Artists and Models ★★★½

Artists and Models is a refreshing, attractive and weird musical comedy that shows a boldness in vision and art direction that dwarfs even the overly aggressive mugging of co-star Jerry Lewis. Director Frank Tashlin, who ping-ponged back and forth between directing feature films and Warner Brothers cartoons, creates a vibrant comic canvas for this harebrained story that starts out about artists, comic books and romance, before taking a wild detour into espionage fantasy. While the narrative is just an excuse for a few lively and creative musical numbers, and for Lewis to run through a few set-pieces of ridiculous schtick, the strong cast — Dean Martin, Dorothy Malone and Shirley MacLaine — give it a patina of coherence that it never deserves. While Lewis turns his wackiness up to deafening levels at times, his ingenuity usually survives the volume; even better, however, is MacLaine, who manages to be adorably daffy while never succumbing to outright clowning. Saddled with most nonsensical motivations in the movie, MacLaine somehow makes endearing magic out of her character's incomprehensible attraction to Lewis. Although none of the songs are particularly memorable, Tashlin's conception of the musical numbers is always fun and bristling with clever physical humor that engages despite all of the potential distractions. Also with Eva Gabor and Anita Ekberg.

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