How to Murder Your Wife

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How to Murder Your Wife
How to Murder Your Wife film poster.jpg
Directed by Richard Quine
Produced by George Axelrod
Gordon Carroll (exec.)
Written by George Axelrod
Starring Jack Lemmon
Virna Lisi
Claire Trevor
Music by Neal Hefti
Cinematography Harry Stradling
Edited by David Wages
Distributed by United Artists
Release dates
September 20, 1965
Running time
118 minutes
Country USA
Language English, Italian
Box office $12,000,000[1]

How to Murder Your Wife is a 1965 American comedy film starring Jack Lemmon and Virna Lisi. It was directed by Richard Quine, who also directed Lemmon in My Sister Eileen, It Happened to Jane, Operation Mad Ball and Bell, Book and Candle.

Plot summary[edit]

Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is a successful, happily unmarried cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do existence in an urban townhouse, including the services of his loyal and attentive valet, Charles Firbank (Terry-Thomas). Stanley's comic strip, Bash Brannigan, (drawn for the film by comic book artist, Mel Keefer) is a secret-agent thriller characterized by a high level of realism: no matter how outrageous the plot may seem, Stanley will not allow Brannigan to do anything physically impossible or use gadgets that don't exist. He hires actors and sets up elaborate enactments of storylines, playing Brannigan himself, while Charles takes photographs Stanley will use as reference.

While attending a bachelor party for his friend Tobey Rawlins (Max Showalter), Stanley becomes very drunk and proposes to a beautiful Italian girl (Lisi) who steps out of a large cake wearing a whipped cream bikini. An equally drunken judge (Sidney Blackmer) performs an impromptu wedding ceremony. The next morning, Stanley wakes up with the girl, now his wife, lying naked in bed next to him. He asks his lawyer Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff) to arrange a divorce, but Lampson informs him that this is impossible without legal justification.

Stanley's new bride is cheerful, affectionate, and sexy, but she does not speak English. To learn the language, she spends time with Harold's manipulative, henpecking wife Edna (Trevor), who speaks Italian. Unfortunately, in the process, she also learns Edna's overbearing ways. Meanwhile, Charles, who has a policy of not working for married couples, takes a new job with Rawlins, who was jilted by his bride. With Charles replaced by Mrs. Ford, Stanley's bathroom fills with beauty products and lingerie, and Stanley is kept awake by the television, which his wife watches to learn English. To make matters worse, her high-calorie Italian cuisine causes his weight to balloon, and she informs him that her mother will come from Rome to live with them.

Adjusting to his new marital status, Stanley changes his Bash Brannigan cartoon from the exploits of a secret agent to a household comedy, The Brannigans, again drawing from his real life. The strip turns Bash into a bumbling idiot and is wildly successful. However, Mrs. Ford continues to intrude on Stanley's lifestyle. Increasingly irritated by the restrictions of married life, Stanley calls a meeting of his associates at his all-male health club. When Edna learns of the meeting, she telephones Mrs. Ford and arouses her suspicions about Stanley's activities. Mrs. Ford then sneaks into the club, with the result that Stanley is banned from the club for violating its "no women" policy.

Feeling a need to vent his frustrations, Stanley concocts a plot in his comic strip to kill Brannigan's wife by drugging her with "goofballs" and burying her in "the goop from the gloppitta-gloppitta machine" at a construction site next to their home, so that Brannigan can then resume his career as a secret agent. As always, he enacts the events before drawing the strip, but after drugging his wife during a wild cocktail party, he carries her up to bed, then uses a department-store mannequin for the burial.

Mrs. Ford sees the cartoon describing Stanley's murder plan, realizes that her husband does not want her, and leaves without a trace. After reading the cartoon in the newspapers, the police conclude that Stanley actually murdered his wife. Stanley is arrested and charged with murder, and his cartoons are used as prosecution evidence at the subsequent trial. When the trial appears to be headed for a conviction, Stanley takes up his own defense and pleads justifiable homicide, appealing to the all-male jury's frustrations regarding their own wives, and is acquitted.

Stanley finds his wife in bed when he goes home. Charles reminds him that he is now free to kill her without any legal consequences, since he has already been acquitted of her murder and to try him for it again would constitute double jeopardy. However, he has come to appreciate her, and, after he puts her wedding ring back on her finger, they are reconciled. Meanwhile, Charles meets Mrs. Ford's attractive mother who, like Charles, has a prominent diastema. The film ends as Charles closes the door to her room in front of the camera so they can share an amorous moment alone.

Comic strip[edit]

Terry-Thomas in the dock

The comic strip art in the film was credited to Mel Keefer, who drew strips such as Perry Mason, Mac Divot, and Rick O'Shay. Alex Toth did a teaser comic in Keefer's style that ran in the Hollywood Reporter and several newspapers for ten days to promote the film.



  • Jack Lemmon won the Golden Laurel for Male Comedy Performance at the Laurel Awards.
  • Claire Trevor was nominated for Golden Laurel for Female Supporting Performance.
  • Jack Lemmon was also nominated for BAFTA Film Award for Best Foreign Actor.

Cultural references[edit]

  • The film is referenced in Fawlty Towers in the episode "The Wedding Party". Basil Fawlty claims to have seen it six times, although it is likely this is based solely on the title.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "How to Murder Your Wife, Box Office Information". The Numbers. Retrieved January 22, 2013. 

External links[edit]