CMBA Guilty Pleasures Blogathon: How To Murder Your Wife (1965)

Perpetual bachelor Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) wakes up married to the stripper (Virna Lisi) in his friend's cake. Her presence interrupts his routine, thus Stanley must get rid of her.

How To Murder Your Wife (1965) is written by prolific comedy writer and Broadway author George Axelrod. The writer who penned the tale of an itchy married man who wants to scratch while the wife's away now brings the tale of an angry married man who desperately wants to put his wife away. Permanently.

What could be good about How To Murder Your Wife?  Three things: Terry-Thomas, the tunes and the townhouse.


In this film the wife is simple, the husband's a jerk, his lawyer's a pain and the lawyer's wife is a nag. The only person worth your time is Terry-Thomas as the butler, Charles, who refuses to work for married couples.  He's a jerk as well, but somehow, even with a limited amount of screen time, he's funnier than anyone else.
Charles is disgusted!

It is partly Charles' ultimatum and Stanley's desire not to lose a good manservant that catapults our "hero" to action, thinking of ways to rid himself of his lovely wife. Terry-Thomas is the king of indignation and is perfectly cast since the entire plot largely hinges on Charles' disdain for married females. Think of him as a slightly less discriminating Henry Higgins type.

The veteran character actor's elastic face helps here as well. Charles prances about the house glorying in all the testosterone, the corners of his mouth pent to his ears like a Cheshire cat. Discovering there is a missus in the house, the pins pop out and his mouth slowly slides like melting mustache wax. His scowl is hilarious!


Helping the audience feel the characters' pain is composer Neal Hefti. Hefti is one of a long list of musicians/composers who imbues music for 1960s movies and television with its unique sound.

Each main character in Wife has a theme, but my favorite is the noble little funeral march called "Charles Packs His Bags." It's heard under the footsteps of Stanley's misogynistic butler as he walks towards the door - luggage in hand, nose in the air - protesting his employer's nuptials.  Here the composer of TV's classic "Batman" theme song brings vivacity and humor to an otherwise gruesome tale.

Charles storms out. Nicely placed portrait of a female rests between them

The soundtrack for Wife is not so avant-garde as to be intrusive; it stays comfortably in the background underscoring little gestures. But neither is it a wallflower at this party. The music is partly romantic, partly snappy and jazzy. You keep thinking "Doesn't that sound like a couple of bars from the 'Odd Couple' show?," and "Wow! This is right up there with Henri Mancini and Quincy Jones."

It's a bad movie with an outstanding score.


You've got an unapologetically offensive (and thus comical) manservant and you've got great music, but this film wouldn't be half as entertaining without the sumptuous and modern trappings. Stanley Ford lives in a beautiful three story townhouse right in the middle of New York City. With skyscrapers all around, Charles declares, "Look at us! The last stronghold of gracious living in a world gone mad! Mad!"

He's right.
Ford. Stanley Ford.
Near the beginning of the movie, the camera follows Charles as he gives the audience a tour of his employer's opulent but tasteful bachelor pad. The butler looks squarely into the camera, gives a toothy grin and purrs that all of this could have been yours had you poor souls remained unmarried.

And what a pad it is! Married or single, male or female, you will love this house!

A little antagonism in the kitchen. But that exposed brick is to die for!
Spiral staircases, a butler's pantry with floor to ceiling cupboards and drawers, dark wood finishes, a workspace with artfully arranged clutter and a shower with a panopticon array of nozzles that automatically adjust the water to your preferred temperature. Utopia!
Gorgeous! And the guys look good too.

It all comes crashing down, figuratively, when the missus begins redecorating. You can almost hear that famous musical misogynist, Professor Higgins, singing

But! Let a woman in your life,
And your serenity is through.
She'll redecorate your home
from the cellar to the dome,
Then go to the enthralling fun
Of overhauling you.

Seriously, the townhouse is another star in this piece, one that deserves appreciation. Perhaps you should watch How To Murder Your Wife with the sound off. You'll miss the wonderful music, but not having to hear a bunch of idiots rant against women might improve the plot.

This post is a part of the CMBA Guilty Pleasures Movie Blogathon. Click here for the other posts in this 3-day blogathon.


  1. Great choice! One of those underrated throwaway 60s comedies that look like pure genius today. They are as comfy as an old shoe and filled with great characters and great Hollywood production values. Jack always makes every movie he is in better and Virna Lisa was beautiful. And thanks for mentioning the townhouse. I always get hooked on great apartments ("A Perfect Murder" was almost my choice for a guilty pleasure, but I went with "Three on a Match" instead). Great post and a great way to kick off the blogathon!

  2. Wonderful review for a very funny and clever 60's sexy movie. I think part of the fun of this movie is that it is so... predictable. Any movie starring Jack Lemmon, count me in.

  3. Java, the 1960s may be my favorite decade of movies and thus I have a fondness for films like HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE. Plus, the premise is so outlandish--he wakes up married to Virna Lisi, for goodness sakes! The bachelor pad is indeed awesome. You know, I just recently learned Terry-Thomas was a cousin of Richard Briers, whom I've watched on MONARCH OF THE GLEN for years. Terry-Thomas was certainly a one-of-kind-comedian and does indeed shine in HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE. Thanks for a most entertaining review or, as Mr. Thomas might put it: "Good show!"

  4. Java,
    I haven't seen this one which is a bit depressing since I love Lemmon in everything! I really have been trying to make the effort to watch more films from the 50's and the 60's (excluding the musicals which I just can't find a passion for)

    Watching films that are predictable always leave me feeling a bit like I've wasted an hour or two, especially with the garbage that's made today but I would watch this one given the great cast and I'll admit that I've watched a few mediocre films because of the fabulous sets, decor.

    Thanks for sharing your Guilty Pleasure and for writing yet another well done review.

  5. I haven't seen this film, but your review makes it seem as though watching it would, at the very least, be an interesting exercise. I love Jack Lemmon in most of his comedic roles, so I'm curious as to how his performance here compares to previous films. And that really is a gorgeous townhouse!

  6. I LOVE THIS MOVIE. Thank you so much for profiling it!

  7. Java, HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE is one of those movies I grew up seeing in bits and pieces on TV while my dear peripatetic mom was dressing little me to go out to have fun or do errands or sometimes both. :-) Most of the film's male characters are the type of people I'd love to smack upside the head,* but that fabulous apartment makes up for it -- talk about leaving the theater humming the scenery! Your blog post was far more fun than the bits and pieces of the film that I've seen over the years! :-) Great post, Java!

    *For more references to annoying movie characters who need to be slapped upside the head, see Team Bartilucci's Guilty Pleasures double-feature CAN'T STOP THE MUSIC and THE APPLE:

    There, my shameless plug is done! :-)

  8. Java,
    I'm a big fan of Jack Lemmon, so I'm surprised I've never seen this. That townhouse looks great, though.

  9. Such a good cast, I adore Jack Lemmon, I love Terry-Thomas -- and what a stinker! I haven't seen it in years. Perfect choice, though, for a guilty pleasure, I can see that. My most fun memory of this movie is that one of my brothers-in-law gave it to another sister's fiancee as a Christmas gift. For future reference, we all figured. Very entertaining, Java!

  10. My husband loves this movie. Um, wait. I'll have to have a talk with him about that, and about that button.

  11. I've always liked "How to Murder Your Wife." It isn't great, and it is uneven (the courtroom scene slows the pace to a crawl), but it definitely has its charms. And that townhouse is, indeed, one of them. What I wouldn't give...

    To make the plot even slightly believable, Lemmon would've awakened next to someone just a little less fetching than Virna Lisi.

  12. I need to see this one. I like Terry-Thomas a lot too. My favorite performance of his is in "School for Scoundrels." He's so obnoxious in that one.

    "How to Murder Your Wife" may not be a very good movie, but it does sound worth seeing.

  13. .
    Saw this for the first time as a teenager with my parents when it was a roadshow release. Love Clarie Trevor, and the Neal Hefti score . Always a favorite

  14. What could be good about How To Murder Your Wife? Three things: Terry-Thomas, the tunes and the townhouse.

    I'm probably in the minority here...but my favorite part of the film is Eddie Mayehoff. (Well, Paul did mention Claire Trevor.)

    This is one I'll have to see again...I watched it many, many moons ago and I remember not being as impressed as others but it's possible that I may not have been in the right mood for it. To be honest, I had forgotten Thomas was in this that alone should have me seeking out a revival.

    Oh, and off-topic: thanks for the promoting the Van Dyke Show blogathon, Java!

  15. Thumbs up for pointing out the townhouse. When I saw this, I kept thinking, who cares about the wife as long as you don't get rid of that home! I did enjoy this one, and as TLE said, it is uneven. But it is fun, and Lemmon is always a plus to any film.

  16. FlickChick,
    You're right - "comfy" is probably a more apt description than "guilty." Most classic movies fans have no shame about what they watch. (I know I haven't). :)

    Jack Lemmon is growing on me. I don't know why it has taken me this long to like him. The more of his movies I watch the more I appreciate his talent. Thanks for stopping by.

    Virni Lisi is drop-dead gorgeous! Since looks are all the Lemmon character cares about, how could he even think of wanting her out of the house? It's insane.

    Didn't know about the Richard Briers connection; you've given me another "rabbit trail" to follow. Thanks! :)

    Comedies are your best bet for delving into the '50s and'60s. The full color, the fashion shows and the spectacle are sure to please. They even manage to be witty now and again. Anything written by Neil Simon, of course, is going to be funny.

    In this movie, Jack Lemmon is like a more adventurous Felix Unger. His butler watches his caloric intake; everything in his house, even the clutter, is meticulously placed. Virna Lisi is like his Oscar - she leaves her stockings and body creams everywhere and eats in bed.

    You're welcome. Thanks for dropping by.

    I don't mind shameless plugs at all. :) Thanks.

    The townhouse is fabulous. I just wish I could see it on the big screen.

    Oh! No he didn't! :) That story's hilarious!

    Caftan Woman,
    LOL. Thanks for stopping by.

    Lady Eve,
    Thank you! That's one of my pet peeves about the film. Lisi is too beautiful for Lemmon's character to want her out of the house. He's all about bedding gorgeous women, now that he has one permanently installed he doesn't like the situation the teeniest bit? Incredulous!

    Well, you could spend your time viewing worse movies. At least this one features a pool. :) Thanks for the recommendation.

    Big screen goodness! Did you feel as if you were in the house?

    You're welcome. Anytime.

    Yep. As Lady Eve says above "What I wouldn't give..."

    Thanks, everyone.

    - Java


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