I had one more project on my plate yesterday to finish, but I managed to take some brief time out to catch Who Was That Lady? (1960) on TCM. It stars Dean Martin and the husband-and-wife team of Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh in a sporadically funny comedy about two buddies (that would be Dino and Tony) who convince Tony’s wife (that would be Janet) that a brief moment of infidelity (Curtis is an assistant chemistry professor caught in the act of kissing an exchange student) is actually a cover-up for their true profession as FBI agents. This innocent lie snowballs into a plot involving real foreign agents, and…say it with me…the wacky complications ensue.
Curtis was an tremendously underrated actor who demonstrated he had “the right stuff” with prestigious films like Sweet Smell of Success (1957), The Defiant Ones (1958) and Some Like it Hot (1959) but his career seem to stall in the 1960s with a gazillion god-awful comedy vehicles: 40 Pounds of Trouble (1962), Wild and Wonderful (1964), Boeing Boeing (1965), etc. Lady is one of his better efforts from that period (though personally I prefer Don’t Make Waves ), due to a strong script based on the 1958 stage play by Norman Krasna, and a really first-rate supporting cast. James Whitmore (channeling Spencer Tracy) and John McIntire are real FBI agents who make the mistake of underestimating how much damage to the bureau’s reputation the film’s starring trio will cause, and character great Larry Keating is a CIA agent—though it would have made more sense to cast him as a Fed, too…or at least allow him to do their Equitable Life Assurance commercials. Also in the cast are TDOY fave Barbara Nichols and Joi Lansing as a pair of bimbos mistaken for foreign agents, and Simon Oakland and Larry Storch (who’s downright hilarious) as the real bad guys.
If you look fast enough, you’ll also spot cameos from RKO’s answer to Abbott & Costello, Wally Brown and Alan Carney, Three Stooges supporting player Emil Sitka, and silent comedian “Snub” Pollard as a tattoo artist. (Plus—and I think only someone like me would notice this—the television in the bar of the Chinese restaurant is showing The Huckleberry Hound Show, so Daws Butler kind of gets a workout voicing Huck, Yogi Bear and Mr. Jinks.) But the real surprise in Lady is a brief appearance from Jack Benny—the IMDb says he plays himself, but he’s addressed in the movie as “Cosgrove” and is apparently a make-up man. I’m curious as to whether Benny’s lifelong friendship with screenwriter Krasna was responsible for this funny cameo; Krasna is the one who gave Benny the immortal “like a moose needs a hat rack” line that Jack often tried to use to get a laugh on his radio show (and failed). (Some of the Benny radio programs from the 1940s had a running gag in which Jack would supposedly spot Krasna on the street and ask how he was doing, prompting Mel Blanc to provide Norman’s response with his patented Woody Woodpecker laugh.)
Who Was That Lady? is available on DVD; it’s part of a Dean Martin “double feature” disc that also contains Dino’s 1968 comedy How to Save a Marriage and Ruin Your Life. Oddly, Lady is available only as a single DVD in Region 2—I once toyed with the idea of purchasing a copy…but I don’t need to now.