American playboy Bernard Lawrence (Tony Curtis) has designed a crafty system using the airline timetables to maintain romantic liaisons with three different air hostesses. However Bernard’s carefully constructed schedule starts to unravel after fellow journalist Robert Reed (Jerry Lewis) arrives at his apartment in Paris, needing a place to stay. This, coupled with a sudden change to the flight order, forces Bernard to enlist Robert’s help in attempting to keep his three fiancés from discovering each other.
The post-war economic boom (and isn’t that a pretentious way to begin discussing a sex comedy?), bolstered man’s faith in applying scientific ingenuity towards achieving any goal - which included his ceaseless quest to attain sex on tap. Which is essentially the premise of Boeing Boeing. Sold with the tagline: “the big comedy of Nineteen-Sexty-Sex!” its premise is something some contemporary viewers - not least of all women - may find unsavoury but undoubtedly reflects the sexual aspirations of an era. Or as Bernard puts it: “All the advantages of married life without any of its inconveniences.” He also notes: “Fiancés are a lot ‘friendlier’ than wives.” It is worth pointing out this was harmless, mainstream entertainment back in 1965, that never set out to offend anybody even though there is a faintly seedy undertone to the French colleague (Lomax Study) who procures girls for Bernard almost like a pimp.
Based on the classic French stage farce by Marc Camoletti, that was revived theatrically to some acclaim in 2008 and inspired no less than two Bollywood adaptations in 1985 and 2005 by the same director, Boeing Boeing first reached the big screen in its native land in 1960 before it caught the attention of veteran comedy producer Hal B. Wallis at Paramount Pictures. Wallis shaped the American remake into what became Paramount’s last film with Jerry Lewis, ending their seventeen year association, and one which by all accounts was a pretty tumultuous production with both Lewis and Tony Curtis allegedly guilty of various egregious antics.
Interestingly it is technology, the very means by which Bernard achieves his one-sided state of sexual bliss, that proves his eventual undoing. His troubles really begin when air travel goes supersonic, making a mockery of his methodology. However, a subtext that seems to have snuck into the screen adaptation by Edward Anhalt implies cultural differences aren’t worth the hassle for the American male dabbling with European women. This being farce, everybody is reduced to caricatures perceived largely through the weary eyes of Bertha (Thelma Ritter), Bernard’s annoyingly acerbic housekeeper. German hostess Lisa (Christiane Schmidtmer) is a statuesque fitness fanatic prone to barking orders, Frenchwoman Jacqueline (Dany Saval) is temperamental and shrill, while British girl Vicky (Suzanna Leigh) earns Bertha’s enmity through her love of eating kidneys. Ah, yes those Brits with their smelly foreign food… Hammer fans will recognise Suzanna Leigh from The Lost Continent (1968) and Lust for a Vampire (1971), though she reunited with Tony Curtis for an episode of The Pretenders. Model turned actress Christiane Schmidtmer had a few cult films to her credit, including The Big Doll House (1971) and The Giant Spider Invasion (1975), alongside mainstream roles in Ship of Fools (1965) and Airport 1975 (1975, duh!) and her native Germany. Dany Saval stayed largely in French cinema but put in an appealing turn in the Disney science fiction comedy, Moon Pilot (1961).
This could easily have been a Martin and Lewis movie. However, Jerry does not play his usual squeaky-voiced man-child but an altogether more suave customer. Astounded and envious of Bernard, Robert is not above attempting to seduce Jacqueline, Lisa and Vicky by turn, albeit in a slightly less dishonest manner than his rival. Surprisingly, Robert is also the one who articulates the feminist response, namely “what do the girls get out of this set up?” Unsurprisingly, he gets no adequate answer.
It is the kind of fluffy, innocuous, one-dimensional bedroom farce where characters constantly duck in and out of doors and where director John Rich (a regular TV hand in his only big screen credit) stages another of those frantic car chases found in films of this type. At one point it looks like sparks of genuine romance may fly between Robert and Vicky, but it’s another cynical ploy to keep the game going. There is also an inexplicable sequence wherein a gang of rowdy Frenchmen beat Robert up. Quite what the misunderstanding was all about we never know, but it’s possibly the only hostile reception the French ever gave Jerry Lewis.