Artists and Models was the peak Frank Tashlin movie for Martin and Lewis. That’s a funny thing to say for a comedy duo making their 14th film. So much of this movie caters to Lewis over Martin that I’m surprised Dean-o was cool with the film. You can almost feel the rewrites that gave Dean Martin’s Rick a much needed job change. It’s pretty crazy, but it adds to the nuttiness of the film.
The antics of Martin and Lewis have seemingly been lost on modern viewers. Too many either know the parody or they don’t know anything that exists prior to the year 2000. So, what are these kids to make of a film about two men living together while loosely working in the arts? I tend to keep a younger viewer with me when watching movies and that person asked if Martin and Lewis were supposed to be gay. I told her No, Artists and Models wasn’t that progressive in 1955.
December 20th, 1955 is the date I’m marking off as the anniversary point since that is when Artists and Models went wide. Due to shifting roll-outs and historical deep dives, that part has been the biggest headaches of these book look back efforts. It doesn’t matter, but I like keep tracking of things due to a personal tic.
So, what is so awesome about Artists and Models? Well, it’s a goofy major film about finding love and comics in 1955. It would be like if Mallrats was a major Christmas studio release. Artists and Models doesn’t use any established characters to tell its story. Tashlin makes up a character called Vultureman that Jerry Lewis dreams about and uses to uncover a secret rocket formula.
Sounds crazy, right? Well, welcome to the world of Artists and Models. Nothing in the film makes sense. Dean Martin gets promotions, job shifts and various titles throughout the movie. Jerry Lewis stumbles into most of his life. If that wasn’t enough, Artists and Models can’t tell if the duo is supposed to be poor or rich.
Dorothy Malone creating the Bat Lady for Shirley MacLaine to portray is everything I dig about Tashlin. What could have been a disposable romantic lead is given her own pivot point in the plot. She’s actually doing the same job as Dean Martin, but making way more money and is independent. Her Jerry Lewis hanger-on helps model her costumes and helps her to make money. It’s a Martin and Lewis team-up but with women who are far more on the ball.
This was Tashlin’s first feature film at Paramount after leaving the Warner Brothers Animation Department. Tashlin had knocked down a few RKO and Bob Hope movies. Tashlin hadn’t bought into certain standards when he took over Artists and Models. After all, it’s not like Termite Terrace thought anything about valuing men more than women or not balancing plots.
MacLaine and Lewis are quite the great couple. They’re bubbly and quirky, plus they really seem to enjoy each other. I wish that Jerry Lewis had more female co-stars like this in his other films. Allowing Lewis not to mug the entire time and forcing him to play off someone other than Martin could produce terrific results. Things like that are why Artists and Models was also frustrating.
When Martin and Lewis worked on films, they rarely dominated a film at the same time. It was a give and take that never had the duo sharing the limelight equally. It’s an odd thing, so I took a look at all of the films the duo did and then the movies they made apart. Each man knew what they brought to the table, but it was something that didn’t quite work when crammed into the same film.
Coming at the film as a comic book history fan, it’s odd to see when this movie hit. The Kefauver Hearings and Seduction of the Innocent were dominating at the time in pop culture. This is when parents tossed comics into the garbage, stores shuttered and books were burned for being a bad influence on kids. So many child psychiatrist frauds got to make up pure garbage and destroy the comic book’s hold on American entertainment.
By making a Martin and Lewis film about how adults can use comic books to have fun must have been revolutionary back in 1955. A mature romantic comedy about comics, artists and the goofballs they meet provides for great jokes and comedic setups. So much of the film involves putting Shirley MacLaine into a giant Bat Woman costume. What’s stupid is that it looks rather cool on her.
By the time Artists and Models ends, I wish I had a time machine to see the look on the face of the adult crowd. Sure, the kids loved it…but what would adults make of a film like this? Given that it was a Martin and Lewis movie, I’d assume that people knew what to expect by their 14th movie. Still, it had to be an oddity given that point in history.
That was the smart talk about Artists and Models, let’s have an essential rant about it.
Artists and Models marks a weird point in the Martin and Lewis partnership. Especially because by the time of the film’s release, the duo was in production on their final two movies. While Artists and Models made a profit, it was still one of the highest budgeted Martin and Lewis outings.
The writing was on the wall, as Dean Martin had his foot out the door to join the Rat Pack. Then, you had Jerry Lewis wanting to become a serious comedic filmmaker. What sucks about Artists and Models being so wonderful is that undercurrent of something major happening…just not in the way you wanted it.
While I always complain about younger viewers and casuals not caring about films of a certain age. Hell, we’re at a point where YouTubers want a back pat for finally watching The Naked Gun. Everyone is going to be viewing something for the first time. It’s just that between streaming, cable, physical media and everything else…why are you still watching the same old shit?
I spent the last few weeks trying to get everyone I know to give it a shot. The response I got? But, I need to watch Peanuts Christmas whatever. That show has been around for 50 plus years and it’s only 22 minutes long. Then, they bitch about how you can only watch it on Apple TV Plus. Well, PBS is going to show it too since everyone whined.
They never bother to watch anything other than the same handful of shit they keep watching. But, those that you can get to watch other things…well, it’s the same shit that tastemakers and their friends keep recycling over and over again. Did you see A Teacher? You should really see A Teacher? SNL made fun of A Teacher! So on and so forth.
All the while, I’m like spare a few minutes to watch a comedy about comic books from 1955. I don’t want you to spend your time watching 50s cinema. Hell, watch it once and forget about it. Film watching effort is something that doesn’t get talked about a lot anymore, but it’s needed when we’re facing a never-ending sea of content.
People don’t have to watch the same things, but they just need to keep watching the same old staples. Adults that only eat macaroni and chicken fingers get crapped on for having juvenile tastes. The same should apply to you if all you watch is Teen Mom 2 and Sportscenter. You have a phone, you can watch Teen Moms on TikTok and Sports News is literally everywhere.
Artists and Models will rarely get any new fans, but we need to understand our shared film history. Watch everything and learn what you like and don’t like. You don’t need to be a genius, but process everything. I don’t eat Sushi all the time because it gives me insane headaches. But, I still appreciate it.
The same goes for film and TV. I only like Season 4 of The Wire, but I still watched the entire series. What’s really funny to think about how is how many woke and socially active people cover their processing ignorance by whipping out issues at random. I’m not really sure what these people could hate about Artists and Models.
But, that’s where we are as a society. Some people are legit concerned, others hide their ignorance by trying to put everything under a social proof microscope. I can’t watch this because Dean Martin played a fake drunk and that makes fun of alcoholism. Jerry Lewis was a jerk to my Uncle one time at the MDA Telethon and I’m going to write a Medium article about it.
Hell, if you’re going to have an issue with Jerry Lewis go for the big albatross that is The Day The Clown Cried. Just imagine if Artists and Models was about a comic book artist drawing a superhero book to entertain holocaust kids. Hell, I still think Frank Tashlin could’ve directed the hell out of that hypothetical movie.
So, where are we now? Artists and Models turned 65 and is widely available on Digital from Paramount. I included a link to buy the movie on DVD, because Paramount didn’t give me a direct purchase link for the Digital copy. If that’s a problem, I’ll ask the Mountain if they can get me a link to help you guys out. That’s it for today.