Pillow Talk (1959)

Doris Day, Rock Hudson and Tony Randall acted together in three films: Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers. Since I’d already reviewed the other two, I decided it was time to complete the trio with a re-view and a review of Pillow Talk, the first of the Day-Hudson-Randall films.

New York is a big, busy and crowded city—so crowded that there aren’t enough telephone connections to go around. Interior decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day) therefore ends up having to share a phone connection—a party line, as it’s called—with a songwriter called Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). They’ve never met, but they’re already thoroughly in hate with each other.
What really irks Jan about the womanising Brad is that he’s constantly on the phone with one of his myriad girlfriends. Either they come over to his place and take the phone off the hook (thus disconnecting Jan’s phone line too) while they listen to him sing…

…or they phone him and stay on the line for hours, while he sings to them (and his song is always the same: You’re my inspiration [girl’s name]).

As a result, Jan, who does a lot of her work at home, is never able to get through to clients—and vice-versa.
She tries interrupting and ticking Brad off now and then, but all it does is get his back up. Finally, after Brad cosies up to the telephone company’s female inspector (who comes to investigate Jan’s complaint), Jan phones to let him know that now he will use the phone only from the hour to the half-hour every hour, and she’ll use the phone only the rest of the time.

Also part of the picture are Jan’s perpetually hung-over (when she isn’t drinking, that is) housekeeper Alma (the brilliant Thelma Ritter), who listens in on Brad’s singing and is quite enamoured of him:

And the very wealthy, thrice-divorced Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), a client of Jan’s. He’s commissioned Jan to redecorate his office, and in the process has fallen in love with her—so deeply that he tries to gift her a car to show his appreciation.

What Jan doesn’t know is that Jonathan’s best friend and business associate is Brad Allen himself. Their friendship dates back to when they were in college together, and while Jonathan now produces shows, he hires Brad to write songs for those shows. Jonathan is envious of Brad’s easy charm and immense success with women, and one day confesses to Brad that he, Jonathan, is in love with the beautiful Jan.
This comes as a bit of a revelation for Brad, who’d mentally slotted his unseen but nasty party line party pooper as a dowdy old woman, definitely not the chic and vivacious damsel Jonathan describes her as.

One evening, Jan is invited to a villa for a housewarming: she’s the one who’s done the interiors for the villa, and the lady of the house is very grateful. The party will probably go on till very late, so Jan says goodbye and is headed out when her hostess insists on having her college-going son Tony (Nick Adams) drive Jan home. On the way home, Tony starts getting amorous and though Jan tries to throw him off, he finally agrees to keep his hands off and take her home only if she’ll accompany him for a drink before that.

So Jan ends up at a bar and restaurant, having a drink with Tony (and trying to fend him off). And who should be sitting at the next table, with his back to Jan, close enough to overhear Tony address her by given name and last name?

When Tony badgers Jan into dancing with him, Brad sneaks a peek and decides Jan looks definitely worth getting to know better. Shortly after, Tony presents Brad with an opportunity: he collapses on the dance floor (he’s completely sozzled by now), and Brad moves forward to help pick him up, put him in a cab, and assure Jan that everything will be all right. Of course, since they’ve exchanged ‘unpleasantries’ on the phone so often, Jan would probably recognise Brad Allen’s voice—so he disguises it by assuming a Texan drawl and, by extension, telling Jan that he’s Rex Stetson, a Texan who’s visiting New York.

And since he’s really Brad Allen, who knows just which buttons to press, and since he’s figured out what sort of man Jan would like, Brad becomes just that man: kind, sweet, naive, ‘new to the city’ gawkish. He takes her up to his hotel room—just to show her the view from there—and is all that Jan could expect from a gentleman. (On the other hand, as Brad Allen, he phones her every now and then to try and convince her that ‘Rex Stetson’ is just like any other man, self-serving, selfish and wanting only sex).

Brad’s attempts to put Jan off Rex Stetson don’t work, since Rex is so utterly wonderful. Very soon, Jan realises that she’s fallen for this handsome Texan who’s walked into her life.
The next time she visits Jonathan’s office (and Jonathan, as usual, proposes to her), Jan lets him know that she’s in love with someone else. She even tells him the name of his successful rival.

Jonathan may not be a lady-killer like Brad, but he’s not letting go of Jan this easily. He therefore hires a private detective to find out who Rex Stetson is, what he does, etc. And, when the PI brings along the results of his work, Jonathan discovers who Rex Stetson is. Brad! His old college chum, his current songwriter, his rival for Jan’s love. The interloper! The cad! The backstabbing, black-hearted bamboozler!

And thus we launch into a mad charade, as Brad tries to keep a step ahead of:
(a) Jonathan, who (as Brad imagines, since he doesn’t know the cat’s already out of the bag) mustn’t find out that Brad is Rex
(b) Jan, who mustn’t find out that Rex is Brad
(c) Brad himself, who mustn’t fall in love with a girl he just wants to have a fling with

(a) has already happened; but will Brad be able to prevent (b) and (c)?

Watch. There’s lots of fun in store, with more twists and turns, including an amusing side plot as an obstetrician ends up thinking Brad Allen is a medical wonder—a man who’s pregnant—and Alma decides to help Jan’s love life, while Jonathan does all he can to throw the competition out of the window.

What I liked about this film:

It’s a good, fluffy romantic comedy. There’s peppy dialogue, funny situations, and of course the famous Day-Hudson chemistry, which is absolutely fabulous here. If for nothing else, watch it for them: they’re a treat!

The music. My favourites include the title song, the very cute Roly-poly, and You’re my inspiration.

And, a very special mention: Thelma Ritter, as Alma. She is a superb actress, and matchless as the hard-drinking, die-hard romantic.

What I didn’t like:

Some moments of slapstick, which could have been cut out. And there’s the fact that, all said and done, Pillow Talk is really rather sexist. Jan Morrow is supposed to be a hard-headed career woman who doesn’t want to fall for the wrong man, but that’s exactly what she does—after he’s duped her into thinking he’s someone totally different. Also, Brad’s phoning Jan and trying to put her off Rex Stetson doesn’t appear to have much motive, especially when he tries the trick the second time…

Still, that’s a minor price to pay for all the goodness that otherwise reigns in this film: Doris Day’s glorious singing, her lovely dresses, the whacky Thelma Ritter, and the gorgeous, gorgeous Rock Hudson. What more could one want out of 90 minutes of good old cinema?

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19 thoughts on “Pillow Talk (1959)

  1. I accidentally saw on TV some months back, the part where Jan is followed by the college boy and Brad picks him up and brings them home.
    Unfortunately I didn’t follow it!
    Well, it is late now and have to go to bed!
    good night or for you good morning!

  2. harvey: Sounds like the part where Tony tries to get fresh with Jan and then collapses because he’s so drunk – and Brad comes to the rescue, posing as ‘Rex Stetson’.
    It’d have been good morning for me. ;-)

    Banno: If you’re Rock Hudson fans, this one’s a must-see. I think, though, that his role in Send Me No Flowers is much meatier than in Pillow Talk.

  3. what a lovely review.

    already downloaded send me no flowers after reading your review. must download this and watch too.

    thks a lot.

  4. Yes, I do wish they’d acted together in more films! Thank you for the link to the soundtrack EP: that seems like an interesting blog anyway, not just for this particular film.

  5. This is one of my favorite movies ever, and I can’t really explain why. As you point out, it is incredibly sexist and based on tired stereotypes (though I must remind myself that it was made in 1959, so perhaps they weren’t quite as tired then), and the perpetrator of the icky behavior – which really is QUITE icky, especially seen from our age of fraudulent and deceptive behaviors online – gets basically no punishment. And poor Jan, who is herself basically alone in the city (notice she doesn’t seem to have any friends), and I assume the film is telling us “She has the trappings of success, but we all know her life is not full yet because she’s single.” But I love it. Several years ago my roommate at the time and I watched it sort of at random and both just fell in love with it, and we saw it again and again. We quote the lines to each other and would sing “You are my inspiration, ______” filled in with each other’s names, our favorite ice cream flavor, etc. The style of it is superb, for sure – the interiors and clothes are so sumptuous and fun. The colors overall are gorgeous and so evocative, though if Mad Men is to be believed, they are quite a bit more sherbet-y than was probably accurate. But still. I just love it. I love how awful Brad’s real apartment is (it’s what Austin Powers would do!), and Jan’s remodeling of it is even more hilarious. I have seen very few Rock Hudson films but have read he was nervous about taking this one because it was his first major foray into comedy. Well chosen, I say – he’s so funny, using his voice and his physical presence so brilliantly. And Tony Randal – couldn’t be better!

  6. PS – Doesn’t Bollywood need to remake this? Wouldn’t it be GREAT? I wish I could say that I thought the Ewan McGregor/Renee Zelwegger remake was great, but I don’t think it quite lived up to its potential, though as with the original, at least it looks fabulous.

  7. We quote the lines to each other and would sing “You are my inspiration, ______” filled in with each other’s names, our favorite ice cream flavor, etc.”

    I so LOVE that! Gorgeous. Now I’m going to be doing that to my afternoon cup of tea, my favourite novels, etc. :-)

    I saw the Renee Zellweger/Ewan McGregor remake because I’d heard that it was a Pillow Talk spoof, but somehow I couldn’t summon up much of a liking for it; not after having seen the original. Somehow, despite the sexism (there’s this rather virulent bit where Alma tells Jan something along the lines of there being nothing worse than a woman who lives alone and says she likes it)… I still like it.

    But oh, I do agree that Bollywood should try a remake! Good, Bollywoodish plot, and with someone like Saif in the Rock Hudson role, maybe? For the woman, I don’t know. Vidya Balan? She has that sort of sweet innocence that I associate with the Jan character.

  8. Saif would be GREAT! Oh yes, let’s write it! :) The songs are even already there. I always want to cast Rani in everything, but I’d love to see Vidya do it too. How about Alma – Kiron Kher, maybe? Lilette Dubey? I’m not sure who the best Tony Randal is…Rishi?

    You’re so right about that line from Alma. I had blocked that out. Yech. Of course, Alma is a pretty dangerously ill alcoholic, if you look at her with any kind of realism, so maybe we’re not supposed to believe her? Not sure. But yeah, blech.

  9. What more could one want out of 90 minutes of good old cinema?” A little less sexism? The woman not melting into a puddle at a marriage-proposal (though I certainly don’t blame her!)? The woman winning for once?

    This really isn’t one of my favorite Hudson films, and I can’t put my finger on why I prefer the equally sexist Come September, when I love both Hudson and Day, individually and together. And I loved Down With Love (even though Renee Zelwegger and Ewan McGregor are no substitute for Hudson-Day) – simply because it took the 60s sexism and turned it on itself rather well.

  10. Beth: Oooh yes! Rani would be perfect too. In fact, now that I think of it, much better, what with that sparkly feel she has. Love her! I think Lillette Dubey would make a great Alma; she has that somewhat free-spirit look about her that is more Alma-ish than Kirron Kher’s more maternal aura. But Rishi may be a bit old to play the Tony Randall character, considering that he and Brad Allen were at college together. Maybe someone who looks more of a contemporary of Saif’s?

    Of course, if we’re doing our own scripting, we can change Jonathan around to be what we want him to be. ;-)

    bollyviewer: That, of course. And more. In a perfect romance, it would be more equal. But then, as you indicate, one sometimes just can’t put a finger on why one likes a particular film and not another. I like Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back, but don’t like Come September or That Touch of Mink, all of which I feel rate about equal as far as blatant sexism goes!

  11. I have to get hold of some Day-Hudson film soon and watch it. This sounds wonderful! Too late now, will read the reviews of Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers in the morning.

  12. i saw this film weekend past and i loved it too, i still can’t get the ya ya roly song out of my head. This is the first film where I’ve really liked Rock hudson, I’m sold on him and part of the film does seem a little bit based on him, remember when his friend was lamenting on the need to marry and settle down cos it was a norm but he kept questioning asking Why? and the scenes that were meant to raise doubts in Jan’s mind about him being a mummy’s boy collecting recipes. All in all a fun movie and i agree with your review there’s hardly anything to complain about, and ohh yes Thelma Ritter is such a hoot remember when she urges Jan to ‘drink up’ :0)

  13. Oh, I’m glad you liked the film! Thelma Ritter is really such a hoot, and Rock Hudson of course is lots of fun too – though I must admit I thought those ‘insinuations’ about him re: the recipes and holding out his little finger when he drank etc… fizzled out. There didn’t seem much point in all of that anyway (even more so when you note that Hudson’s being gay emerged many years later).

    Still, much fun. And Ya ya roly poly is too cute! :-)

  14. Pingback: The New Yorker: No, Really, Call Me | Books in Media

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