Kiss Me, Stupid
Cast & Crew
Dino, a pop vocalist who is notorious for his heavy drinking and lecherous behavior, concludes a Las Vegas nightclub engagement and heads for Hollywood in his Italian sportscar. A detour on the highway forces him to drive through Climax, Nevada, home of amateur songwriters Barney Millsap, a gas station attendant, and music teacher Orville J. Spooner, whose wife, Zelda, is the most beautiful woman in town. Barney recognizes Dino as the famous singer, and the two composers, in hopes of interesting Dino in their songs, sabotage his car and tell him they may have to send to Milan for parts. Orville invites Dino to stay at his home, but he becomes worried about Zelda's fidelity when he hears the singer's complaint that any night without sex leaves him with a pounding headache the next morning. To satisfy Dino's libido without ruining his own marriage, Orville provokes an argument with Zelda, causing her to leave the house in tears. Orville then arranges for Polly the Pistol, a waitress and prostitute from a nearby roadhouse, to pose as his wife. The scheme works well until the insanely jealous Orville forgets the arrangement and throws Dino out for molesting his wife. Dino seeks solace at the roadhouse while Orville and Polly spend the night together. Meanwhile, Zelda, in an attempt to forget her marital problems, has gotten drunk at the same bar; and the manager, to quell the woman's raucous behavior, puts her in Polly's trailer out back. Dino finds Zelda there, mistakes her for the waitress, and easily seduces her since she has always been a fan of his. Days later, Orville and Barney hear Dino singing one of their songs on national television. As a perplexed Orville tries to determine the source of his good fortune, Zelda caresses him.
Mary Jane Saunders
Edward G. Boyle
C. C. Coleman Jr.
I. A. L. Diamond
I. A. L. Diamond
Dan Mandell Jr.
W. C. Smith
Allen K. Wood
Kiss Me, Stupid
The plot was loosely based on a farce by Anna Bonacci, L'Ora della Fantasia, which had been a hit on the Paris stage in 1953. One previous attempt to Americanize the story, a play called The Dazzling Hour with Olivia De Havilland, was intended for Broadway, but closed early in its tryout run. When they got hold of the story, Wilder and Diamond transported the characters to an intriguing location - a small Nevada town called Climax, near to the adult playground of Las Vegas. Smooth crooner Dino (Dean Martin) finishes an engagement on the Strip and is driving his convertible back to Los Angeles when a detour on the highway forces him to this sleepy Nevada berg. At a gas station there he encounters the oafish grease monkey Barney Millsap (Cliff Osmond). Millsap is an amateur songwriter with Orville J. Spooner (Ray Walston), the local piano teacher. Millsap and Spooner sabotage the sports car and conspire to keep Dino in town so they can foist some of their song compositions on him. Spooner is worried, though, that his attractive wife Zelda (Felicia Farr) might become one of Dino's sexual conquests. Spooner argues with Zelda so she will leave the house, then he arranges to have a local hooker named Polly the Pistol (Kim Novak) pose as his wife to get Dino in the proper "mood" to hear his songs.
For the key roles of the Spooners, Wilder initially intended to cast a real -life married couple, Jack Lemmon (the star of Wilder's Some Like It Hot, The Apartment, and Irma la Douce) and his wife Felicia Farr. Lemmon had other commitments, so Wilder signed British film comic Peter Sellers to his first Hollywood-based film. (Sellers' most recent hit, 1963's The Pink Panther, had only been partially filmed in the States). In Kiss Me, Stupid's most charming bit of casting, Dean Martin playfully engages in self-parody - there is no attempt made to pretend that his character "Dino" is anyone other than himself. The opening sequence was filmed at the Sands during an actual Martin engagement - he really was billed on the marquee with just a caricature and the one name - Dino. Even the Dual Ghia convertible that Dino drives into Climax was Martin's own car.
Wilder also engaged in some inventive "casting" when it came to the songs that Spooner and Barney were to foist on the Vegas crooner. He wanted the music to be accomplished, but unknown. He asked his friend Ira Gershwin if he would like to contribute, and Gershwin astonished Wilder by suggesting that he could write new lyrics to long-lost music by his late brother George. So, by using songs that were unfinished or unused in previous projects (including the 1937 RKO Astaire-Rogers musical Shall We Dance), Wilder was able to debut three "new" songs in his film by George and Ira Gershwin.
After working on the set for six weeks, Sellers took advantage of a Sunday off (April 6th, 1964 to be exact) and went with his family to Disneyland. Upon returning, the thirty-nine year old comic suffered a stroke - in fact, a series of six minor strokes. After a stay at Cedars of Lebanon in Los Angeles, Sellers returned to England under doctor's orders to get six months rest, and Wilder had to decide quickly whether to recast the part or put the production on hold for half a year. Wilder hired Ray Walston, who had turned in a memorable supporting role in The Apartment, and who was currently starring as an antenna-sprouting alien in the popular CBS TV series My Favorite Martian (1963-1966).
When he returned to England, Sellers spoke to Alexander Walker at the London Evening Standard and lashed out at Hollywood, and especially at the lax atmosphere of Wilder's set. He told Walker that "at the studios they give you every creature comfort, except the satisfaction of being able to get the best work out of yourself. I used to go down on the set of Kiss Me, Stupid with Billy Wilder and find a Cook's Tour of hangers-on and sightseers standing just off the set, right in my line of vision. Friends and relatives of people in the front office came to kibitz on Peter Sellers, actor..." Sellers' former colleagues were not amused at the comments, however. Wilder, Martin, Novak and Farr sent him a telegram calling him an "unprofessional rat fink." More famously, Wilder later responded with the remark, "Heart attack? You have to have a heart before you can have an attack."
Walston found himself trying to catch up to Wilder and the rest of the cast, and trusted that the relaxed working conditions would suit him better than it suited Sellers. As Walston told Nick Tosches for his biography of Dean Martin, Dino, "As is always the case with Wilder, they did not have the ending written, but they had more than three quarters of the film on script and they were shooting. But when I read it, I thought, holy mackerel, this is not going to work; there's something wrong: it's not that funny. But at the same time, I thought, who the hell am I to say?" At issue was the intentional coarseness of the humor Wilder and Diamond were playing with; they were going to be testing the limits of censorship organizations in America, and they must have known that a fight was looming.
Kiss Me, Stupid was passed by the Production Code Administration in the waning years of that organization. Then head of the PCA, Geoffrey Shurlock, told his colleagues, "If dogs want to return to their vomit, I'm not going to stop them." As Frank Miller described the situation in his book Censored Hollywood, "Though Wilder's film treated its vulgarity with an in-your-face brashness few other directors would have attempted, it really was no worse than other pictures Shurlock had felt compelled to pass." Shurlock knew, however, that battles would rage with the Catholic Legion of Decency. Everyone in Hollywood, in fact, seemed to follow the story. As Variety reported, "Although it has a Code seal, the gag going around UA in past weeks has been that in order for the pic to get by more strenuous censor groups like the Legion of Decency, Stupid would have to be cut into a fifteen-minute silent short." Wilder met personally with Monsignor Little of the Legion and, as a result, reshot parts of a key scene near the end of the film to soften the implication that Felicia Farr's character had cheated on her husband with Dino. The Legion demanded other changes, but Wilder refused, both on principle and for the practical reason that his star Kim Novak had gone to England to shoot another film and was unavailable for reshoots. The Legion slapped Kiss Me, Stupid with a "C" for Condemned rating, the first given to an American film since Elia Kazan's Baby Doll (1956). Announcing the rating, the Legion took an additional swipe at the PCA: "It is difficult to understand how such approval is not the final betrayal of the trust which has been placed by so many in the organized industry's self-regulation." As a direct result of the Legion's rating, United Artists decided to release Wilder's film under the banner of their Lopert Pictures subsidiary, which had previously only handled imported films, including those that had also run afoul of the Legion, such as Never On Sunday (1960).
Kiss Me, Stupid was finally released in the Christmas season of 1964 - the ill-timed release date also came in for criticism by the Legion and by a number of critics. The film died spectacularly at the box-office. Wilder and Diamond eventually retreated to their office and went through the motions of developing another property to fashion into a screenplay, but work was slow. Wilder told a friend, "We feel like parents who have given birth to a mongoloid child - Now we keep asking ourselves - do we dare screw again?" As he told another friend, his office was "...like the Ford plant after the Edsel was made."
Wilder preferred to ignore the existence of Kiss Me, Stupid in the many interviews he gave between his retirement in 1981 and his death in 2002. In perhaps his lengthiest comment (quoted in On Sunset Boulevard), Wilder expressed his frustration and bewilderment at the movie's failure, saying, "I don't know why the film shocked people. It's the most bourgeois film there is. A man wants a career and the person who wants to help him wants to sleep with his wife. He replaces his wife with another, but when he is nearest to success, he refuses it and throws the guy out. ...The public accepted it better in The Apartment because it was better conceived, better written, better lubricated."
Producer: Billy Wilder
Director: Billy Wilder
Screenplay: I.A.L. Diamond & Billy Wilder, based on a play by Anna Bonacci
Cinematography: Joseph La Shelle
Film Editing: Daniel Mandell
Production Design: Alexander Trauner
Art Direction: Robert Luthardt
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Dean Martin (Dino), Kim Novak (Polly the Pistol), Ray Walston (Orville Jeremiah Spooner), Felicia Farr (Zelda Spooner), Cliff Osmond (Barney), Barbara Pepper (Big Bertha).
by John M. Miller
Billy Wilder in Hollywood by Maurice Zolotow
On Sunset Boulevard: The Life and Times of Billy Wilder by Ed Sikov
Conversations with Wilder by Cameron Crowe
Dino: Living High in the Dirty Business of Dreams by Nick Tosches
Kim Novak: Reluctant Goddess by Peter Harry Brown
Censored Hollywood by Frank Miller
Kiss Me, Stupid
TCM Remembers - Billy Wilder
Billy Wilder had the most deliciously dirty mind in Hollywood. The director dug into racy, controversial subjects with cynical wit and rare candor; he set new standards for film noir, sex comedies and the buddy film and his movies continue to inspire new generations of filmmakers.
Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director of contemporary hit films such as Jerry Maguire(1996), was one of those moved by Wilder's film sense. The struggling filmmaker struck up a friendship with the 93-year old veteran and found a friend and a mentor. Their conversations were recently chronicled in a book by Cameron Crowe entitled Conversations with Wilder(published by Knoft).
Billy Wilder might have been born in Vienna, but American culture influenced him from the earliest days. Given the name Samuel, Wilder's mother called her son 'Billy' in honor of Buffalo Bill Cody. The name stuck.
Billy was as restless as his namesake and left law school to become a journalist. While grinding out articles for a Berlin newspaper, Wilder joined with future film directors Fred Zinnemann, Robert Sidomak and Edgar G. Ulmer to make a short film, Menschen Am Sonntag (1929). By the mid-1930s, he had written seven scenarios and even tried his hand at directing. After Hitler's rise to power in 1934, Wilder fled his homeland. Once in Hollywood, Wilder and roommate Peter Lorre had to learn English quickly if they wanted to join the American film industry. Together the German expatriates learned the language and began staking their territory in the Dream Factory.
As a writer, Wilder could craft realistic relationships with sharp dialogue; he proved this in his scripts for Ninotchka (1939) with Greta Garbo and Howard Hawks' Ball of Fire(1941). As a filmmaker, Wilder was well acquainted with the shadowy, brooding style of German Expressionism. He brought these two gifts together to create a landmark film noir - DOUBLE INDEMNITY(1944). He followed this cinematic triumph with a risky project, the story of an alcoholic on a three-day binge. Not the usual subject matter for a Hollywood studio, THE LOST WEEKEND (1945) nevertheless claimed the Academy Award for Best Picture. By the end of the decade, Wilder dared even to paint a portrait of Hollywood stardom gone awry in Sunset Boulevard (1950).
Each of these films is an undisputed classic today, but even at the time, his films were lauded. Six of his screenplays were nominated for Oscars between 1941-1950. Three of his eight Best Director nominations also came during this period. Billy Wilder claimed the American Dream; he was successfully playing by his own rules.
By the end of the '50s, as censorship guidelines were easing, Wilder's projects became even more daring. Sex was central to Wilder's world and Hollywood celebrated his candor. He directed Marilyn Monroe in two of her most sensuous roles, The Seven Year Itch (1955) and SOME LIKE IT HOT(1959). More often than not, Wilder liked pointing his finger at the hyprocrisy of people's sexual mores. In THE APARTMENT(1960), Wilder took an incisive look at corrupt businessmen exploiting their employees for sexual favors. In IRMA LA DOUCE (1963), the world of a Parisian prostitute was lovingly painted in Technicolor tones. In Kiss Me, Stupid (1964), Wilder finally stepped over the line with the story of a struggling composer willing to offer his wife to sell a song.The film, which seems so innocent today, was scandalous in its own day. Critics called Kiss Me, Stupid pornographic smut and buried the picture. Audiences ignored it. Today, the film is a risque farce with great performances by Dean Martin and Kim Novak. The critical lambast deeply affected Wilder; this would be his last sex comedy.
In 1966 Wilder brought together the dynamic combination of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau with THE FORTUNE COOKIE. Director and stars teamed again for The Front Page (1974), a remake of the newspaper classic; and Buddy, Buddy (1981), the story of an assassin and a sad sack ready to commit suicide.
Wilder's many years in Hollywood produced an amazing string of hits. From sarcastic and cynical social commentary to outrageous sex farce, Wilder pushed his audiences to look at their own values and morals. He was an outsider who wasn't afraid to point out the follies of his fellow man or the worst aspects of American culture. He will be sorely missed.
By Jeremy Geltzer
TCM Remembers - Billy Wilder
Production began with Peter Sellers in the role of Orville. Sellers suffered a heart attack several weeks into production, so filming had to start over with Ray Walston in the role (after 'Randall, Tony' , Bob Hope, Danny Kaye and Tom Ewell were all considered).
After a tough day of shooting, Kim Novak gave sandwiches and homemade cookies to the cast and director.
Location scenes filmed in Twentynine Palms, California, at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in Hollywood, and in Las Vegas.
Re-released in United States June 21, 2002 (Film Forum; New York City)
Released in United States October 1996 (Shown at AFI/Los Angeles International Film Festival (AFI FEST All-Night Movie Marathon 1996 - On the Verge: Hollywood and the End of Censorship, 1960-1970) October 17-31, 1996.)
Released in United States Winter December 1964
Released in United States October 1996
Released in United States Winter December 1964
Re-released in United States June 21, 2002
Based on the play "L'ora della fantasia" by Anna Bonacci (Rome, 1945).
Previously rated GP by the Motion Picture Association of America.
Shot between March and July 1964.