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Boeing Boeing

Boeing Boeing(1965)

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It's no secret that some movies age more gracefully than others. Content that shocked audiences thirty or forty years ago plays regularly for tots on TV today. So it's genuinely amusing to watch a big-studio production from 1965 that now would bring four out of five women to their feet in protest. I mean, this new Olive Films release would provoke a Tea Party matron to shout feminist slogans. Boeing, Boeing is a light comedy that doesn't mean to offend anybody, and indeed was deemed acceptable for family audiences when new. If one had to show a girlfriend either this picture or Verhoeven's gross-fest Showgirls, choosing would not be easy. All three of the film's leading ladies are listed on one title card, with each of their names followed by their measurements. Some viewers consider Billy Wilder's 1965 farce Kiss Me, Stupid to be tasteless, but that show is the height of wit by comparison. That's a sure sign that Boeing, Boeing is ripe for a major rediscovery.

The story is a bedroom farce without sex, just the way they liked to make 'em back in the days of the Production Code, when nice girls didn't, at least not on the screen. The basic sex farce consisted of a prolonged tease that invariably ended up at the altar. Then The Pill came along and changed everything; what was then called premarital sex suddenly became much less risky. And the new era of sexual liberation was soon reflected in the movies. Edward Anhalt's film adaptation of Boeing, Boeing opens up Marc Camoletti's original play but most of the action takes place on one set, a swingin' bachelor pad. Womanizing newspaperman Bernard Lawrence (Tony Curtis) can't keep his girl-hungry colleague Robert Reed (Jerry Lewis, in adult acting mode) from stopping over at his Paris flat. Rob therefore gets a first-hand look at Bernard's fantastic dating arrangement. The playboy juggles three fianceés on a tricky timetable. Vicky Hawkins, Jacqueline Grieux and Lise Bruner (Susannah Leigh, Dany Saval & Christiane Schmidter) are all stewardesses on very set flight schedules. As Bernard explains, he always has one on the ground, one coming in and one off on the other side of the world. He's been very successful at making sure that the three women never meet each other. Robert is flabbergasted by this scheme. Unable to corner even one girlfriend, he immediately moves in on Bernard's harem. But this bachelor's paradise goes haywire when all three stews give Bernard the same bad news: their respective airlines British United, Air France and Lufthansa are changing over to new, faster Boeing aircraft. Their schedules are not unpredictable, and there's no way Bernard can keep their paths from crossing.

I don't imagine that Boeing, Boeing raised very many eyebrows in 1965. It's of the same vintage as the utterly tasteless Bob Hope movie I'll Take Sweden, which even when new played as one long snickering, immature joke about the supposedly sex crazy Swedes. Today the Swedes in the film look sane while the sex-obsessed Americans with their eye-rolling double-entendres come off as morons. The show derives almost all of its comedy mileage from a single burlesque-level humor situation: one fianceé is taking a shower, another is in the kitchen and a third is knocking on the door. How is our oversexed hero going to keep them from discovering each other's existence? Permutations of that setup are repeated for 90 solid minutes. The slim premise is barely enough to flesh out a single Playboy cartoon.

Like the previous Boy's Night Out, Boeing, Boeing obeys the basic rules of the classic Bachelor Pad comedy. Tony Curtis's ambitious Bernard is a clever guy just trying to get some, as they say. Neither he nor Robert are capable of honest behavior with a woman, or as much as a single sincere word. The girls are just there to be lured into the sack. Each seems extremely eager; each appears at least once wearing a sexy nightgown or wrapped in an abbreviated towel. They are of course differentiated only by nationality, which is expressed by choice of diet (kidneys or bratwurst or a soufflé) and insulting stereotypes. The German Lise is a robust and buxom blonde who lectures Robert on the idea that the nude body should not in itself be automatically associated with sex. One joke shows Lise having difficulty doing push-ups because of her large bosom.

Robert and Bernard race madly about the apartment to keep the girls from colliding, an effort that makes the women seem like bimbos in a burlesque act. It's the kind of comedy where one woman dressing in the bedroom cannot hear another woman shouting ten feet away, through just one closed door.

Helping out but not compensating is the talented Thelma Ritter as Bertha, Bernard's harried housekeeper. Bertha fires off smart remarks and mutinous mutterings at all the unreasonable demands made by her employer. She changes the photos in Bernard's picture frames and hides each girl's lingerie from the others. A typical performance highlight is seeing Bertha make shocked faces at the size of Lise's bra. Ms. Ritter has been babysitting as comedy relief for oversexed young couples since the late 1940s. She looks ready to turn in her SAG card.

Making a show like this go the distance without flagging is a tall order, and Curtis and Lewis work themselves into a frenzy. The competent director John Rich spent most of his time directing top TV shows; he'd later gain fame for his contribution to Norman Lear's All in the Family. Curtis has his charmingly insincere cad act down cold, and it's pleasant to see Jerry Lewis so effortlessly holding up his end. As a study of comedy -- what works and what doesn't, Boeing, Boeing is fascinating. The general level of humor will bring back the days of Playboy's party jokes and wink-wink cartoons, only with even less sophistication.

The actual on-screen title is Boeing (707), Boeing (707), and the movie sometimes seems like a grandiose commercial to sell American passenger aircraft overseas. All three major European airlines are apparently overjoyed by Boeing's fast new craft. The stewardesses excitedly quote the new engine thrust data as if describing an oversexed lover. Does Boeing, Boeing represent some kind of early, surreptitious product placement arrangement?

With both leading men still considered top stars, a problem arose when the came time to assign billing on Boeing, Boeing -- neither wanted a credit below the other. The dilemma was solved by designing a main title card that spells out Tony Curtis and Jerry Lewis in a spinning circle around the hub of a jet aircraft engine. Neither name is on top. Poster artwork for the film arranged the star names like an airplane propeller, to the same purpose.

Olive Films' Blu-ray of Boeing, Boeing is a handsome encoding of this brightly colored sex comedy. Skin tones are rich and the bits of Parisian locations we see look great. Cameraman Lucien Ballard isn't called upon to flex his dramatic lighting skills, but he gets the most out of the studio sets. One exterior scene plays out on the raised open-air platforms around the terminals at the Orly Airport. When Tony Curtis meets one of his stewardesses there, we're reminded of the eerie conclusion of La jetée.

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by Glenn Erickson