A hundred years, ago, on June 7, 1917, in Ohio was born Dino Paul Crocetti, the son of an Italian immigrant and his wife, also of Italian origin. Dino spoke nothing but Italian until he was five years old—and didn’t have an easy time growing up, what with having to work jobs as varied as that of a steel mill worker and a gas station attendant. Until 1946, when he finally landed up in Hollywood, changed his name to the more Anglicized ‘Dean Martin’, and teamed up with comic actor Jerry Lewis in a series of comedies. They were to part ways some years later, but Dean Martin went on to become a far greater star—as actor and as singer—than anyone could ever have imagined.
While I’ve already reviewed several of my favourite Dean Martin films—the absolutely delightful Bells are Ringing, the Western Rio Bravo (which featured him in what is one of my favourite roles, as a drunk lawman who must gather his wits to help fight off evil), and Who Was That Lady? —I decided it was time to watch and review one film that was especially significant in Dean Martin’s career. Not because it was especially good, or very different from the usual romantic comedies of the 50s, but because it was Dean Martin’s first film as a solo lead, not teamed up with Jerry Lewis. And because it is in a setting that pays homage to Martin’s Italian heritage.
Ten Thousand Bedrooms, not anywhere as risqué as it sounds, because this is about a hotelier who owns ten thousand bedrooms. Ray Hunter (Dean Martin) is an American millionaire who owns a chain of hotels and is on his way—in his private jet, which he also pilots when he feels like it—to Europe. His agenda for Europe is simple: he has to go to Rome, to meet a Contessa from whom he’s finally (after pursuing her for two years) managed to buy the Regent Hotel. From Rome, he’ll go on to Athens, for another hotel acquisition.
Ray lands at Rome, where he’s greeted by a young woman (Eva Bartok) who introduces herself as Maria Martelli. She’s been sent to receive and escort Ray to the Contessa. Maria doesn’t look very impressed with Ray (who, from the conversation between him and the flying crew, seems to have a reputation as a playboy). She does unbend a bit, though, especially when—their car having broken down—they are obliged to stop at a café for an espresso.
The deal with the Contessa is finalized. Ray assures her that he intends to keep on most of the staff at the Regent and not change the tone of the hotel. That done, the next step is to go and meet the hotel staff. Ray admits that he knows very little Italian, and Maria offers to come along to help him out. However, she needs to stop off at home for a few minutes en route to the hotel; will Ray mind?
Ray does not mind, so Maria takes him to her home, where Ray finds himself at the receiving end of the very flattering attentions of Maria’s youngest sister, the eighteen year-old Nina (Anna Maria Alberghetti). Nina flirts unabashedly with Ray, not even minding when her father (Walter Slezak), a former concert pianist and composer, ticks her off. Signore Martelli explains to Ray that Nina and Maria aren’t his only daughters; there are two others as well.
Ray leaves with Maria for the hotel, and soon after, Nina—having prettied herself up—rushes to the Regent too, where she works as a stenographer. At the hotel, she barely gets a chance to talk to Ray (all he tells her, though jovially enough, is that she’s twenty minutes late).
In the course of the evening, two things happen.
First, Maria, who was supposed to have gone out with someone, gets stood up and ends up going to dinner with Ray. They dine at a restaurant where the live music includes singing by the two Martelli sisters whom Ray hasn’t met yet…
… and Ray sings a romantic song to Maria while they dance. Love seems to be blossoming, but when they come and sit down at their table, it’s to find that they’ve been joined by someone Ray doesn’t know. Anton (Paul Henreid), a Polish count who once had vast lands near Krakow but is now a sculptor, was Maria’s original date for this night. He has turned up late, but he doesn’t seem to realize that he might be interrupting Ray and Maria. Anton chatters blithely on about the studio he and Maria share (she too is a sculptor), and how they are so close, and so on.
Meanwhile, at the Regent Hotel, Nina has been spotted by Mike (Dewey Martin), one of the pilots on Ray’s airplane. Mike is immediately smitten, and tries his best to woo Nina as swiftly as he can. Nina is amused at his fervour, and does nothing to dampen it. So encouraging, in fact, that Mike (not to mention me) thinks this is definitely not a one-sided romance.
Alas, no. A short while later, an incensed Ray, annoyed at what he interprets as two-timing by Maria, returns to his hotel room. Soon, Nina sashays in, asking if he needs her to take dictation…? It’s an obvious attempt at flirtation, and Ray welcomes it. No, he says, he doesn’t need anything dictated, but would she like to go out with him? On an aerial tour of Rome, perhaps?
So they go up in the plane and circle over Rome. Drink a lot of wine. Dance, sing, kiss. Poor Mike watches on, stricken. Little does he know that worse is to come, because in the midst of all the canoodling, Ray proposes to Nina.
When they land and go to the Martelli residence, Nina tells Ray that he’d better go in and speak to her father about their getting married. Ray does, telling Signore Martelli that he wants to marry his daughter. Signore Martelli is delighted and showers kisses on a reluctant Ray. It takes a little while for the misunderstanding to be cleared: Signore Martelli thinks Ray wants to marry Maria, since it was Maria he took out for dinner. Marry Nina? No! She’s a baby, she doesn’t know anything.
Ray does all he can to convince Signore Martelli—he tells him how well-off he is financially, how much he cares for Nina, and so on, but Papa is disdainful. Eventually, Signore Martelli tells Ray that Nina’s marriage is out of the question right now: she has three older sisters. Until they get married, Nina cannot marry. That’s it. Simple.
So Ray has only one option before him: get Maria and the other two sisters off, pronto. And, businessman that he is, he sets about doing so in as businesslike a fashion as he can imagine. Except that he hasn’t taken into account the fact that human hearts (including his own) don’t always function in businesslike ways.
The overall prettiness of it. Dean Martin is handsome, the ladies are lovely, their dresses are gorgeous—and there’s Rome. Of all the cities I’ve visited, Rome remains one of my top five favourites, because it is so fascinating, so vivid and rich and alive. And Ten Thousand Bedrooms really pays homage to Rome, what with Nina whizzing about on her scooter, scenes on the Spanish Steps and at the Trevi Fountain, and many, many views of the cobbled streets, with those wonderful old houses rising (never higher than St Peter’s Basilica, as per law) on either side.
The occasional bit of humour. While the plot itself is supposed to be a romantic comedy, I found it not really comic (or even very romantic), but there are dialogues here and there that are fun. For example, this one, where a starry-eyed Nina, exulting over how Ray sang to her, repeats a couple of lines from the song, which Maria immediately recognizes as being the song he sang to her.
Nina: “… he certainly has something.”
Maria: “I know what he has. A very limited musical repertoire.”
What I didn’t like:
The just too unbelievableness of it all. True, I do not expect a rom-com to showcase any great depth of feeling, but there are rom-coms and rom-coms. There are the hilarious, outright comedies like Some Like it Hot; there are those which have a strong romance angle and great chemistry between the leads (I can think of several Cary Grant films which fall into that category), there are films like Pillow Talk or Lover Come Back, which are both romantic as well as funny. Ten Thousand Bedrooms, sadly, despite having four scriptwriters to its credit, manages to be neither especially romantic nor especially funny.
The worst bit of this is the inexplicable behaviour of Ray Hunter. It’s plausible that a silly teenager like Nina (who, as her father himself insists again and again, keeps falling in love with a new man every week) will become infatuated with a wealthy and alluring man like Ray. But why does Ray, so much older, so much more worldly-wise, and so obviously (at first) rather exasperated by her throwing herself at him, propose to Nina? If it was mere sexual attraction—which it may well be—surely Ray, renowned playboy that he is, can think of other things than cradle-snatching as a means to that? True, he is put off by the fact that the woman he’s actually attracted to (Maria) is, seemingly, more interested in Anton, but still. A casanova like this should be able to rebound with more flair. That’s no reason to decide to marry her younger sister.
But hey, maybe I’m just being picky. At any rate, even if it’s not the best film out there—or even in the reckoning—Ten Thousand Bedrooms does a fairly good job of showcasing Rome and Dean Martin.
Happy hundredth, Dean!