My favourite Martin and Lewis film is Artists and Models. This very funny, wacky Tashlin film is one of the definitive colour films of the 50s-and clearly a strong influence on Jerry Lewis’s imaginative and expressive colour schemes in his own films, most notably in The Ladies’ Man and The Nutty Professor.
Tashlin had an illustrious prior incarnation as one of the Warner Brothers’ best cartoonists and all of his feature films reveal these origins and first love, none more so than his several collaborations with Lewis and most explicitly this one. Its very subject matter betrays a cartoonist’s worldview: the publisher’s office is dominated by an enormous image of The Bat Lady; Eugene Fullstack (Jerry Lewis) appears on stage in costume as a field-mouse and could have strayed out of Disney; his Vinnie the Vulture nightmares are parodies of DC comics characters and situations.
Artists and Models contains many excruciatingly funny set-pieces that extend the kinds of gag structures common in the Looney Tunes cartoons. Among the most effective are: the opening sequence with Lewis’ comic-books being sucked into a giant mouth on an advertising billboard and blown out of this orifice into the street, followed by tins of paint being clumsily knocked several storeys down onto hapless passers-by; a sequence where Martin and Lewis push suits of armour down the staircase of the imposing mansion headquarters of a spy ring, causing them to take on a life of their own; the business with Lewis’ imagined steaks which suddenly materialise as a half-asleep Martin rolls over in disbelief; Lewis’ first meeting with comic-book publisher Eddie Mayehoff with each distorted to the other through a water-cooler; and especially,an extended, grotesque love duet (Inamorata!) between Lewis and Shirley MacLaine on the staircase where their limbs go in opposing directions and their lack of connection mocks the lyrics.
Among the film’s many targets is violence in comic books with Lewis demonstrating in an embarrassingly bad television interview to what extremities such material may take an avid aficionado (the blood-curdling screams that provide the sound effects in Lewis’ Vinnie narratives and George Winslow’s reaction to The Bat Lady -“She stinks. No blood. I like blood”- are symptomatic of the film’s overall tone).
There’s also strong comic support from Eddie Mayehoff, toting a steady stream of voluptuous women half his age (“this is my cousin”) and delivering lines that put the dramatic emphases in all the wrong places. Finally, there’s a quartet of extremely attractive female leads-Dorothy Malone, Shirley MacLaine as the boys’ romantic interests, Eva Gabor as a sexy femme fatale spy, and Anita Ekberg in a lively cameo. They are all appropriately decorative in a cartoon-like way and MacLaine and Malone especially have a ball with their opportunities.