40 Pounds Of Trouble (1962) was producer and star Tony Curtis’ passion project. Beginning in 1962 Curtis’ career began to wane and it was believed that 40 Pounds Of Trouble could open up the family film market for Curtis and establish him in funny father roles. However Curtis was not destined to be to follow in the footsteps of James Stewart or Fred MacMurray as his playboy persona continued to dictate the roles he was offered.
Despite playing a casino manager Curtis’ role in 40 Pounds Of Trouble is an intensely physical one, especially during the famous chase through Disneyland sequence. 40 Pounds Of Trouble was designed to highlight each of Curtis’ star attributes from his skill with rapid fire dialogue (Sweet Smell Of Success) to his physical prowess (Trapeze) and to his broad comedic skills (Some Like It Hot). Even Curtis’ co-stars Claire Wilcox and Suzanne Pleshette bring out the best that the leading man has to offer. Where 40 Pounds Of Trouble falters is in the script.
Written by Marion Hargrove (best known for his work on westerns), 40 Pounds Of Trouble can’t seem to balance the saccharine with the pulp. 40 Pounds Of Trouble is based on the same Damon Runyon novel as Little Miss Marker (1932) but unlike this earlier adaptation opts to combine the then trendy “Rat Pack” style and swagger with the sentimentality of a Shirley Temple picture. While the actors can handle both juxtaposing sensibilities the plot itself cannot. With every twist the narrative becomes in turns more improbable and less compelling.
The story of a playboy who becomes a reluctant father only to learn the virtues of traditional American values isn’t exactly revolutionary. The most interesting parts of 40 Pounds Of Trouble are in the awkward scenes between Curtis and Wilcox as well as those that deal with the daily operations of the casino. These two types of scenes are typically very short and occur only intermittently in Hargrove’s script. Rather than focus on these elements that are, more or less, specific to 40 Pounds Of Trouble Hargrove prioritizes the romantic life, past and present, of the Tony Curtis character.
Although 40 Pounds Of Trouble marked the end of the golden age of Tony Curtis’ career, it also signaled the beginning of director Norman Jewison’s career as a major Hollywood director. Jewison’s camera tracks Curtis all over his casino is a series of virtuosic shots that clearly influenced Martin Scorsese’s work on Casino (1995). In 40 Pounds Of Trouble Norman Jewison is essentially trying out all of his new big budget toys. The result of which is a film that’s gorgeous to look at but difficult to invest in.