Artists and Models (Frank Tashlin / U.S., 1955):

The preamble distinguishes the artisan (painting the smoking lips on the gigantic billboard-ad for cigarettes) from the artist (splattering paint on the police officer watching on the sidewalk). My Sister Eileen might be the starting point for Frank Tashlin’s view of Greenwich Village, where Tamino and Papageno can find their bohemian counterparts. Dean Martin as the painter embodies the artist’s dilemma, his roommate (Jerry Lewis) is a comic-book addict who devours the adventures of "The Bat Lady" by day and by night dreams of gory sequels starring "Vincent the Vulture." Dorothy Malone is the principled cartoonist, Shirley MacLaine her model with cape and cowl. The industry thrives on base sensation, her editor (Eddie Mayehoff) yearns for the day when TV will show blood ("In spectacular color, free, right in the living room and sponsored by those friendly used-car dealers!") so Malone switches to "Freddie the Field Mouse" drawings with Lewis. Martin, meanwhile, cashes in by transcribing his roommate’s somnambulistic babbling and selling it off to adoring comic-book fans, until top secret messages pop up in the storylines and the FBI and Cold War spies step in. Though Tashlin’s main preoccupation, comics are just a fraction of the pop flotsam swirling in this exultantly vulgar sketch of the Eisenhower era -- horoscopes and numerology are alternative addictions, a magenta mushroom cloud emerges from a child’s toy-rifle, all of it is watched by an agent suspiciously reminiscent of James Stewart in Rear Window. The clothed, tangled massage-room orgy and the water cooler brought to a boiling pitch by a kiss are among the sly blue gags; Eva Gabor plays Hatta Mari from Tashlin’s Plane Daffy cartoon, MacLaine redeems Martin’s smarmy "Inamorata" number by turning it into her own plaintive, horny mating call for Lewis. The "Frenchy kind of art" deconstructive side of this extravaganza was not lost on Godard, who based half of Made in U.S.A. on it, though nothing beats Jerry’s face on TV, simultaneously the poster boy for pop culture and a warning sign of its fallout. With Anita Ekberg, Jack Elam, and Jack Winslow.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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