Long before I first really noticed Anita Ekberg through ‘adult eyes’, I saw her in a rerun of Hollywood or Bust (1956) as a kid on my television screen. When Jerry Lewis got a kiss from Anita in the film’s finale, I secretly wished I was Jerry. Though I’m sure I would have squirmed and winced just like Jerry did in the presence of the gorgeous Ekberg. (Interestingly, years later as I became a young man, I discovered European cinema and there was that same beautiful women in the iconic La Dolce Vita. She wooed me for all sorts of different reasons by then, but more on that particular film at a later date.)
Jerry Lewis’ as comedian and actor has always been hit and miss with both movie audiences and critics alike over generations. Though it’s fair to say his run-amok antics have more recently with his passing been recognised as genius. Anita Ekberg on the other hand was not particular a great actress, but did her best given the forgettable role that often came her way. She was also generally taken advantage of by Hollywood studios (including the famed Italian director Frederico Fellini) for her ‘full fantasy figure’. Occasionally though, her sex appeal worked as in the case of the drama-comedy La Dolce Vita (1960) and other comedies like Artist and Models (1955) and Hollywood or Bust (1956).
Two wonderful moments in particular in the Martin and Lewis semi-musical comedy Hollywood or Bust always come to mind in which both Jerry Lewis and Anita Ekberg effortlessly work their magic. The first involves Lewis’ chance meeting with his favourite movie star, played by Ekberg, at a Las Vegas hotel. “It’s you! Live, not on film and not a kinescope, but in the flesh, and oh what flesh,” Lewis remarks with glee. As the fanboy scene plays out, Ekberg unceremoniously ends up in the hotel swimming pool. The second scene, as I alluded earlier, involves Lewis in a frantic chase scene with studio police and technicians before landing a warm kiss from the woman of his dreams. But first lets back up a little to set the scene for that wonderful moment where Jerry Lewis clowns around after being kissed by Anita Ekberg.
No Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin film is complete without an absurd premise. Hollywood or Bust is no different. Our protagonists in their last film together find themselves in a spot of bother when they are proclaimed joint winners of a brand new Chrysler New Yorker convertible. Unable to agree with what to do with the car, Dean Martin as Steve Willey begins to hatch a plan to steal the car (to pay off his debts) from Malcolm Smith, played by Jerry Lewis. His opening comes when Malcolm, a self-confessed movie nerd, tells Steve that he wants to drive to Hollywood to meet his favourite actress, Anita Ekberg. Steve then proceeds to tell the unsuspecting Malcolm that he too lives in Hollywood and his neighbour happens to be Miss Ekberg and that he would be happy to introduce her to him. (As their trek gets underway across America, Steve tries to steal the car as the opportunity presents itself, but is ultimately foiled at every turn by Malcolm’s trusty Great Dane.)
Eventually when Malcolm first meets Ekberg, by chance en route to Hollywood in Las Vegas, things go horribly wrong, as Ekberg ends soaking wet in a hotel pool. To add insult to injury, Ekberg’s furious that her poodle has fallen in love with Malcolm’s dog, Mr. Bascomb. In his endeavour to set things right, Malcolm decides to use his Las Vegas casino winnings and buys Ekberg a diamond necklace. By now, even Steve who has come to show concerns for Malcolm is mortified by his stupidity. In short, after they sell their Chrysler embarrassingly for less than its worth, Steve convinces Malcolm to ask for the necklace back from Ekberg to make back their small fortune.
In the end when Steve, Malcolm and Mr. Bascomb crash the gates of Paramount Studios in their attempt to locate Ekberg, it is here in the next to last scenes after a series of gags that Ekberg stops Malcolm dead in his tracks. As he approaches her cautiously believing she is still quite angry because of events in Las Vegas, he strangely develops his “Lucky Feeling”. To his surprise he soon realises she is pleased to see him. She goes on to agree to return the necklace he gave her only if Malcolm will allow her to borrow Mr. Bascomb for her next film. In the sweet exchange of smiles and promises that play out, Ekberg finally leans over and kisses a dumbstruck Malcolm.
Check out Hollywood or Bust finale here below. Enjoy!