Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is one of the most successful newspaper cartoonists in America, as his manservant Charles (Terry-Thomas) will be happy to tell you. In spite of all his success, he remains a bachelor, though as Charles points out, marriage isn't for everyone, and certainly isn't for a man who is wont to bring back a different woman every night to entertain them in his pad. When he's not doing that, he's hard at work on his strip, and he has a unique method as he refuses to have his hero character Bash Brannigan do anything that Stanley would not do himself, therefore acts out the panels of his cartoon with actors and Charles snapping away on a camera. And there's one thing Bash would definitely never do...
Which is get married, and that's precisely what Stanley does, entirely by mistake though after watching two hours of this you wonder if his subconscious wasn't trying to tell him something. This goofy farce was dreamt up by producer and writer George Axelrod the year before he won the chance to direct his own movie; that was the deeply idiosyncratic comedy Lord Love a Duck, and if How to Murder Your Wife didn't get that weird, it did feature a curious take on the battle of the sexes in that from the title you'd expect it to pull no punches and possibly have Lemmon and Thomas walking off into the sunset together at the end of the movie hand in hand, Lemmon blowing the smoke from a revolver as they did so.
Only this was a big softie really, whether because the soon to be confronted but still at the time powerful censors would not allow anything so heartless as a self-help guide to bumping off the woman in the male half of the audience's life, or because it was extremely difficult to believe anyone married to the lady Stanley winds up with would manage to harbour such a huge grudge that he saw death as the preferable way out. She's not even due to leave him a huge inheritance in her will, she's a showgirl from Italy who stopped off in New York on her way to Las Vegas, and he meets her when she emerges from a large cake dressed in nothing but whipped cream underwear. Somehow they get drunk together, and the next morning wake up in bed with a wedding ring on her finger, much to the amusement of his henpecked best pal (Eddie Mayehoff, born to play the part).
And the actress playing this title role? Virna Lisi, an Italian blonde bombshell making a few halfhearted moves towards Hollywood before she decided she wished to stay closer to home and stick with working in Europe. If you only knew her from her later, formidable character roles in efforts like La Reine Margot, it was nice to go back to her sixties movies and see the knockout she was back then, though she must have been aware she was being groomed as an Italian Brigitte Bardot (the makers of this were hedging their bets on getting BB, but she turned them down), yet it's to her credit she became very much her own personality, never forgetting her many fans in her country of origin. Here she could have been strictly decorative - she spends much of the first hour not even trying to speak English - but you could tell she possessed talent too.
When Charles finds out his boss has gotten hitched, he storms out, regarding this as an affront to his blokeish values, leaving Stanley and his waistline at the mercy of her excellent cooking. All the way through the film demonstrates the benefits of settling down with a desirable woman far outweigh the drawbacks, making a mockery of Stanley's complaints, except every so often Axelrod offered a scene where his essentially sexist worldview receives a boost, none more so than in the climactic courtroom scene where he has been charged with murdering his missing missus thanks to his habit of publishing his schemes in the comic. Pausing briefly to marvel that not even Charles M. Schulz lived in such a lap of luxury, so Stanley must have been independently wealthy before he took up his pen, you can get whiplash from the abrupt changes in sympathy from the husband to the wife, though ultimately it's her who wins out over him, mostly because we can't really see much wrong with her. Still, what if she wanted Stanley to cook one evening? Or got a job? Music by Neal Hefti.