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Film / What a Way to Go!

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What a Way to Go! is a 1964 Black Comedy film directed by J. Lee Thompson and starring Shirley MacLaine as Louisa May Foster, an unwilling Black Widow who falls in love with, marries and loses four husbands through the course of the movie, amassing an unwanted and ever-expanding fortune in the process.

As Louisa relates her life-history to a psychiatrist, each of her marriages is depicted as a parody of a different film genre: with Dick Van Dyke as a Silent Movie, Paul Newman as a pretentious French film, Robert Mitchum as a Hollywood romantic blockbuster and Gene Kelly as The Musical. And then there's Dean Martin's Leonard Crawley...

What a Way to Go! provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: There is a reference to Shirley MacLaine's Irma la Douce in the scene where Louisa arrives in Paris. On the bus, she passes "Maxim's", which is featured prominently in the beginning montage of that film.
  • Babies Ever After: One of the signs that Louisa and Leonard's marriage will actually last.
  • Blessed with Suck: Leonard, who is such a failure at life that even Louisa's husband-killing "curse" can't affect him.
  • Cartwright Curse: Gender-flipped and played for Black Comedy with Louisa's curse that has taken multiple husbands already. It takes, ironically enough, The Jinx to end it.
  • Costume Porn: Thanks to the famous costumer Edith Head, Louisa runs the gamut during the movie, wearing everything from furs to near-rags. Explicitly parodied during the Mitchum sequence.
  • Covered in Gunge: At the very end of the movie, Louisa and Leonard end up covered in crude oil, after he accidentally severs an oil company's pipeline with his attempt at farming.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: Each of the husbands' deaths.
    • Edgar Hopper suffers a heart attack due to excessive overworking. Ironically, it happens just as he tells Louisa "a little hard work never killed anybody".
    • Larry Flint is attacked and blown up by his own painting robots.
    • Rod Anderson Jr. gets kicked almost into orbit by an angry bull.
    • Finally, Pinky Benson is trampled to death by a mob of his crazed fans, complete with elephant noises and stock footage.
  • Darkest Hour: A sort of anti-Hope Spot occurs at the very end of the film, when as noted above Leonard appears to have struck oil while attempting to farm, leaving Louisa standing there in despair as she gets drenched with the stuff.. until it turns out he's actually severed an oil company's underground pipeline.
  • Fanservice: Louisa wears a lot of outfits that show off her figure.
  • First Girl Wins: Another gender-flip, with Leonard being Louisa's original hometown boyfriend.
  • Freudian Couch: Louisa lays on one while telling her life-story.
  • Fun with Subtitles: During Larry's segment parodying French cinema, the subtitles seem to be slightly delayed and suspiciously short compared to the French dialogue. The reason? The spoken lines are actually quite sexual in nature while the subtitles translate it with a simple "She's pretty."
  • Gold Digger: Averted with Louisa, to her money grubbing mother's chagrin, she just wants a simple life with a husband and children but ends up marrying men who became wealthier and distracted from the marriage and it ends up killing them.
  • Groupie Brigade: Causes the death of Kelly's character, trampling and crushing him to death.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: The possible medical cause of Louisa's first husband's death after overworking himself.
  • Imagine Spot: All of the film-parodies are examples of this on Lousia's part. Also a brief one where she pictures her then-rich boyfriend Leonard as a literal snake behind the wheel of his convertible.
  • Insufferable Genius: Newman and Kelly's characters both come to embody this trope.
  • Killer Robot: A group of them paint Newman's character to death... and explode.
  • Logo Joke: The 20th Century Fox logo is pink, because Kelly's character has everything painted that color.
  • Neck Snap: Mitchum's character dies by getting kicked into mid-air by his bull and it's assumed the impact after hitting the Earth and splashing into a trough broke his neck (as well as possibly his spine and multiple other bones in his body).
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Newman's character ends up on the receiving end of this by his painting machines before they finish the job by exploding.
  • Oh, Crap!: This is the last expression that both Mitchum and Kelly's characters display before their demise.
  • Overly Long Name: Following her numerous marriages, Louisa's full name by the end of the movie is Louisa May Foster Hopper Flint Anderson Benson Crawley.
  • Punny Name: Lush Budgett.
  • Sanity Slippage: The guy who has been hired to do all the painting mentioned under Logo Joke starts chasing after Louisa because she's NOT PINK!
  • Sexy Backless Outfit: Parodied in the Lush Budgett production scene where Louisa reveals a lot of back with a ridiculously long cigarette holder.
  • Slapstick: The film indulges in this a few time, such as when Louisa almost falls off the elevated Freudian Couch.
  • Sexy Shirt Switch: Louisa is seen wearing one of Rod's shirts during the Mitchum sequence.
  • Spinning Newspaper: Parodied.
  • Spiteful Will: Van Dyke's character leaves everything to Louisa, except for a one roll of chicken-wire to the now-bankrupt Leonard, referencing a confrontation between the two earlier on.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Louisa can't get rid of her money, no matter how hard she tries. And pretty often her attempts unfortunately end with her husband du jour dead.
  • Thundering Herd: Kelly's character gets trampled to death by one.
  • Unlimited Wardrobe: Again, parodied during the Mitchum sequence, with Louisa running through five or six extravagant costume changes in as many minutes.
  • Unluckily Lucky: Dean Martin's character and final husband Leonard is an extraordinarily unlucky fellow, but by the end of the film he married Louisa (who is rich so no problem on that end for some time to come... maybe... or at least it isn't by the time the movie ends) and his own immense unluck cancels out her Cartwright Curse.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Louisa, who can't offer even the tiniest and most well-meaning suggestion or bit of advice without it somehow snowballing into killing her current husband.
  • Workaholic: Louisa's first husband becomes one and relentlessly turns his small-town general store into a national business empire. And then finally...
    "Which all goes to prove, a little hard work never killed anybody!" [thud]