Rick Todd (Dean Martin) and his best friend and roommate Eugene Fullstack (Jerry Lewis) have jobs taking care of a new billboard which is supposed to feature a large cigarette advertisement where it looks as if the face on it really is smoking thanks to a machine their boss and his client are expecting to begin operating any minute now. That is assuming the boys can get their act together, for Eugene especially has slack tendencies and prefers to read his favourite comic book, Bat Lady, at every opportunity, such as right now when he is meant to be seeing about the machine. When he finally does get it going, he makes a mistake and it sucks up all his comics - and Eugene himself! The job is a disaster.
The professional partnership of Martin and Lewis was in full swing by the time they made Artists and Models (not a remake of the Jack Benny film of the same name), but what their fans didn't know was the bond that seemed so strong on the screen was far more fractured behind the scenes. Just two movies later, they were finished, never to work together again unless you counted an appearance oozing with sentimentality at one of Jerry's telethons twenty years later where it was impossible to tell if they were genuinely happy to see each other or not, though apparently they kept in touch afterwards and became closer after Dean's son tragically died. Here, however, there's a sequence near the beginning where Martin threatens to leave Lewis for good.
He doesn't of course, after catching sight of his friend's eyes brimming with tears, and the rest of the plot can unfold, but it was a signal that nothing lasts forever, particularly in showbiz. Notably here they didn't share the screen as much as you might have expected a double act to do, not on the level of Bud Abbott and Lou Costello's infamous fallings out where they made whole movies without their characters even speaking to one another, but if you cared to discern a clash of egos then it was well hidden but definitely present. Lewis was notably irritating here in search of more tedious laughs than before: Eugene's regular yelling in his sleep isn't any funnier the twentieth time than it is the first.
If anything, there was a father/son relationship between the two leads where Rick mentors Eugene, guiding him through life and getting him to stand on his own two feet with the love of a good woman, in this case the model for the Bat Lady, Bessie Sparrowbrush played by Shirley MacLaine the year she made her debut in Alfred Hitchcock's The Trouble with Harry. She is best friends with the artist of those comics, Abby Parker (Dorothy Malone), and what do you know? They share the apartment building with our hapless heroes. Rick aspires to be an artist, which seems unlikely given Martin's persona, and also aspires to romance Abby, which is a nice way of putting it in light of the manner he carries himself as something of a lounge lizard, a singing one at that as this was a musical as well.
As Abby thaws, Bessie is Eugene's equivalent in love and they really should get together. Around these meetings cute and games of kiss chase director Frank Tashlin (his first Lewis movie) wove a tapestry of mid-fifties fixations, not only the bevy of beauties (including Anita Ekberg) audiences could be guaranteed in Martin and Lewis movies, especially the colour ones, but such trappings as the then-current moral panic over comics supposedly warping young minds, a plot point which seems to be heading somewhere until it is abruptly dropped in the last act. It is replaced with a more serious American obsession of the day, the threat of the Soviet Union, although here Tashlin, who had a hand in the script, doesn't even take that seriously as foreign agents (led by Eva Gabor) realise Rick is using Eugene's habit of talking out pulp narratives in his sleep for publication, not aware these are actual state secrets he's somehow picked up (again, not really expounded upon). Ending with a combination of runaround, musical number with more models and slapstick comedy, they certainly offered your money's worth.
American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.