Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How to Murder Your Wife, in Print

Yesterday I shared what I didn't like about the 1965 Jack Lemmon comedy "How To Murder Your Wife." As promised, today I'll talk about what I did.

The movie revolved around a cartoonist and his daily comic strip, and so sequential art took a prominent role. Although they were only shown briefly, about ten different daily strips were drawn for the movie. The great Alex Toth (designer of Space Ghost among many others) was to be the "stunt cartoonist" for Lemmon. Toth actually drew ten weeks of "Bash Brannigan" (the comic in the film) as part of the publicity campaign leading up to the premier.

Apparently, there was some disagreement during filming, and Toth was replaced by Mel Keefer. Keefer was a seasoned comic artist, and he ably pulled off a difficult assignment.

The challenge of an adventure strip is to move the story forward daily while providing a little bit of recap to new readers. In this case, not only did Keefer have to fulfill those requirements, but also duplicate the film sequences that corresponded to the panels. And, the strips had to tell their story immediately in the brief screen time each had.

Keefer's posted some of the surviving sequences on his website -- I hope they all become available someday. (click on images to enlarge)

Notice this sequence from early in the film (when Bash Brannigan was still a secret agent). You can instantly see what's going on. Brannigan's tracked down a stolen microfilm and dispatches the bad guys after it. The character looks something like Jack Lemmon (playing the cartoonist who draws from photographs of himself in action). The art's fairly realistic, yet at the same time, it's very clean and spare. It doesn't take the eye a long time to scan the entire sequence -- perfect for something that's just flashed on the screen.

Here's another example from later in the film when Stanley Ford (Lemmon) outlines his murder plot in his comic strip. In this case, we see this sequence after it's been acted out in the movie. Yet Keefer doesn't slack off. The dialogue balloons are real, the action clearly outlined.

Look at the last two panels. In the film, the doctor who gives Ford the goofballs says when mixed with alcohol, they go up (which he demonstrates with a rising hand gesture), and then they go down (also shown with a hand gesture). The last two panels mirror those hand gestures.

The wife's hand goes up, the arc described by the sound effect. And when she crashes, her arms are still in the same position, only upside down. And if you follow the lines of the sound effects from the two panels, you'll see an "S" curve that swoops and dives.

These panels were only on screen for a very short time -- and yet Keefer executes them with all the care that he would if they were to be published for real. This artist is a true professional. And thanks to "How To Murder Your Wife," he's come to my attention. I look forward to discovering more about this artist.

- Ralph

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