"Who Was That Lady?" has no deep theme underlying the comedy, but neither do many of the best comedies. This one begins as it ends, with laughter. It's not belly laughs all the way through, but even the laughless parts consist of plot mechanisms that are per se at least amusing and serve as set-ups for later guffaws. There are moments when you'll feel as if you're about to split with laughter.
A summary is in order, although it will sound silly. An assistant professor of chemistry at Columbia (Curtis, who lives with his wife, Janet Leigh) in a pad no assistant professor would allow himself to dream of, is caught being kissed by one of his students. Leigh enters his office at the wrong moment, turns on her heel and walks out to go home and begin packing. (All we see of this opening scene are the legs of the three participants.)
A desperate Curtis calls his old pal Martin, a writer of TV mysteries, to help him figure out a way to keep his wife. Over drinks of lab alcohol Martin comes up with something like, "I've got it. You know why you were kissing that girl? Because you're a secret agent in the F.B.I. and she's a Russian spy." Curtis believes this is the dumbest story he's ever heard. But Martin pulls down the shades and locks the doors and tells him that he, Martin, is himself an F.B.I. agent, having been trained at Quantico while Curtis thought he was on duty in the Army. Martin even pulls off his sock and shows him four dots tattooed on his heel, the sure sign of a secret agent. "J. Edgar Hoover has five."
Curtis is convinced. And Martin begins tattooing his heel with a pen and an electric fan. Queried by a still puzzled Curtis, Martin tells him, "Me? In the F.B.I.? I couldn't even get to be an eagle scout, you jackass." As far as the dots go, Martin doesn't know about Hoover but everybody in his fraternity at Cornell has them.
I'm going to avoid going into this because it would spoil things. Suffice it to say that in order to convince Leigh that Curtis really is an F.B.I. agent, Martin goes to his prop department at CBS and has a fake F.B.I. ID card printed and requisitions a pistol. The F.B.I. gets wind of the fake card. So does the C.I.A. So do the Russians. In the end, a drugged Curtis and Martin wake up in the basement of the Empire State Building, believing they've been kidnapped and are aboard a Russian submarine. I swear I'm not making this up. They decide to sacrifice their lives and sink the submarine, which they attempt to do by hugging each other, then turning every valve and faucet in sight, pulling levers, releasing cascades of water, until they short out the electrical circuit of the Empire State Building.
I'm going to leave it there, I think. It hasn't appeared much on TV lately, and that's the only reason I can think of why there aren't any previous comments on this hilarious comedy. Really, folks, it doesn't deserve to pass unseen. Everyone in it is at his/her comedic best. Even James Whitmore manages to evoke a sympathetic smile or two. And Barbara Nichols in a small but important role has never been funnier. In a Chinese nightclub, Martin and Curtis promise her a job on TV, a proposition which they argue should be discussed over the course of a weekend at the shore. Nichols excuses herself and phones her agent: "They're talking' about a job," she tells him, "but now they're throwin' in Atlantic City." She and Joi Lansing are the prey in this scene. "Get a load of the way these gals are assembled," Martin mutters to Curtis. And adds: "They sing and dance -- like rabbits."
It's not sophisticated but when you come right down to it comedy doesn't really need elegance to be funny. Was Feydeau sophisticated? Was Aristophanes? Was Daffy Duck?
33 out of 40 found this helpful