lost control of his life. In frustration, he plots to eliminate Bash's wife, which he must act out in person before he can commit it to his comic strip. And now you know why the title is called How To Murder Your Wife.
The filming of How To Murder Your Wife was as manic and unpredictable as Ford's exploits in the movie. Doing his own stunts, Lemmon narrowly avoided being killed when a pipe he was swinging on broke. As he plummeted toward the ground along a fire escape, Lemmon saw a pipe sticking out from the building and " I threw out my arm and hooked it right at the elbow. It stopped my descent and I just swung there like a pendulum." Far more dangerous was an incident involving his gorgeous co-star, Virna Lisi. Lemmon once walked into Lisi's dressing room by mistake, only to find her standing stark naked in front of a full-length mirror. Lisi's husband, who was sitting in the corner, leaped up and lunged toward Lemmon. "I shot out the door like a bird...I don't know what [the husband] thought, but I wasn't about to stick around and find out," Lemmon later said.
At the time of it's release, How To Murder Your Wife was praised for its clever screenplay and wicked sense of humor, but seen today the film could just as easily be accused of being misanthropic. After all, the men are all sexist pigs and the women are depicted as materialistic bubbleheads. And as for Ford's jokes about killing his spouse, remarks like that these days could just as easily end up with the police showing up at your doorstep. But How To Murder Your Wife needs no apologies because right from the get-go it's clearly a farce and never meant to be taken seriously. Audiences in the sixties were hip to that. Are you?
Producer: George Axelrod, Gordon Carroll (executive producer)
Director: Richard Quine
Screenplay: George Axelrod
Production Design: Richard Sylbert
Cinematography: Harry Stradling
Costume Design: Moss Mabry
Film Editing: David Wages
Original Music: Neal Hefti
Principal Cast: Jack Lemmon (Stanley Ford), Virna Lisi (Mrs. Ford), Eddie Mayehoff (Harold Lampson), Claire Trevor (Edna Lampson), Terry-Thomas (Charles), Jack Albertson (Doctor Bentley), Max Showalter (Tobey Rawlins).
by Bill Goodman