Posted by Kimberly Lindbergs on April 18, 2013
This has been a rough week. And when the bad news starts to outweigh the good I like to escape my worries with a great comedy that makes me laugh out loud and allows me to forget my troubles for a few short hours. I recently found some comic relief in my favorite Martin and Lewis film, Frank Tashlin’s ARTISTS AND MODELS (1955). I grew up watching this brilliant musical satire and it never fails to put a big goofy grin on my face. Your own mileage will vary of course but here are 10 reasons why you should consider watching ARTISTS AND MODELS today.
1) The Color Palette
Frank Tashlin was a Technicolor master and in ARTISTS AND MODELS it seems like every frame of his film is awash in deep reds, vivid blues and bright yellows. This is typical of many of Tashlin’s films but the plot of ARTIST AND MODELS, which involves an artist (Dean Martin) and his comic book obsessed roommate (Jerry Lewis), seems like it was designed to give Tashlin the opportunity to play with a broad color palette and create eye-popping imagery that literally jumps off the screen.
2) Shirley MacLaine as The Bat Lady
The Bat Lady is a fictional comic book heroine that Jerry Lewis’ character is obsessed with. Shirley MacLaine plays an artist’s model who portrays the Bat Lady but at one point in the film her costume is stolen by Eva Gabor. Both women look fabulous as the mysterious masked heroine but Gabor lacks MacLaine’s offbeat charm and girl next door sex appeal. The Bat Lady is MacLaine’s character and she owns it.
3) Eddie Mayehoff as Mr. Murdock
Eddie Mayehoff was a very funny man who appeared in some of Martin and Lewis’ best comedies including THAT’S MY BOY (1951) and THE STOOGE (1952). In ARTISTS AND MODELS he plays a shrewd comic book publisher and is responsible for some of the films biggest laughs. Mayehoff’s memorable office exchange with Lewis is one of most hilarious things I’ve ever seen thanks to the cartoon-like antics of both men and Tashlin’s creative direction.
4) Dean Martin sings “The Lucky Song”
For my money this isn’t just one of the movie’s best musical numbers, it’s also one of the best moments in Dean Martin’s film career. Martin plays a starving artist who decides to illustrate comic books to make a buck and after getting his first big paycheck he belts out “The Lucky Song.” This upbeat number seems tailor-made for the man and his distinctive baritone voice. It’s a joy to watch him strut down the street while giving away his money and handing out free comic books to kids who eventually end up dancing with him. It’s also shot beautifully by Tashlin and you can watch it here.
5) The Telephone Call
One of the film’s funniest moments involves Lewis answering a phone call for Martin while he’s busy taking a bath. Because they live in an apartment without an elevator, Lewis is forced to run up and down the stars numerous times asking questions until he finally runs out of breath. What follows is a exchange where Lewis breathlessly tries to explain the phone message to an increasingly frustrated Martin. This is a wonderful example of why the comedy team of Martin and Lewis was so successful.
6) Anita Ekberg as “Anita”
I love Anita Ekberg and although she only appears briefly in ARTIST AND MODELS the Swedish actress manages to make a big impact playing Martin’s ex-love interest. This was Ekberg’s sixth film appearance but one of the few where she was actually credited and given some lines to say. The exotic statuesque blond looks like she stepped off the pages of a comic book and effortlessly becomes part of the film’s fanciful landscape.
7) The Chemistry Between Jerry Lewis & Shirley MacLaine
Shirley MacLaine is Jerry Lewis’ love interest in the movie and the two have great chemistry on screen. In My Lucky Stars: A Hollywood Memoir, MacLaine describes her days on the set in heartbreaking detail explaining how Martin and Lewis were bickering constantly. This would eventually lead to the comedy team’s split but MacLaine obviously had respect for both men and admitted that she found Jerry Lewis “sexy.” I think this is evident when you watch the movie. They appear in one of the film’s best musical numbers together where MacLaine sings “Innamorata (Sweetheart)” and attempts to seduce the clueless Lewis with her dance moves. Unfortunately MacLaine and Lewis never worked together again but that makes their moments together in ARTISTS AND MODELS all the more special. You can watch them in “Innamorata (Sweetheart)” here.
8) Hospital Twister
One of the film’s funniest gags takes place in a hospital after Jerry Lewis’ character injures his back. Somehow Lewis and Martin end up in an impromptu game of twister with a group of nurses and therapists on a massage table.
9) Dorothy Malone as Abigail Parker
Dorothy Malone plays a successful comic book artist and the creator of The Bat Lady who eventually falls for Dean Martin’s character. While her story arch takes a conventional nosedive towards the end of the film, it’s fun watching her play a single woman working in a field that’s often dominated by men.
10) Martin and Lewis sing “Artists and Models”
The film’s big splashy musical number is “Artists and Models” and it’s sung by Martin and Lewis. You’d never guess from watching this film that the daring duo were about to make their last film together and in many regards “Artists and Models” is their swan song as one of Hollywood’s most fascinating and successful comedy teams. It’s a catchy tune written by Harry Warren and Jack Brooks sung on an amazing set and filmed with panache by Frank Tashlin. Tashlin makes the most of his technicolor palette here while Martin and Lewis seem to be having the time of their lives surround by a bevy of beautiful actresses all dressed in spectacular costumes.
There are plenty of other reasons to enjoy ARTIST AND MODELS so if you haven’t had the opportunity to see this subversive and stylish musical comedy do yourself a favor and give it a look. It’s available on DVD and currently streaming at Amazon.
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