How to Murder Your Wife

How to Murder Your Wife is a 1965 American black comedy film from United Artists, produced by George Axelrod, directed by Richard Quine, that stars Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, and Terry-Thomas. Quine also directed Lemmon in My Sister Eileen, It Happened to Jane, Operation Mad Ball, The Notorious Landlady and Bell, Book and Candle.

How to Murder Your Wife
Directed byRichard Quine
Produced byGeorge Axelrod
Gordon Carroll (exec.)
Written byGeorge Axelrod
StarringJack Lemmon
Virna Lisi
Claire Trevor
Music byNeal Hefti
CinematographyHarry Stradling
Edited byDavid Wages
Distributed byUnited Artists
Release date
September 20, 1965
Running time
118 minutes
LanguageEnglish, Italian
Box office$12,000,000[1]

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


Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is a newspaper cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do and happy bachelorhood in his urban New York City town house, including his loyal and attentive valet, Charles Firbank (Terry-Thomas). Stanley's comic strip, Bash Brannigan, is a secret-agent thriller characterized by a high level of realism; no matter how outrageous the plot, 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 that Stanley will use as visual references when drawing each strip.

While attending a bachelor party for his friend Tobey Rawlins (Max Showalter), Stanley becomes very drunk and later marries a beautiful Italian woman (Virna Lisi), who earlier had stepped out of a large cake wearing a whipped cream bikini. An equally drunken judge (Sidney Blackmer) performed the impromptu wedding and the following morning, Stanley wakes up next to his naked wife. He asks his lawyer Harold Lampson (Eddie Mayehoff) to arrange a divorce but Lampson says this is impossible without legal justification.

Stanley's new bride is cheerful, affectionate and sexy, but does not speak English. To learn the language, she spends time with Harold's manipulative, hen-pecking wife Edna (Claire Trevor), who speaks Italian. Unfortunately, in the process, she also learns Edna's ways. Charles, who has a policy of not working for married couples, takes a new job with Rawlins, who was jilted by his bride. With his valet now replaced by his wife, Stanley's bathroom fills with beauty products and lingerie and he is kept awake at night by television, which his wife watches to improve her English. Her high-calorie Italian cooking causes his weight to balloon and she announces that her mother will be coming from Rome to live with them.

Adjusting to his marital status, Stanley changes his Bash Brannigan comic strip from the exploits of a secret agent to a household comedy, The Brannigans, again drawing from his real life. The comic strip turns Bash into a bumbling idiot and becomes wildly popular with the public. His wife continues to alter 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 sneaks into the club, resulting in Stanley being banned for violating its "no women" policy.

Stanley concocts a plot in his comic strip to kill Brannigan's wife. He drugs her with "goofballs" and buries her alive in "the goop from the gloppitta-gloppitta machine" at the construction site next to their home, so that Brannigan can resume his career as a secret agent. As always, he enacts the events live before drawing the strip, again with the help of his old valet Charles Firbank. After drugging his wife during a wild cocktail party, Stanley carries her up to bed, then switches to a department-store mannequin to play out the burial in concrete.

Mrs. Ford comes to, sees the finished comic strip describing Stanley's murder plan and concludes that her husband does not love her. While Stanley sleeps, she leaves, taking nothing with her. After reading The Brannigans strip in the newspapers and recognizing that Mrs. Ford has disappeared without a trace, the district attorney and police decide that Stanley must have murdered his wife. Stanley is arrested, charged with murder and his comic strips are used as prosecution evidence at the trial. When it appears that a conviction is likely, Stanley takes up his own defense and pleads justifiable homicide, appealing to the all-male jury's frustrations regarding their own wives. He is acquitted unanimously; the men in the courtroom applaud and carry Stanley out on their shoulders. to the consternation of women left sitting inside.

When Stanley returns home, accompanied by a joyful Charles, it is immediately clear that his wife has returned and is in their bedroom. His valet reminds him that killing her now would not have any legal consequences; since Stanley has already been acquitted of her murder, trying him again would constitute double jeopardy. In his time without her Stanley came to realize that he loves his wife and when he enters their room he finds her in bed waiting for him. After putting her wedding ring back on her finger, they are reconciled. Charles meets Mrs. Ford's attractive mother; she has come from Rome (her daughter had run home to her) and is in the process of settling in to the Ford household. Like Charles, she has a prominent diastema (a space or gap between two teeth). Charles closes the door to her room so they can share an amorous moment alone.



  • 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.


The music was composed by Neal Hefti.

Cultural references

  • 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


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