Valentine’s Day Special: How to Murder Your Wife

how2aHow to Murder Your Wife, 1965, 118 mins, Blu-ray

This year it was my turn to choose a Valentine’s-day movie to watch. Whenever its Claire’s turn, she’ll invariably pick Silver Linings Playbook for another watch, or one of the versions of Romeo & Juliet. But this year, as I note, it was my turn, so I chose Richard Quine’s wonderful black comedy How to Murder Your Wife, or Como Matar a La Propia Esposa per my Blu-ray copy imported from Italy would have it (this is another of those films starring Jack Lemmon that inexplicably remains unreleased on HD here in the UK).

I adore How to Murder Your Wife. Its a quirky black comedy starring one of my favourite actors (with the added bonus of the great Terry Thomas, too) that is funny and romantic and yes, hardly the kind of thing that could be made today. Its wrong for all sorts of reasons that for me make it so absolutely right: it is so of its time, those glorious swinging sixties that I was born a little too late to enjoy but which seems to wonderful in these Hollywood movies. The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, The Odd Couple through to Avanti! and The Prisoner of Second Avenue, all films starring Jack Lemmon that seem to be glimpses of another, simpler world. I don’t know if that world ever really existed, or it was just something wholly built of Hollywood artifice, but its a world I love to escape into through these movies.

Its something in the cinematography, the sublime art direction, in the colours, the fashions, the generally middle-aged casts, the glorious music scores. Regards the latter, How to Murder Your Wife is graced with a wonderful lush Neal Hefti score, as was The Odd Couple. Claire remarked upon the music this time around, regards how much some of it reminded her of Avanti!‘s score, even though, as I observed, that was by another composer altogether (Carlo Rustichelli) – its just a style, a mood. A jazzy, upbeat band feel, wonderfully romantic in places with sweeping strings. Over the years I have collected theses scores on CD- The Apartment, The Fortune Cookie, Irma La Douce, Avanti!, The Odd Couple, How to Murder Your Wife… I adore the music as much as I do the films, and only the score for The Prisoner of Second Avenue escapes me, but maybe someday.

Would this film be charged with misogyny today? Could you even show this film on television today without a backlash of wailing from women’s rights groups? Would they all be missing the point? IS the film’s poster taglines “Women: warning! See it before HE does- the wife you save might be YOU!” or “Bring the little woman… maybe she’ll die laughing!” too close to the bone?

how2dI can imagine the ire of some people watching this film today. Its mostly white, privileged cast of affluent New Yorkers, many of them affirmed bachelors, with the hero of the film Stanley Ford (Lemmon) living in a lovely town house in Manhattan with his own butler/man servant. Stanley enjoying one-night flings with a bevy of beautiful women, his wealth (from his wildly popular syndicated newspaper strips featuring the adventures of super-spy Bash Brannigan, oh so sixties!) ensuring a carefree lifestyle regarded with some jealously by his henpecked married lawyer, Harold (the great Eddie Mayehoff).

It all comes crashing down for Stanley when he attends a freinds stag party – held like a funeral wake until the friend announces his fiancé has cancelled the wedding- and wakes up the next morning to find, to his horror, that he has drunkenly married a beautiful woman (Virna Lisi) who popped out of a cake during the ensuing party.  Stanley tries to extricate himself from the marriage to no avail- the woman doesn’t speak a word of English and as his lawyers wife Edna (Claire Trevor) sweeps the new Mrs Ford off to the shops for a complete new wardrobe, Stanley’s loyal man-servant Charles (Terry Thomas) leaves, refusing to work for a married couple on a matter of principle. Stanley’s once-idyllic lifestyle is in tatters, albeit lets be fair, anyone waking up to find himself married to the gorgeous Virna Lisi hasn’t got it all that bad. Its all part of the arch fun of the film, established from the start by Terry Thomas’ voiceover and first scenes in which he breaks the fourth wall and openly addresses (and reacts to) the camera and the audience behind it, something which bookends the film at its close when Charles gives in to the charms of Mrs Fords mother, newly arrived from Italy.

I absolutely love this film, its a joy to watch every time. There’s something so of its time about it. Maybe its dated, maybe its shamefully politically incorrect. But the cast is wonderful and Virna Lisi surely one of the most beautiful women in the world, and a gifted actress too with a talent for comedy. What’s really not to love? For me its the perfect Valentines Day movie, silly and funny and very romantic. Neal Hefti’s score has a love theme that can melt anyone’s heart and hey, love wins through in the end so ladies, surely you can forgive the film its fun at poking at the institution of marriage? Is that marriage thing even a thing anymore anyway?

Ah, sorry, yes dear, after twenty-six years of wonderful marriage I can assure everyone that, whatever this scandalous film possibly suggested back in 1965, marriage is still a fine institution and as valid as ever. I hope everyone had a very happy Valentine’s day- and that maybe next year, they give this film a spin.

One thought on “Valentine’s Day Special: How to Murder Your Wife

  1. I love this movie too, ever since I first saw it on TV, probably back in the 80s and then it was shown at least semi-regularly.
    it’s a wonderful satire and perfectly cast, with Lemmon Virna Lisi and Terry-Thomas all on great form, and that Neal Hefti score is just sublime.

    I had to buy this on Blu-ray from Germany, at a pretty good price though as I recall. Tere are so many deserving movies which never seem to make it onto the UK market and I realy don’t know what the likes of Eureka, Arrow and Indicator think they are up to recently with some of the utter dross they have been releasing.

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