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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

VHS Vednesday: I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now

I WONDER WHO'S KILLING HER NOW? (1975). Directed by Steven Hilliard Stern. Starring Bob Dishy, Joanna Barnes, and Bill Dana.

Just a quickie review this week: I Wonder Who's Killing Her Now?, an odd little comic misfire from 1975. Character actor Bob Dishy, in a rare leading role, plays a shallow, self-absorbed man married to his wealthy employer's daughter (Joanna Barnes) and living the high life off of her family money (both by sponging off of her and by embezzling from the company). His life of luxury threatens to come to an end when his crimes are found out and his wife demands a divorce. Given a chance to avoid prosecution by repaying the debt, he decides to get the money by taking out a large insurance policy on his wife and hiring a desperate amateur hitman (Bill Dana) to dispose of her before the divorce is finalized. Unfortunately, when he changes his mind, he discovers that the assassin has sub-contracted, hiring another killer to do the job...and when they track down that hitman, they learn he's done the same, and so on and so forth.
While the premise may have had some comedic potential (not a great deal, but some), the filmmakers sabotage it with sledgehammer-like broadness. And they're not content to simply tell a joke and move on to the next one...they tell a joke, nudge us in the ribs, repeat it, and ask "Wasn't that a hoot?" Take the opening scene, for example: We see Dishy seated at a piano, as a beautiful concerto plays--until he reaches up and stretches his arms, and the music continues. The camera reveals the true source of the music--the 2'11" character actor Angelo Rossitto, playing on a toy piano. (You can just hear them saying "Get it? It's a toy piano! 'Cause he's so little!") The pianist then requests his payment "in small bills." ("Get it? Small bills!") To make sure we get the point, Dishy repeats "Yes, small bills. I'll pay you in teeny-tiny bills." ("Get it? Get it?") The scene doesn't end there, but I can't go on with it.
Who's Leaving This Off Their Resume?
The cast is a veritable Who's Who of usually-brilliant comedians and character actors, all of whom appear very embarrassed to be playing such over-the-top antics. In addition to Dishy, Barnes, Dana, and Rossitto, the other performers wasting their talents include Severn Darden, Harvey Jason, Richard Libertini, and Jay Robinson. However, I imagine the one who would have most wanted this forgotten would be Pat Morita, stuck in a demeaning ethnic stereotype as a quack doctor carrying out the insurance physical exam on Barnes (without her knowledge), justifying all of his intrusive actions as "Japanese customs." Even by 1970s pre-politically-correct standards, this scene is truly cringe-inducing.



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