Painter Rick Todd (Dean Martin) is having difficulty with his career, so he starts taking inspiration from the dreams of his friend and roommate, Eugene (Jerry Lewis), a comic book fan who narrates an adventure story while he sleeps. Unbeknown to Eugene, Abigail Parker (Dorothy Malone), the artist for his favorite comic book, lives in the same building with her roommate, Bessie (Shirley MacLaine), the model for Abigail's drawings. Eventually, the two pairs meet, and Bessie takes to Eugene.
“Artists and Models, which provided the Dean Martin – Jerry Lewis duo with its finest screen hour, is a dizzily reflexive play on movie illusion.
Eugene (Lewis) is a comic book addict whose colourful dreams are transcribed – and secretly sold by Ricky (Martin). (The unofficial source for this plot is the media-panic caused by Dr. Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of the Innocent, an exposé of the deleterious effects of comics on tender minds.) They are mirrored by two women, sultry graphic artist Abby (Dorothy Malone) and ditzy Bessie (Shirley MacLaine).
Tashlin’s endlessly inventive game of permutation and combination between these four characters builds to a piece of burlesque mayhem without equal in the annals of film comedy: Eugene and Bessie’s delirious détournement of the kitschy romantic ballad ‘Inamorata’.
With its plot that launches without warning into an international espionage intrigue (enter Eva Gabor), and its splendid musical demonstration of image-and-sound artifice (the number ‘When You Pretend’), it is little wonder that the strategies of Artists and Models have subsequently been respectfully echoed in the merry modernisms of Jacques Rivette (Céline and Julie Go Boating, 1974) and P. T. Anderson (Punch-Drunk Love, 2002).”
“Artists and Models had recently been rereleased in Paris, and [William] Klein noted with amusement having seen Jacques Rivette first in line in front of a cinema where it was opening, ‘as if it were Potemkin’.”
« Pas de film plus désolant, plus atroce d’humour, plus saumâtre, où la richesse d’invention aggrave chaque seconde la pauvreté des situations, où le spectateur mal à l’aise rit d'abord d’un rire forcé, en éprouve de la honte, rit à nouveau mécaniquement, pris dans un impitoyable engrenage de stupidités, et finit par s’esclaffer parce que ce n’est pas drôle. [...] On voit que Tashlin garde le meilleur souvenir de Lubitsch, celui de Cluny Brown et de To be or not to be. La comédie américaine est morte. Soit.
Vive la comédie américaine. »
“No film could be more devastating, more bitter in its humour, more brackish, with the richness of the invention constantly aggravated by the poverty of the situations, with the uneasy spectator at first forcing an unwilling laugh, then feeling ashamed, laughing again mechanically, seized in a pitiless mesh of imbecilities, and ending by roaring with laughter because it isn’t funny at all. [...] It’s easy to see that Tashlin fondly remembers the Lubitsch of Cluny Brown and To be or not to be. American comedy is dead? So be it.
Long live American comedy.”
“The best Martin and Lewis films, Artists and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956), were made by their best director, Frank Tashlin, whom Lewis acknowledged as his mentor (and who made ‘a strategic decision to let [Lewis] in on the technical aspects’ of filmmaking.”
- 1. Adrian Martin, “Artists and Models,” 2003. Artists and Models is part of Adrian Martin’s top 50 films of all time, which, on his own website, he calls his Infinite Best Films List.
- 2. Jonathan Rosenbaum, “Tashlinesque,” Essential Cinema: On the Necessity of Film Canons (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2004), 307.
- 3. Jean-Luc Godard, “Mirliflores et Bécassines (sur Artists and Models et The Lieutenant Wore Skirts,” Cahiers du Cinéma, nr. 62 (1956): 48. This review marked Godard’s return to Cahiers after an almost four year hiatus, most of which he spent back home in the area of Geneva.
- 4. Jean-Luc Godard, “The Lieutenant Wore Skirts and Artists and Models,” in Godard on Godard, red. and transl. Tom Milne (London: Secker and Warburg, 1972), 36. These 1956 “it isn’t funny”-lines prefigure Godard’s 1980 answer to Dick Cavett’s question if he finds Jerry Lewis funny: “Very, very, very. If not, no. I think it’s very funny. Even when it’s not funny, it’s more funny, because it’s not funny.”
- 5. Chris Fujiwara, Jerry Lewis (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009), 4.