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.
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.
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.