Who Was That Lady (1960) with Tony Curtis

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A light-hearted leer at love among the adults!

Here Tony Curtis gets top billing, but I am going to give the star role to Dean Martin in 1960’s Who Was That Lady? Although Tony Curtis is wonderful here, and definitely does nothing to diminish the proceedings, it is really Dean Martin’s total essence of coolness which lend this movie strength. Coupling with this dynamic duo is Tony Curtis’ on-screen wife (and off-screen as well) Janet Leigh .

It’s a great cast but a silly plot but surprisingly the plot doesn’t matter in the slightest. Curtis and Martin are pals David Wilson and Michael Haney, respectively. Wilson is a chemistry professor (of all things) while Haney is a screenwriter for CBS.

David’s wife Ann (Janet Leigh) catches him kissing a student in his chemistry lab and presumably this isn’t the first time and, in frustration announces her desire to call it quits on the marriage. In a panic Tony Curtis calls old friend Dean Martin, who, after only a moment’s thought concocts the craziest idea to extract David from his predicament.

You see, David is (or will pretend to be) a FBI agent who was kissing the student only as part of an assignment. Dean Martin has the CBS prop department create a fake sidearm and a counterfeit ID card as well to support the charade. Even more startling than the creation of such an outright stupid story is that Ms. Wilson – Janet Leigh- believes it!

It seems not only crazy that Leigh would believe such a farcical tale but also that Curtis would resort to such a farfetched notion as opposed to simple saying the student surprised him or the like. If you get hung up on this you will despise this movie. If you take it for what it is, Who Was That Lady? is actually pretty darn enjoyable.

This crazy plot ultimately involves the FBI (the real thing this time) and some real secret agents and a dramatic flooding of a NYC based submarine…perhaps. Trying to hedge all the gimmicks but the pace is fast and furious and although there are no real guffaws in the film it is pretty humorous throughout. But again, the real star is Dean Martin.

Dino, who is often diminished as an actor- or simply as a drunken sot- given his runs as Jerry Lewis’ foil or as one of the myriad members of the Rat Pack- really, and without trying, steals the entire picture. And although there are the typical 1960esque smarmy one liner from Martin, it is really his body language which delivers the message that just perhaps he is in on the joke and even he doesn’t take the picture so seriously.

For me perhaps the best example of the “coolness” Dean Martin lends to the picture is a scene about part way through. – about 1:12 in actually. The owner of the restaurant Dean and Tony are frequenting while courting (on the job of course) two women, is being accosted at the bar. Dean, who is also at the bar, calmly sees the altercation brewing. Slowly he finishes his drink, deliberately wipes his mouth and saunters (not walks, but saunters) over to the accoster. Dino looks up and punches the guy out. No emotion, just purely matter of factly takes care of business.

This is only one example of Dean Martin’s level of laid back irreverence which he lends to the picture. Granted, much of this is by design to support his persona, but so much of the charm of the picture is lent by his non-verbal communication- including the facial contortions, etc.

Directed by George Sidney Who Was that Lady? is a good film which is hysterical in its overall tone and complete lack of sense. Available on Netflix and on a two-DVD set of Dean Martin with the lesser (in my opinion) How to Save a Marriage. Who Was That Lady? is the better picture. My recommendation would be to get it on Netflix and see what you think. Probably not needed in your library long term but a great escape if only for Dino!

And for the record, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis are not bad, just not up to the level of Dino!

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