Bash Brannigan, 1965
Some films create such a realistic – and hilarious – world that you wish their supporting brands were real.
One of our favorite fake comic strips was created for the 1965 film How to Murder Your Wife, staring Jack Lemmon as a cartoonist playboy who wakes up from a friend’s stag party to find himself married. The comic strip, shown several times in the film, plays an important role in the film’s plot.
The film’s comic strip, Bash Brannigan, features a hero working on cases such as the ‘Skyscraper Gaper Caper’ or the ‘Case of the Fabergé Navel’. Lemmon’s character, Stanley Ford, prides himself on the strip’s realism, and never draws his character doing anything physically impossible or using gadgets that don’t exist. In fact, crucial to the plot is that Ford acts out all the panels himself as Bash Brannigan, with his valet Charles photographing the adventures.
The comic strips in the film highlight Ford’s transition from debonair playboy to bumbling husband, and Bash Brannigan becomes The Brannigans (complete with disastrous dinner parties and household misunderstandings), all the while continuing to draw from Ford’s life. As his frustrations at home boil over, Ford finds some relief in the strip, with Bash Brannigan plotting to kill his wife by drugging her with goofballs and throwing her body into the cement from the “gloppitta-gloppitta machine” of the construction site next door. Whether or not he acts out this plotline for real is something that you’ll just have to find out by watching the film. Needless to say, reading to the strip in the papers makes everyone – especially the police – a little suspicious.
The film is one of our favorites, with the always-funny Jack Lemmon, blonde bombshell Virna Lisi, and Terry-Thomas as the only valet who could give P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves a run for his money. But Eddie Mayehoff as Ford’s lawyer Harold Lampson – tickled pink to see Ford land in the same hen-pecked boat – steals every scene he’s in.
The film always makes me sigh in frustration that more of the art isn’t shown; the art is terrific and a successful balancing act of creating print work for film. The comic strip art in the film was done by Mel Keefer, the artist on Perry Mason, Mac Divot and Rick O’Shay comic strips. In addition, Alex Toth drew a comic strip of the characters as part of a teaser campaign to promote the film. And the comic’s storylines – always with a wink and a nudge – are delightfully over the top. This is a spin-off that absolutely should have been made! In fact, Bash Brannigan would probably be just as popular in today’s Man Men-fueled interest in the 1960s. After all: danger, daring, beautiful girls with microfilm hidden in their navels – What’s not to like?
Of course, the film presents a pretty attractive life for a cartoonist. I hope Stanley Ford’s back-story includes a trust fund or a winning lottery ticket, because – with Ford’s Manhattan townhouse, valet, exclusive club membership and swinging lifestyle – viewers are apt to get a rather skewed view of a cartoonist’s life. At least, none of the cartoonists I’ve ever met would claim to live as well as Stanley Ford does in How to Murder Your Wife!