Gini’s tackling the Oscar-winning Romantic Comedy:
Rock Hudson and Doris Day were movie magic, both separately and together, as Pillow Talk and the two not-really-sequels it spawned (Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers) attest to.
I saw Pillow Talk on TV as a kid and I remember thinking it was so hilarious. Would I still think that now? And what would the hubs think of it all?
Well, we think:
- This is one of the most trigger-ish scripts going for today’s sensibilities and…despite all that,
- The movie still works because Rock Hudson and Doris Day are movie magic together.
Pillow Talk is set in the days of party lines – you shared a phone line with other people and you could, therefore, hear their calls and they could hear yours. This is a situation so far removed from today – when even little kids have their own cell phones – that you definitely feel that you’re watching a period piece. Which you are, though this was a contemporary movie at the time it came out.
Ah, the late 1950’s/early 1960’s. So (seemingly) glamorous. So very dated and, in so many ways, frightening now.
Day plays Jan Morrow, a single career gal who has a fantastic penthouse in New York City, a fantastic job as an interior designer to NYC’s rich and famous, and an eager suitor in the extremely wealthy Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall) whom she likes a whole lot but does not, in any way, love and so does not want to “date” him. She has an alcoholic maid, Alma (Thelma Ritter), whose alcoholism is played for laughs. And Alma firmly believes that Jan’s life is totally incomplete without a man. The movie agrees with her. Jan is not complete without a man and, presumably, children. Not complete at all. And her protesting that she’s happy is meant to show us that she’s really not, she “knows” there’s something missing.
Enter the other person on Jan’s party line – Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). Brad is a swinging single songwriter who, because this is how screwball romantic comedies work, is besties with Jonathan, who is bankrolling Brad’s latest musical production.
Brad literally has a little black book, filled with names of women ready to do whatever he wants (more on this later) and he “writes” a song for each of them while they’re on the phone. Naturally, because Brad redefines the term “playa,” the song is the same song for every girl, he just changes the girl’s name in the song as he croons it to her. And naturally, also, Jan hears this all the time, because Brad is a total jerk and will literally not get off the phone so that she can use the phone she pays for to make business or even emergency calls.
Jonathan tells Brad about Jan, who Brad, of course, doesn’t realize is the person on the other end of his party line. He resents that person because she’s cramping his style and insinuates that she’s jealous that he’s not zooming her.
Everything in the script is one with this idea. When Jan goes to the phone company to complain about Brad, the man helping her insinuates that she’s jealous and lonely and that’s why she’s complaining. They send a female agent to check Brad out…three guesses how that works out for Jan and the first two don’t count. But the general insinuation is that Jan is just being fussy because she’s not getting any and if she was, she’d be all about letting Brad croon to everyone instead of making her business calls.
Jan goes to a party in Scarsdale at a wealthy client’s house and, as she’s leaving, the Harvard-attending son of the wealthy patrons of the interior decorator’s arts offers to drive Jan home so she won’t have to take a cab.
And then he tries to rape her.
He pulls the car over, shares that he digs older women, and pretty much tries to have his way with Jan. She manages to get him to stop by threatening to tell his mother but in order to get him to drive on and not leave her stranded in the middle of nowhere, she agrees to go to a bar and have a drink with him. All of this is played for laughs.
Meanwhile, Brad, who is, let us remember, played by ROCK FREAKING HUDSON and so is, therefore, the literal cat’s meow to all women around (and all gay men, too…and we’ll get back to that, as well), is entertaining a lady friend. And now we’re back to the point that women are willing to do whatever for him, in no small part because he’s Rock Hudson and in the other part because he’s telling them he’s in love with them.
So, tonight’s chick is no exception. She’s ready to go for it, and he flips a switch, which turns on music, down the lights, and locks the door. YES. Later in the movie, it’s proved that this door has to be unlocked via the switch, you can’t just open it if you didn’t want to have sex with Brad. Brad is a BIG man. Only an Olympic level wrestler or an MMA fighter has a chance to get away from him if she doesn’t want to stick around. But it’s Rock Hudson and we’ve established that the women find him irresistible – so why does Brad NEED to lock the women IN? Oh, because it’s the late 50’s/early ‘60’s, and this shows he’s a swinging bachelor with a great bachelor pad, that’s why.
Brad and tonight’s paramour also end up at the bar – said paramour is one of the entertainers there – and, naturally, their booth is next to Jan’s. And so Brad overhears what’s going on and realizes that Jan is both the Jan his best friend Jonathan is in love with and is also the woman on the other end of his party line. And she’s hot, so Brad wants her, regardless of the fact that his BFF has told him how in love with her he is.
Brad is smart enough to know that if Jan hears his voice, it’s over before it’s begun. So, he adopts a Texas accent and persona and rescues her from the drunken college kid, walks her home, and uses the word “ma’am” like he makes $5 every time he utters it.
Jan is, of course, smitten – let’s remember, Brad is played by Rock Hudson – and no wonder. “Rex Stetson” is tall, dark, handsome, wealthy, humble, and a perfect gentleman.
And now we get to the real issue with this movie. Brad spends his time in person with Jan being Rex – Mr. Perfect. He spends his time on the phone with Jan being Brad and “warning” her about Rex. Then Rex does the opposite of what Brad said he would, and Jan falls more in love with Rex. In other words, Brad spends over 50% of this movie manipulating Jan’s emotions, thoughts, and actions – all to get her into bed because he never backs down from a potential conquest, I guess.
Here’s where we get back to the gay part. Hudson was gay, and it was known in Hollywood long before it was known outside of it. Well known. And yet, in this Oscar-winning script, Brad insinuates to Jan that Rex might be someone who “you know…loves his mother too much” and every other gay stereotype of the day. They make Rock Hudson do this. Sure, he sold it (he is, first and foremost, a truly excellent actor), but in this day and age, watching someone who was terrified of being revealed to be gay, and who was tightly closeted, therefore, have to do this scene is infuriating. Maybe it didn’t make Hudson furious. Maybe it did. But it’s wrong. It’s wrong in general but more wrong in who had to sell this particular part of the gaslighting con.
Just like everything Brad is doing is wrong. Jonathan finds out, of course, and forces Brad to “break up” with Jan. Only, Brad’s a sly fox in lecherous wolf’s clothing, and he sets it up so that Jan is now going to go to Jonathan’s upstate mansion with him.
Of course, the song gives Brad away to Jan, as Jonathan comes in to rescue her.
The end? Of course not. Brad is truly in love with Jan, so he hires her to redecorate his apartment, thinking she’ll make it a perfect nest for the two of them. Of course, she doesn’t.
She makes it horrific, which is hilarious, but Brad isn’t having it. He kicks in her door, drags her out of her bed, and carries her through the streets of New York. She repeatedly asks for help, but no one, particularly the cops, do anything but ask Brad how he’s doing. Because Brad is played by Rock Hudson so all the cops and passersby know that Jan really wants whatever he’s selling.
So, in the end “true love” wins out because, despite it all, Jan is in love with the man who manipulated her to be in love with him and the moment he says the word “marriage” she’s forgiven him with goo-goo eyes and a welcoming smile.
Even Alma gets to have true love, with the elevator operator, Harry (Allen Jenkins) who feels that she’d stop drinking if she had a good man. And, that, as we all know, works every time. (Sorry, I can’t find the sarcasm font…)
Brad is the worst kind of letch and the only reason he gets the girl is that he’s played by Rock Hudson. As has been said about the Fifty Shades books and movies, if he wasn’t a billionaire, the girls would be calling the cops. In this movie, if he wasn’t Rock Hudson, Jan would have put a restraining order on him while Jonathan sued his ass and convinced Jan that money was a better option than being lied to constantly.
And yet, this film is still funny all the way through and hilarious in spots. The acting is freaking superb. The costuming, sets, even the songs, are all great. The script deserved its Oscar back in 1960. Sadly, because it still works today, it deserves that Oscar still. I want to hate this movie…only, I can’t. Or rather, I do hate it, but I still love it, too. So I guess I’m sort of like Jan.
I still enjoyed Pillow Talk, I just hate myself for doing so.
5 stars out of 5 if you can get past what was okay in 1959/1960 and is SO not okay now. 2 out of 5 if you can’t.
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