Artists and Models (1955)
Directed by Frank Tashlin
Saturday, June 9 and Sunday, June 10 at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Family Films“
Eugene Fullstack (Jerry Lewis) has trouble sleeping at night. He wakes up screaming with horrible visions of Vincent the Vulture—half-man, half-boy, half-bird, feathers growing out of every pore, and flying hard to lock beaks with the beautiful Zuba. It was the funnies that did this, the comic books strewn across his blanket in clasped in his hands with a vice-like grip that not even his roommate, best friend, and fellow forced insomniac Rick Todd (Dean Martin) can break. Rick’s a struggling artist, reduced to painting billboards for cash, and Eugene’s deliriums are giving him funny ideas, too. He pitches the comic book publisher Mr. Murdock (Eddie Mayehoff), who’s horrified, fascinated, and certain there’s money in them. What sex! What blood! What kind of sick mind could dream up this stuff?
Rick dreams of the millions that could help him get the attention of a pretty girl, Abby Parker (Dorothy Malone). Eugene thinks a lot about a pretty girl himself. She’s the Bat Lady, an incredible superheroine, and he’s shocked, stunned, amazed and bonkers when he meets her inside his own Greenwich Village building. He doesn’t know that she’s also Abby’s roommate and a model, Bessie Sparrowbush (Shirley MacLaine), whose horoscope says she’d meet her true love there. A little later, standing around, unsure of what else to do, Eugene puts his arms around her. Her eyes light up and she shivers a little, and she shoves him into a water cooler that boils out of control as she wraps herself even harder around him.
Frank Tashlin’s 1955 film Artists and Models is among the most blissfully silly things you’ll ever encounter, rendering both ample musical numbers and daring escapes from foreign spies in luscious candy colors (which will be shown at Lincoln Center on DVD, rather than in the original 35mm). But there’s also a little touch of sadness in it. The monstrously blithering and pop-eyed Eugene, pulled into appearing on television as proof of the depravity comics cause, is ultimately only taller and older than the little demons with whom disapproving mothers contend. He’ll never be more than an overgrown boy. But all kinds of people, even the lusty, frustrated Bessie, can make peace with him, because he really ain’t so bad. Everyone should indulge their inner child once in a while; as the film’s characters sing, life is filled with happy endings when you pretend.