Artists and Models
With ”Artists and Models”, the first movie of 1955, we have moved into the extreme silly end of the spectrum, which is quite a departure from last week’s movie (”Sansho the Bailiff”). This is a colorful, even cartoonish, satire on 1950’ies pop culture and it is about as light and harmless as rice crackers and just about as noisy.
Let me reveal right from the beginning that I was not sold by this comedy, far from, but it is not without it’s moments and there are enough of them to make it not a complete waste of time.
Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were apparently an established couple in 1955 when they did this movie. “Artists and Models” was their fourteenth together, so I guess the audience knew what they were going to see when they went for one of their movies. A studio also only keep a duo alive this long if they sell tickets, so they must have been quite popular.
In this movie they are less than successful artists. Rick Todd (Martin) is a painter and Eugene Fullstack (Lewis) is an author of children’s books (or want to be). The reason for their lack of success seems to be Rick’s promiscuity and Eugene’s infatuation with comics, especially those featuring the Bat Lady. Add to that that Eugene act like an eight year old and Rick not ten years older and that may be the real reason.
Their luck turns when the real author (Dorothy Malone as Abigail) of the Bat Lady moves into their building together with the model that poses as Bat Lady (Shirley MacLaine as Bessie) who also happens to be the secretary of Abigail’s publisher. In a complex set of events Rick takes over Abigail’s job when she quits her job because her publisher wants more blood and gore in the cartoons while Rick and Abigail becomes an item on Rick’s insistence. Eugene meets his idol, the Bat Lady, while Bessie tries to win Eugene’s heart without revealing that she is actually the Bat Lady.
It gets really complicated and just to add to the mix the whole thing turns into a spy story when some Hungarian spies finds out that the cartoons seem to be revealing a secret formula and so set out to kidnap the authors.
Let me take the good things first.
It was a wonder to see Shirley MacLaine in one of her first roles. She is one of the few actors from this era who is still alive and active. IMDB has her registered for two movies in 2015 and another one in 2016. She is one of Hollywood’s great actresses and I love to see an actress spanning a lifelong career. That happens all too rarely. In “Artists and Models” she is definitely one of the highlights because she is genuinely funny.
Actually this movie is full of wonderful women. I guess the studio threw everything they could find in a dress into this movie and they do look great. From a male point of view they are a delight to watch, especially since they look like real women.
Then there are a number of jokes that actually work out. The massage room scene with at least five bodies entwined is a great one and the TV sequence where Eugene is presented as a retarded comic-aholic is inspired when the things he says suddenly turns so smart that they are above the host. There is a fun reference to James Steward in “Rear Window” and I bet there are a number of other reference thrown in as well.
On the negative is… almost everything else.
My problem here is that I do not care for Jim Carrey’s special kind of comedy and watching Jerry Lewis I know exactly where Carrey’s style comes from. This totally over the top exaggeration combined with total idiocy is clearly what is supposed to sell this movie and it just does not work for me. Instead of laughing I grind my teeth and that is never a good thing. Because so much of the movie hangs on Lewis comedy that has a large impact on my general appreciation of “Artists and Models”. Martin is not that funny, but at least he is not annoying. Malone is not supposed to be funny as she is the anchor such a movie must have (and thank you for that), which leave MacLaine, who is the only one I find genuinely funny.
The plot is totally out there, on the silly side of ridiculous, and that is normally okay with me. I love the Airplane/Police Squad/Naked Gun series, but “Artists and Models” only rarely gets close. Maybe this is a matter of comedy simply having changed since the fifties, which does not bode well for other comedies of the age, or it is simply that I am too old. This is a very cartoonish movie and the director Frank Tashlin actually came from directing cartoons. Together with Lewis special kind of humor it aims at a very infantile audience. On the other hand the randiness of the movie with daring sexual references makes the target group much older, so I am a bit confused here.
Does it matter that the plot, the actors, the backstory, yeah, everything really, are completely inconsistent? Rick and Eugene, the two losers, suddenly getting top billed at the artists ball? Actors stepping out of the movie or showing skills inconsistent with the character? Or that uber-ridiculous spy story? Again had the comedy worked I would have laughed it off. Instead it annoys me.
What is left for me is the sexual innuendo, beautiful women and a few gags that actually work. Is that enough? I am not convinced.