Tuesday, January 24, 2012

CMBA Comedy Classic Blogathon: 'Pillow Talk'

In a few weeks, I’m hosting a “Pillow Talk” pizza party for three couples who have not seen this classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson romp.

Whenever I show or recommend this film from 1959, the response is always enthusiastic. My sister-in-law proclaimed it her new favorite movie upon seeing it several years ago.

You would think a sex comedy made during the censorship years featuring America’s favorite squeaky-clean actress would be an impossible task. But somehow it all works, starting with a script that is creatively risqué without being crass. It also helps that Day and Hudson have oodles of chemistry, a sense of playful fun and great looks that complement each other. This is the first of their three films together – and most people think they made many more, a testament to their popularity. It would also begin Day’s reign as the biggest box office star in the country.

She plays interior designer Jan Morrow, who lives in a chic Manhattan apartment and desperately wants her own phone. Until that happens, she’s forced to share a party line with amorous songwriter Brad Allen. (For those who don’t know what a party line is, it’s when two or more unrelated customers share the same telephone line.) Unfortunately, Jan rarely gets a chance to use her line as Brad is on it all the time. It doesn’t help that Jan disapproves of cad Brad, who is continually cooing to different women each time he’s on the phone.

But fate steps in when Jan ends up at a nightclub with Tony (Nick Adams), the intoxicated son of a client, whom she is trying to fend off with no luck. Brad happens to be in the next booth and overhears her name, knowing her to be the shrew on the other end of his party line. But when he turns to look at her, he likes what he sees. However, knowing she would probably slap his face if she knew his identity, he assumes a Texas accent and comes to her rescue as Rex Stetson, disposing of Tony and escorting Jan home.

Jan is smitten with Rex, while Brad is taken with his own genius and plots to seduce her, unwittingly falling for her as time passes.

The genius of “Pillow Talk” comes in many forms, starting with the original, Oscar-winning script from Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin, Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene. The story breathlessly moves from one situation to another, the jokes work and the characters are fleshed out. The mistaken-identity plot is nothing new and while improbable, it is believable enough.

I love how you can hear Jan and Brad’s inner thoughts at times, often her being dreamy about him and he comically worried about keeping up the deception. There’s also the hilarious double entendre-laden diner conversation late in the film between Jan and friend Jonathan (the glorious Tony Randall), in which other patrons mistakenly race to defend her.

Another genius is that supporting cast. Randall appears in all three Day/Hudson films and here his character knows both parties, with Tony increasingly jealous of a Rex Stetson he has not met, unaware that Brad is Rex. The marvelous Thelma Ritter plays Alma, Jan’s soused housekeeper, who milks comic gold out of her relatively small and stereotypical “funny drunk” part. Her encounter with Brad late in the film is hilarious, and she earned Oscar nomination number five for her efforts.

The plush late-‘50s sets and costumes are a visual treat today, and the innovative use of split screens results in now-classic scenes such as the leads talking on the phone while each is taking a bath, leg up on the wall and feet seeming touching. This is why the film MUST be viewed in its wide-screen format; otherwise, the split screen technique cannot be fully appreciated.

But what makes “Pillow Talk” so much fun is the pairing of Day and Hudson. They are an ideal screen pair. When you look at Hudson’s 1950s output, his best roles are either in serious drama (“Giant”) or melodrama (“All That Heaven Allows,” “Magnificent Obsession”). He clearly has a flair for romantic comedy and has the perfect foil in perennially perky Day, whose reactive expressions alone are priceless. In the end, each actor makes you like their characters, which in Hudson’s case should be difficult to do, considering what Brad is doing to Jan, while Day must be sexy without being overt about it. It’s worth nothing that Day’s only Oscar nomination came for fine comedic work in this film.

Throw in a few songs sung by Day, and “Pillow Talk” maintains every laugh today. The plot was so popular that it’s essentially recycled in “Lover Come Back,” the second Day/Hudson film that’s even more outrageous that this one. But “Pillow Talk” is the best of the three. And in a few weeks, I will convert six more people into “Pillow Talk” fans.


34 comments:

  1. I totally adore "Pillow Talk." It is easily a 5-star film for me. You're SO right....the chemistry between Rock and Doris is amazing!

    I get the biggest kick out of the Rex Stetson accent and then when he asks about the dip recipe! Barrels of laughter through the whole movie, but those 2 parts really get our family howling.

    I recently watched another romantic sex comedy which I ranked up there with "Pillow Talk." "That Funny Feeling" starring Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin. It was a 5-star film for me too.

    Your pizza party/Pillow Talk showing sounds like a totally lovely evening. I know y'all will have a great time.

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    1. Thank you! I have not seen "That Funny Feeling," so I'll have to search it out. I do love the Rex Stetson accent, especially when you think of Rock having been in "Giant" playing a wealthy Texas landowner just a few years earlier!

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  2. I applaud your mission in life to make a world full of "Pillow Talk" fans. Plus, a standing ovation for your marvelous review. When they were ladling out chemistry, Doris and Rock received extra helpings. And, oh, those fashions!

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    1. Thank you. I'm happy to finally have a mission in life LOL

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  3. Man, why can't we be good friends? I want to go to a Pillow Talk pizza party! That sounds like a fun night Brian.

    Boy, do I remember party lines as a kid! I think that might be how I learned about the birds and bees thanks to one of our promiscuous teenage neighbor.

    I love Rock Hudson in everything (Giant being my favorite even though he was stiff and awkward at times for such a powerful man) But I agree with you about Rock and Doris's pairing, add Tony Randall to the mix and you've got an hour of fun.

    You picked the perfect film for our Comedy Blogathon. I always look forward to your great reviews and this one didn't disappoint.
    Page

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    1. Hi Page, thank you! If you want to move up to Chicago, let me know. We'd be happy to invite you over :) I also remember party lines ... although we didn't have one, a neighbor did.

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  4. A wonderful review of a wonderful film. Doris is one of the most underrated of all stars. There is nothing this woman coulid not do. She is an expert comic actress, looked so great in all of those clothes, and brought out a playful side of Rock that was a joy to behold. Add Tony Randall - who imporves every picture he was ever in just by being there - and you have a perfectly delightful movie!

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    1. Thank you! I've always had a crush on Doris, so I'm happy to finally write about her :)

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  5. I agree with FlickChick that the superb duet of Doris and Rock is really a trio -- bring on Tony Randall. A fun movie, and your party is idea is great.

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    1. Thank you! Somehow they should bottle this trio.

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  6. This is such a cute film. Day and Hudson always worked so well together. Day is from my hometown (as well as many other greats, like the Clooneys_, so I have a soft spot in my heart for her. I also think the supporting players, Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall, add so much as well. Loved reading this!

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  7. I saw this one years ago and remember liking it, but it sounds like I need another viewing. Tony Randall is worth watching in anything. Your pizza party sounds like fun. I hope they like it.

    There's nothing worse than introducing a favorite movie to friends and having it land with a thud. I don't think you'll have that problem with "Pillow Talk."

    A friend of mine had a parent who was a publicist when Rock Hudson was in Chicago on a tour of "On the Twentieth Century." Her dad had nothing but nice things to say about Hudson, which I was glad to hear. I always liked him.

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    1. Doris Day and Rock Hudson seemed genuine, so it's nice to hear some validation for him. Yes, check it out again. I know what you mean by showing films to friends. We had these same three couples over in the fall for one of my fundraising dinners. This was movie choice number two -- they all enjoyed "Shadow of a Doubt," another of my favorites, so I have a feeling this group will enjoy "Pillow Talk" as well. Otherwise, I'll keep pouring them wine :)

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  8. Brian ~ I will admit to being among those who have never seen a Doris Day and Rock Hudson comedy. I discovered some of Doris’s early musicals last year, but I haven’t moved on to her later films. Your description of the split screen innovation and the need to view these scenes on the wide-screen has me wondering if I may join your “Pillow Talk” pizza party, or is it only for couples and only for locals? I was also wondering who the gentleman is in the photo you have chosen for your profile; he looks familiar but I can’t think of a name. . .maybe without the mustache?

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    1. I strongly recommend you take in "Pillow Talk." Judging by the response, perhaps everyone should spend a weekend in Chicago, and I'll invite you all over! The man in the photo is James Craig, and while I wish I looked like that, I don't come close :( LOL He was in "Kitty Foyle" and "The Devil and Daniel Webster."

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  9. Well, first of all, I'll be looking for my PILLOW TALK pizza party invite in the mail! Doris and Rock were indeed an "ideal screen pair" with incredible chemistry. I also love Tony Randall's scenes with Rock and agree that hearing the characters' inner thoughts is a comedy device that works exceptionally well in this delightful film. In fact, I can only disagree with you on one point--I believe LOVE COME BACK is even better. It has all the virtues of PILLOW TALK plus the Vip Girl! I never appreciated Rock Hudson's comedic skills until later in life. But I now believe that's where his true gifts lay; he gave some good dramatic performances, but nothing that compared with PILLOW TALK and LOVER COME BACK.

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    1. Ah, the Vip Girl! "Lover Come Back" is a lot of fun, and either one is a terrific film. I do think Rock had a great comedic side. I grew up watching him and Susan St. James on "McMillan and Wife." I don't remember much of the series except enjoying it immensely, and he would show a playful side with Susan on that show.

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    2. CFB, your upcoming PILLOW TALK party sounds like it'll be a blast -- we in NE PA wish you a swingin' soiree in Chicago! :-) I had seen and enjoyed the Rock Hudson/Doris Day movies as a kid (heck, you had me at "oodles of chemistry" :-)), but it's been years (if not decades! :-)) since I sat down and watched them all from start to finish. Being risque without being crass is no small accomplishment! Your upbeat review has me thinking it's time to revisit them!

      By the way, CFB, have you ever seen DOWN WITH LOVE, director Peyton Reed's 2003 salute to 1950s/'60s sex comedies? We thought it was great affectionate fun!

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    3. Hi Dorian, thank you for the compliments and hope you revisit the films soon. I have seen "Down With Love," and it was affectionate fun!

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  10. Brian, we haven't heard enough from you recently, so it's good to see you making such a welcome contribution to the Comedy Classics Blogathon. "Creatively risqué without being crass"--that's a perfect description of the spirit of this movie. I liked your comments about the supporting cast, mid-century decor, and creative use of split-screen too. I too find Rock Hudson a most agreeable light leading man, although when inspired he could turn in an impressive dramatic performance (especially in "Giant," where for my money he betters James Dean's overly mannered performance, and "Seconds"). I discovered the pleasures of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson pictures late, and I'm sorry I didn't get around to them sooner. Hudson seemed the most compatible with Day of her many leading men. "Lover Come Back" is my favorite, but this is a close second. I haven't seen this in a few years, but after reading your post I'm planning to watch it again soon.

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    1. Thank you, R.D. It's been a busy six months, and I'm glad to be touching base again with the classic movie world. I hope you watch this one again soon; it's such a treat.

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  11. An awesome review for one of my favorite films. Rock Hudson and Doris Day, were so cute and funny together in the films: Pillow Talk(1959), Lover Come Back(1961) and Send me No Flowers(1964). I really enjoy watching them on a summer afternoon with a cup of tea and or pizza. :)

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    1. Thank you! Yes, these are fun film for a summer afternoon or a rainy day, complete with your favorite comfort food, whether tea, pizza or ice cream :)

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  12. Excellent review. I think the genuine friendship and camaraderie between Day and Hudson just spilled over into their onscreen chemistry; they seem so comfortable together. This is also the movie that made me love Tony Randall. He takes a simple sidekick role and makes it hysterically funny. Glad you decided to write for the blogathon!

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  13. What else is there to say? I love Pillow Talk, Day and Hudson were perfect together, and Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall are a huge part of this movie's success. Without them, it just wouldn't have been as good. Your description and opinions are just what I would write, which means they are very good -- LOL!

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  14. P.S. Wish I could come to your party!!

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    1. I wish you could come too :) We really need to have a movie party among the CMBA membership.

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  15. Maybe we could have members carpool to a central location. I'm in Indiana, in the middle of the USA! My apartment isn't big enough, but we could rent out a good bar with a big TV screen! Wouldn't that be fun?

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    1. That would be fun!! Perhaps there's a retro bar we could go to. My basement would work as well, and I'm in the Chicago area.

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  16. As one of the Pillow Talk Pizza Party attendees, I can testify that Brian is not only an authority in classic movies, but his cooking is out of this world as well! Thanks again for an incredibly fun evening.

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    1. You are welcome, and thank you for the kind comments. I'm posting the photo in a few minutes :)

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