How to Murder Your Wife is a 1965 American battle-of-the-sexes satirical comedy film from United Artists, produced by George Axelrod, directed by Richard Quine, that stars Jack Lemmon, Virna Lisi, and Terry-Thomas.
Stanley Ford (Jack Lemmon) is a successful newspaper cartoonist enjoying the comforts of a well-to-do and happy bachelorhood in his urban New York City townhouse, 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 Stanley will use as visual references.
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. 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. Meanwhile, 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 learn English. Her high-calorie Italian cooking also balloons up his weight, 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. She sneaks into the club, with the result that Stanley is banned for violating its “no women” policy.
In response Stanley concocts a plot in his comic strip to kill Brannigan’s wife. He drugs her with “goofballs” and burys 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 for the burial in concrete.
Mrs. Ford comes to and sees the finished comic strip describing Stanley’s murder plan and realizes that her husband does not love her. While Stanley sleeps she leaves without a trace, taking nothing with her. After reading The Brannigans strip in the newspapers, the district attorney and police conclude that Stanley actually murdered his wife. Stanley is arrested and charged with murder, and his comic strips are used as prosecution evidence at the murder trial. When the trial appears to be headed for a conviction, 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, and the men in the courtroom applaud and carry Stanley out of the courtroom on their shoulders to the consternation of the stunned women.
Stanley finds his wife asleep in their bed when he returns home. Charles reminds him that he is now free to kill her without any legal consequences, since he 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, after putting her wedding ring back on her finger, they are reconciled. Meanwhile, Charles meets Mrs. Ford’s attractive mother and becomes instantly smitten. She came from Rome with her daughter, who had fled home to momma. 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.