Saturday, May 14, 2016

I Married a Woman

I Married a Woman (Hal Kanter, 1958) This may be one of the oddest movies in John Wayne's CV. It's a glorified cameo, really, where he plays "John Wayne," idol of the screen and movie "ladies' man" (um, really?) someone for the main character, Mickey Briggs (George Gobel), a Madison Avenue advertising type, to look up to and be jealous of, as his model-wife, Janice (the va-va-vooming Diana Dors) gazes adoringly at the on-screen Wayne as "the perfect man," dumbstruck while absently eating popcorn (and spilling it down her cleavage) in the movie theater. Maybe Wayne was doing somebody (or the studio) a favor, but he shows up twice in the movie and both times, his segment is the only thing in color in a black-and-white film. When the couple go to see him in the theater, the film is in color (okay, some weird logic there, but let's go with it in a metaphorical sense—he and the movies are much more colorful than the gray black-and-white world they live in, okay, good, somebody write a paper about that), but then, when the "real" John Wayne is seen later on a cruise-ship, he's in color there, too. Well, that blows any "deep-thought" out of this movie!

As I said, odd.

I Married a Woman was a vehicle for George Gobel, a name that has, sadly I think, disappeared from cultural significance. "Lonesome George" was a comedian of a decidedly low-key dead-pan delivery, folksy and rambling,* and he had a television variety show in the 1950's that was very popular, probably because it was something of an antidote to the hyper-antics on "The Milton Berle Show." He was a quick-wit and his comedy-concepts were sneakily brilliant, so deceptive was his delivery of them. On his variety show, he worked well with others and he could do sketch-comedy after a fashion.

So, RKO signed him to a movie deal. 

And for this study in contrasts, he plays a corn-fed Mid-westerner in a gray flannel suit, "Mickey" Briggs, as plain as a bumpkin on a log, married to an almost-cartoonishly gorgeous wife of the Marilyn Monroe variety who adores him. The comedy is, of course, that such a plain guy could be married to such a doll and not have some serious insecurities, despite her protestations of fidelity. The insecurities are fueled by his mother-in-law, played by the acid-tongued Jesse Royce Landis, who couldn't be more dry, tossing off zingers that Gobel's character just deflects. 
An ad exec for the Sutton Advertising Agency, run by old man Frederick W. Sutton (Adolph Menjou) as if he were running the Ottoman Empire, Briggs has been sailing along on the strength of his one big "win," the Luxenberg Beer account, for which he had the idea of creating a "Miss Luxenburg" contest, won by Miss Janice Blake, who is now Mrs. Briggs. But Sutton is pushing for something new, something different, in order to keep the account alive and in the Sutton roster. Mickey is driving himself crazy trying to come up with a new concept, to the point where he's neglecting the home-fires, leading Mom-in-Law to suggest that he might be running around on Janice.
Nothing could be further from the truth, but his behavior has been so erratic with all the stress and from living in his own little pressurized bubble, he thinks that she might be cheating on him, which he'd realize as folly if only he wasn't so exhausted, spending long hours at the office and passing out as soon as he comes home. Not that there aren't lots of candidates for Janice's attention, like his sleazy fellow ad-man Bob (Steven Dunne). But, just like a lot of people in the communications business, sometimes the message never gets through.
Hilarity ensues. Well, not quite hilarity. Tempered chuckles, maybe. Gobel tries very hard; the movie calls for more energy than he was used to delivering and he compensates with a weird bouncing walk that might be a bit silly for his character. He's good at the physical stuff, a little forceful in his comic delivery showing a certain level of discomfort, but he's ably supported by the rest of the cast, a group of tried and true character actors who knew their own strengths and how best to apply them to the material.
The biggest surprise is Dors. Born Diana Mary Fluck of Swindon (in the UK), this was her first Hollywood picture (at the age of 25, the film was made in 1956 but not released until 1958). She was obviously supposed to be a Monroe-type, but she is far too forceful a presence and too self-assured to ever be confused with Marilyn, and, at least technically, she was a far better and smarter actress than her predecessor. What she doesn't have that Monroe has was magic, an indefinable "otherness" that glowed out of the screen and (as Laurence Olivier discovered) could not be directed out of her. Dors is a trooper—she knows what's expected of her and plants her feet and falls back on that good British training. You never feel a vulnerability from Dors, and you never feel empathy for her, either.
And Wayne? What is Wayne doing here? Well, as with The Seven Year Itch,** I Married a Woman (the film came out the same year as I Married a Monster from Outer Space!), has a similar summing up that the grass isn't always greener, and when Briggs takes Janice on a romantic cruise, he spies Wayne (in color!) gazing longingly out at the sea, melancholy. He's on the cruise with his wife, and life isn't as roseate in Technicolor as it is on the big screen.
That is, ultimately, the big lesson of I Married a Woman—"Don't Believe the Movies!" A healthy sentiment, that. Especially when it's a refracting fun-house mirror like this picture. There may be kernels of truth hidden in the popcorn, but the rest is just empty calories. 
The director, Hal Kanter was a very well-established writer who did a lot of work for Bob Hope and Milton Berle and he did, good, safe work ushering in this, his second film directing (the first was an Elvis Presley flick) and he exemplified comedy as comfort food—his longest stint was his association with the Academy Awards broadcast, particularly when Hope was M.C.  I Married a Woman was written by one of the great wits of radio and television, Goodman Ace, who described it as the best thing he'd ever written and one of the worst movies he had ever seen.
Diana Dors in a publicity shot for the movie.

This will take awhile to watch, but it's worth it.
This is one of the best episodes of Johnny Carson's "Tonight" Show,
where as the host puts it, he "lost control," with "unscheduled" appearances 
by Bob Hope and Dean Martin, followed by Gobel, who lays out everyone
with one of the wittiest lines ever delivered on the show.

** The Seven Year Itch was written by George Axelrod, who, along with Neil Simon, was one of the comedy students at CBS taught by I Married a Woman author Goodman Ace,

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