Billy Wilder Andrew Sarris - Essay

Andrew Sarris

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

The trouble with Billy Wilder in "Kiss Me Stupid" is that while he doesn't really believe in morality, he doesn't really enjoy immorality, and so we get another exercise in joyless jejune cynicism a la "Irma la Douce." Wilder's forte has never been visual style, but the studio decor in and around Climax, Nevada, sets a new low in drabness and dreariness rendered in all the penny-pinching, two-toned dustiness of black and white photography, that most realistic of all cliches. Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond milk Climax for all its galactic and climactic worth and throw in some clever topical gags about the Sinatra fils kidnapping and that little old winemaker me, but someone forgot to write in plausible situations for the pratfalls. That is to say, the dialogue is all there, good, bad, and mostly indifferent, but the scenario is missing, and even the dirtiest denouement in the world cannot obscure a series of false premises….

Of course, no one who is condemned by the Legion of Decency can be all bad, but I wish Wilder hadn't tried to weasel out of his condemnation by posing as a starry-eyed idealist of the nouvelle vague at war with entrenched morality. Wilder has always been a clever entertainer with just enough nastiness in his personality to avoid the anonymity of studio production. Only Wilder would be vicious enough to staff the supposedly bawdy Belly-Button drive-in cafe with fat, old, and ugly waitresses, their navels bared. Left to his own dubious devices, Wilder operates on so many different levels of calculating cruelty that one wishes he were less free for the sake of his undeniable talent.

Andrew Sarris, "Films: 'Kiss Me Stupid'" (reprinted by permission of The Village Voice and the author; copyright © The Village Voice, Inc., 1965), in The Village Voice, Vol. X, No. 13, January 14, 1965, p. 14.