Some Like It Hot may have all but dismantled the Hays Code with its rapturous drag comedy, Marilyn Monroe sashaying around with one shoulder bare and its iconic final lines, but the reception of Kiss Me, Stupid was far from warm five years later. It was denounced by critics for its smutty vulgarity, leading to the film's release under their foreign distribution subsidiary. Although Wilder was persuaded to leave a little of Zelda and Dino's tryst to the imagination, the intent is clear: she has committed adultery, and her husband has very likely done so too. Who has committed the bigger sin? Maybe Zelda didn't know whether or not Orville had already done the deed, and simply jumped the gun on a chance with her longtime idol. You could also argue that Orville's incessant jealously and actions had practically closed the door on their marriage - the night was a free for all. But all this moralising and outrage is placed into perspective when we hear it from Wilder's himself. He argues that there was just as much, if not more infidelity in The Apartment, yet little of the same complaints. He has a point; in that film, one of Wilder's several masterpieces, Lemmon's love shack was not only a major plot point but wielded for personal gain, for ascending the corporate ladder. The film handles it all with a cheery tone, and although in the end he rejects the idea, there are plenty of other apartments available. To look for logic and reason in the crazy affairs of Kiss Me, Stupid is to deny that these characters are already a little stir crazy. Audiences weren't quite prepared for the radical notion that a marriage could be put on hold, or that a night of adultery could improve it. While that may not be emphatically true, the stars certainly aligned for the Spooners.
The most obvious perpetrator is Orville, who has a gorgeous wife but sees opportunities to lose her around every corner. The part was originally filmed for Peter Sellers, but Ray Walston fits it better. Even with the Golden Age standard established by ageing leading men like Stewart and Grant, he looks on the elderly side. The wrinkly Orville is so awestruck at having landed Zelda that he is forever fretting on having her stolen away. Sellers would have fluffed the role of the commoner, stole the screen from Martin, and been too good a match for Farr. One running gag sees the soundtrack whipping up a cyclone of strings and a ticking time bomb whenever he gets an inkling of infidelity - Walston matches this with the uncanny ability to suddenly gain tunnel vision, his face frozen in an agitated trance of jealousy. At every turn Wilder underlines the character's psychological impotence by turning his well-intentioned menace into pathetic fumblings; Orville is so much of a joke he can hardly even level a decent insult towards his wife. Initially he formulates a devious plan to shove a grapefruit into Zelda's face. That bit is a homage to Wellman's The Public Enemy, a pre-code gangster flick where James Cagney does the same to his girl. But Orville is not nearly as menacing, or competent. He holds the grapefruit half nervously behind his back, undecided on whether to shove it or eat it. A pious minister catches sight of it, and mistakes it for a tasty snack. Later the now eaten fruit is placed harmlessly onto the table. Wilder's winking at us - just because he can, doesn't mean he will, and all the more opportunity to tease Orville for it.
Dean Martin plays himself, unimpressed by dopey baguette odes, only seeking a lecherous night out. The setting is Climax, Nevada, although Wilder has some fun by concentrating all of the title's bawdiness into one grimy bar just out of town. That's also the home of the best 'waitress' available. To say that she is a cliché is an understatement. She looks like she has just walked out of a smutty B-movie western. She's called Polly and has a matching parrot, and her television constantly replays scenes from that genre, going 'bang bang!' - no prizes for guessing that double meaning. Yet Novak manages to firstly revel in the Polly's trashiness, and then lift herself out of it (with some financial assistance from Zelda). Hitchcock's icy, alluring blonde is disarmed by a cold, and Novak hams it with her nasally dialogue, all while hobbling around in high-heels and a ridiculously tight dress. What Orville gradually realises is what we also see: no women should be treated like this, fake wife or not. Novak earns our sympathy through attempting to fit the role of a lonely, mistreated wife, slowly taking the farce at face value and being seduced by the domestic comforts she never had.
The script is as densely packed as any that Wilder and I.A.L Diamond wrote together, filled to the brim with double entendres, classic misunderstandings and racy innuendos. Barney just happens to deliver the most phallic bottle of wine there possibly could be, and the centrepiece of the living room is a 'love chair' so inexplicable it must have been fashioned for that exact scene and nothing else. The house is fashioned to provide maddening barriers for Orville's maneuvering of wife and guest, and then there is that reveal of he and Polly's decision of a first impression: neither can knit or read convincingly, so they end up in some sort of lustful entanglement, him in her lap, rocking ever so slightly, lips glued together as if their lives depended on it. Kiss Me, Stupid may not be Wilder's best, but it's a good enough comedy. The film's reputation precedes it, perhaps unfairly - it's not nearly as cynical as it sounds, and there's a heart in there somewhere. The most important thing is not to take it too seriously.