Times Two

A mystery of the universe —

First, the Discovery. We watched Pabst’s film of Brect & Weill’s THE THREEPENNY OPERA for the first time — I’d only seen his French version — and laughed at the clever, tasteless joke where Meckie is accused of having carnal knowledge of underage twins. “They told me they were over thirty,” he protests. “Put together,” he’s told.

I suddenly flashed on the notion that Billy Wilder had adapted/stolen this gag for my favourite line in KISS ME, STUPID, Dino’s “The Beatles? I sing better ‘n’ all four of ’em put together! And I’m YOUNGER — than all four of ’em put together.”

The Mystery: This led us to rewatch KMS and to my dismay the line wasn’t there. Dino says “I sing better ‘n’ all three of them,” Felicia Farr says “There’s four of them!” and Dino quips “Haven’t you heard? One of ’em got his hair caught in his guitar and was electrocuted.”

I could be misremembering, but I don’t think I could misremember a joke that good. If it’s an alternative take, it’s pretty interesting because it comes as part of a master shot well over a minute long.

The History: I last watched the movie on VHS, in an atrocious pan-and-scan version. The movie loses all of Billy Wilder and Doane Harrison’s beautiful blocking and cutting, but none of its leering grotesquerie. So quite possibly the VHS came from a different source from the DVD. And I suppose it’s just possible that Wilder shot two versions, maybe for censorship reasons. Since this scene shows a putatively single man (Dino is basically playing himself, and was married irl) getting into bed with a married woman, so it’s arguably the most risque in the movie.

A Secondary Discovery: the movie begins in Vegas, with Dino finishing a run and making a run for it — the whole chorus line wants to spend the night with him and even this Italian galleon doesn’t feel up to THAT. Among the women he’s fleeing, we’re told, are “those German twins, Sylvie and Mizzi.” Which feels like Wilder & Diamond giving Brecht credit for the gag they (in my memory, at least) are going to adapt later. Same as when Ray Walston calls his piano student “a male Lolita” — acknowledgement to Nabokov who first recognised and exploited the comic potential of Climax, Nevada.

The Side-Observation: In THE LADYKILLERS, Peter Sellers voiced Mrs. Wilberforce’s parrots, as well as appearing as one of the crooks. KISS ME STUPID started production as a Sellers vehicle (after Jack Lemmon, Wilder’s favourite star and Felicia Farr’s real-life husband, proved unavailable) but was shut down by his heart attack. Wilder recast with Ray Walston. Now, it would’ve been great if he’d recorded Sellers voicing Sam the Parrot (“Bang-bang!”) and then Sellers could have haunted the soundtrack, a ghost in the machine. We listened very closely to that parrot. “Sounds like Ray Walston to me,” said Fiona.

So that’s THAT cleared up, at least.

But does anybody else remember hearing Brecht’s joke in this movie?

13 Responses to “Times Two”

  1. Jeff Gee Says:

    Wikipedia: “In 2002 a print was shown in several U.S. cities containing the originally-shot seduction scene in Polly’s trailer (seen in European exhibition), rather than the tamer replacement Wilder has supplied in hope of satisfying the Catholic Legion of Decency.” So there are definitely two existing versions of that scene.

  2. David Ehrenstein Says:

    As a Very lapsed Catholic (I bailed at Confirmation as the bishop]s sermon resembled that of a sub-par Vegas MC) I well remember yje “Legion of Decency” and its ratings. It objected to “Meet Me in Las Vegas” with Cyd Charisse, Dan Dailey and briefly Lena Horne for “Suggestive costuming.” “Gee,” mu underage self said “I thought they were pretty.” But the “Legion” wasn’t alone in objecting to Wilder’sMaudit masterpiece which was treated by most critics like a fart at High Mass. Billy’s sole defender was none other than Joan Didion in “Vogue” magazine

    The “Male Lolita” was played by Tom Nolan who had previously been directed by Billy in “The Seven Year Itch” where he played To Ewell’s son whose boating paddle is a major deus ex machina in the plot. He went on to become a notable writer and observer of Hollywood.

  3. Terrific — must look into Nolan.

    Good to know I’m not losing my mind. So it looks like the UK DVD is carrying the sexier version, since the couple lie down together on a bed in the dark and the scene fades out, and I can’t picture there being a version stronger than that in 1964. (And the Beatles joke/s is/are pretty up-to-date considering they only made it to the US in ’63. Wilder was still hooked into popular culture, for the moment.)

    So there’s a good chance any Shadowplayers stateside may have a different version — I’d love to know. And I’m annoyed with myself for getting rid of my old VHS because the joke in that version is stronger.

    Wilder & Diamond weren’t the only ones to amuse themselves by fantasizing the death of a Beatle: Anthony Burgess, in his second Enderby novel, has a John Lennon manque pop star/poet assassinated, anticipating reality by over a decade.

  4. The good version of the Beatles joke is in the original trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6B0UT8jgXc4

  5. Oh, great! It also cuts into a closer shot of Farr not present in my version, though it might just be a blow-up created for the trailer.

  6. Jeff Gee Says:

    The Beatle electricution joke version is here around 1 hour and 42 minutes…

  7. Oh, and I’m assured that the parrot is voiced by Mel Blanc, who’s also the dentist in the film. Which of course makes perfect sense. To think: we would have had a phone call scene between Sellers and Blanc.

  8. Kiss Me, Stupid was revised on disc, twice. There is the domestic version with the tamer content and the international cut. I think that the other Beatles line is in the domestic version that no longer circulates. A number of years ago it was found that two or three other bits here and there in the show had been changed as well, so the Blu-ray is the full international cut that represents Wilder’s original film. MGM has kept the domestic version, but to see the alternate take for the trailer scene you have to go back to the 2003 DVD, where it has been retained as an extra. More detail is at https://www.dvdtalk.com/dvdsavant/s4721kiss.html

  9. chris schneider Says:

    Of course, Wilder had already placed a LOLITA joke in IRMA LA DOUCE, what with the tart with the heart-shaped shades. When I finally saw KISS ME STUPID, a few years back, the stuff with the broken-down car reminded me of Wilder-scripted HOLD BACK THE DAWN. Dean Martin’s situation, in the small town, also reminded me of Kirk Douglas in his hauled car in ACE IN THE HOLE. At the time I also worked up a notion that I preferred b&w Wilder to the color version, that filming in b&w gave Wilder a *secco* briskness one didn’t find in the color films.

  10. David Ehrenstein Says:

    Wilder is S’wonderful!

  11. Thanks, Glenn!

    I love The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes but I think it’s true that his great films are b&w. Maybe the slower pace is due to age, though. But interestingly, his first “failure”, The Emperor Waltz, was his first colour pic.

    Ray Walston spends about ten minutes carrying a half grapefruit to use on his wife, a Cagney reference already applied in One Two Three, so that Kiss Me Stupid is a kind of compendium of Wilderian tropes…

  12. When I saw Dean Martin live! in Las Vegas! circa 1986, he was still performing the routine from the beginning of Kiss Me, Stupid. Almost word for word, as far as I can remember. Staggering around drunk, though his timing was so precise he clearly wasn’t.

    And it was brilliant! God level. It was so perfect he even won over the one member of my group who was a Dean Martin sceptic. It was stand-up nirvana.

  13. Imagine what he must’ve been like live with Jerry Lewis!

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