Friday, December 19, 2014

VIRNA LISI - "How To Murder Your Wife" (MIKE CLIFFORD)

Maybe somebody will be offering a DVD of "How to Murder Your Wife" as a Christmas present this year…not knowing that its exotic female star just died. Look, as un-PC (and comedy challenged) as the film is, at least it's just a film. It's more likely that Christmas Day's newspapers will be loaded with real-life wife-murders, and worse.

For a while there, a few years in the mid-60's, Virna Lisi (November 8, 1936-December 18, 2014), was the blonde bombshell competition for Claudia Cardinale, Gina Lollobrigida and the older Italian sex symbols including Sophia Loren. That she never quite made it only puts her in the company of light-haired Carol Lynley, Barbara Bouchet, Joan Delaney, Sigrid Valdis, Elke Sommer, Joey Heatherton, various Bond girls and many others who had an exotic accent, a unique stare, or a curvy body.

Virna Pieralisi was already a star in Italy in the late 50's, that country's version of Marilyn Monroe, right down to the mole near her lip. Her hits included "Don't Tempt the Devil" in 1963 and "Casanova 70" in 1965. The question was when Virna would try, ala Sophia Loren or Brigitte Bardot, to crack the American market and start making films in Hollywood.

Her USA debut was "How To Murder Your Wife" in 1965. One of many banal movie sitcoms of the day, the hook was that it was supposed to be a "black comedy" of sorts. Jack Lemmon (grandpa's version of Tom Hanks) went through the motions with nothing much to work with, and Terry-Thomas was wasted. That left it to Virna, who at least made a memorable entrance popping out of a birthday cake in a bikini. Unfortunately her Italian accent was more annoying than exotic, and some viewers remained viewers, because listening to her was too much of a chore.

Neil Hefti (yes, "The Odd Couple" composer) was not well-served by the dopey lyrics to his theme song, but (unlike "The Odd Couple") at least the lyrics were used for several attempts at a hit single. The unlikely Aretha Franklin covered it, as did British crooner Mike Clifford.

Another tepid and terrible movie sitcom, "Not With My Wife You Don't" was just as bad, if not worse, with Tony Curtis playing opposite Virna. The lady did a bit better with yet another comedy, "The Birds, the Bees and the Italians," but that was about it. 1965-1966 were busy years for Virna in and out of Hollywood (she also starred with Sinatra in "Assault on a Queen") but by 1968 she was leery of more sexpot roles, and even turned down "Barbarella," which made Jane Fonda a star.

Virna remained a big star in Europe through the years, and long after her bombshell days, she won critical acclaim and some awards for "Queen Margot" in 1994, as the un-sexy but ultra evil Catherine De Medici (with Isabelle Adjani playing her daughter). Unlike some of her screen characters, Virna was happily married (from 1960 until her husband's death in 2013). Legend has it her husband was only briefly unhappy. This was when reporters asked the "Do you sleep in the nude" question. Virna replied, "It depends on who I'm sleeping with."

Not fluent in English, and not wanting her husband to start raging, she explained further. If she was sleeping in a hotel with her secretary as companion, she wore a nightgown. If she was home with her young son, she would wear pajamas. And yes, if she was with her husband, she slept nude.

The lack of nude scenes in those silly 60's movies may have helped keep a certain fascination and mystery around Virna Lisa, and enhanced her cult status for some fans. As to how to murder a peculiar novelty song…your download is below.

Mike Clifford How to Murder Your Wife

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