Artists and Models: The 1955 Comic Book Movie You Never Heard of.

March 15th, 2008 by | Tags: ,

A while back, I read Jerry Lewis’ book Dean and Me: A Love Story. I never knew much about either guy, but I saw Lewis on Letterman shilling it one night and the stories he told sounded interesting enough that I picked the book up. It’s a heartbreaking story of two friends whose ten year relationship as business partners went to shit due to their own personal flaws and their individual growth as performers. A very good read. Keep in mind that you can’t hear Jerry when you read it, so that’s a plus.

Something interesting Jerry brought up is how Dean Martin was a big comic guy. He was huge into Superman, Batman and Captain Marvel. According to the book, after the first time meeting Frank Sinatra, it was meeting Bob Kane that was Dean’s most star struck moment. It was a neat thing to read about, since in those days comics really were made for kids and Dean Martin was the coolest motherfucker around.

One of the movies they made in their time as a duo was Artists and Models, a movie seemingly custom made for Dean. The very concept of it made me interested enough to want to track down the movie, but it wasn’t until recently that it was available on DVD. I finally got around to watching it and while it isn’t the best movie of the 1950’s, it’s still not bad. It’s definitely interesting to look back on, in terms of the comic-related parts.

To give you an idea, here’s the opening scene, where Eugene (Lewis) and his obsession with comics gets he and his roommate Rick (Martin) fired.

Eugene is mostly into a comic called Bat Lady. Not only does his obsession cost Rick work, but sleep as well, as Eugene’s always having these crazy dreams about a character named Vincent the Vulture and won’t stop screaming. Otherwise, Eugene really wants to write children stories and Rick wants to get work as an artist.

Two ladies take residence in their apartment building. One is Abigail (Dorothy Malone), the writer and artist of Bat Lady, and the other is Bessie (Shirley MacLaine), who works as her model. There’s a subplot where Eugene sees Bessie in full Bat Lady gear and is stoked to find out that the character is actually real, meanwhile giving little notice to Bessie when she’s out of costume. Rick first thinks comic art is a joke, but upon getting the hots for Abigail and realizing how he could easily make a fortune off of it, he quickly changes his mind.

Rick doesn’t have a single comic idea, but instead just steals from Eugene. Whenever Eugene talks in his sleep, Rick would just write down his ideas and secretly work on his own Vincent the Vulture series. It’s pretty ridiculous.

The comic book stuff is pretty funny to watch, just to see how little things have changed. Abigail’s editor keeps insisting that comics need to be more violent and that gore sells. Jerry Lewis’ portrayal of a comic-loving manchild is like a parody of something that barely exists yet. Not to mention his thing for Bat Lady cosplay. A mother blames violent comics for her child’s erratic behavior, yet blatantly shows that she is actually a really shitty parent. The movie is totally before its time.

I should also mention that at one point, Eugene claims on national TV, “Comic books have made me retarded.” I guess that term wasn’t so off-color back then, but it made me laugh.

It is very funny too, despite one really, really bad Rear Window reference. Jerry Lewis may be annoying at times, but with Dean there to play off of him, they really had great comedic chemistry.

It’s just unfortunate that sometime after the one hour mark, the movie goes off in a completely different direction. There’s a subplot out of nowhere on how the Vincent the Vulture comic includes half of a formula that the US government has been using for their rocket ships. So the secret service is trying to get to Rick and Eugene before the Russians can. Huh?!

Other than that, it’s totally worth a look. You can pick it up off Netflix, along with another one of their movies on the same disc.

Oh, and while I was getting that YouTube clip above, I came across this.

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4 comments to “Artists and Models: The 1955 Comic Book Movie You Never Heard of.”

  1. Hey pallie Gavok, thanks for helpin’ spread the word ’bout “Artists and Models,” which I consider to be the best of the best of the 16 Dino and the jer flicks….to me an almost perfect movie…and I would quite agree that the first hour or so is such pure magic and the rest seems like sorta tacked on. Never was, never will be anyone as cool as the King of Cool. Oh, to return to the days when Dino walked the earth.

  2. When I tell people that Jerry-Dino movies are actually pretty funny, they usually make some sort of snide remark about me being french. The Caddy was great.

  3. For some reason your description makes me think of a comedic proto-version of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

  4. Its amusing to see how much the perception of comic-book fans has changed with time…