Sunday in New York (1963)

This is a somewhat belated tribute, to yet another star of the silver screen. Aussie actor Rod Taylor (January 11, 1930 – January 7, 2015) arrived in Hollywood in the 1950s, and though he never achieved the fame of fellow countrymen like Errol Flynn (and, much later, Hugh Jackman, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, etc), he did star in several big films, including Hitchcock’s The Birds, The Time Machine, Young Cassidy, 36 Hours (and, his last outing, Inglourious Basterds, in which he played Winston Churchill).

Rod Taylor as Mike Mitchell in Sunday in New YorkI have to admit I haven’t seen as much of Rod Taylor’s work as I’d have liked to. But what I’ve seen impresses me with the versatility of this man. The first film I saw him in was The Birds, where he’s pretty standard Hitchcock leading man. Then, I saw him in Dark of the Sun (aka The Mercenaries), where he plays the 60s equivalent of the sort of roles Schwarzenegger and Stallone were to play in later films: hard-bitten, virile, seemingly indestructible. Then, 36 Hours—and here he was, as a suave, friendly German officer pretending to be American in order to dupe a captured Allied officer.

And Sunday in New York, where his character has definite shades of Cary Grant. Handsome, friendly, charming, and the upright, decent type a girl would take home to meet mother.

Rod Taylor, 1930-2015
Except that in Sunday in New York, Mother is there only in spirit—and in the form of a blue robe.

But, to begin at the beginning. As the credits roll, three people arrive, separately, in New York. One is Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), arriving on the train from Philadelphia to spend the day in Manhattan. Mike is a sports journalist and occasional music critic.

Also arriving in New York the same morning by train is Eileen (Jane Fonda). Eileen lives in Albany, where she’s a music critic (yes, surprise, surprise).

And arriving in New York the same morning is Eileen’s elder brother, Adam (Cliff Robertson). Adam is an airline pilot and lives in New York; he’s just flown in and will be in the city all of Sunday. The first thing he does, even before he’s out of the airport, is to phone his girlfriend Mona (Jo Morrow) and arrange to have her come over to his flat. He’ll get the drinks; Mona promises to bring bagels.

Adam phones Mona from the airport
Adam gets to his flat, takes off his uniform and starts getting the drinks out when the doorbell rings. And no, it’s not Mona; it’s Eileen. She apologizes for springing up like this all unannounced, and proceeds—over a drink—to tell all. We discover that Eileen has been going around with the very wealthy Russell Wilson, back in Albany. Adam has never met ‘Russ’, but knows—thanks to Eileen, who is madly in love with the man—all about him.

Only, it seems Adam isn’t now going to be getting the rich brother-in-law he thought he’d be acquiring. Because the romance is off. Eileen is very bitter about it.

Eileen lands up at Adam's
The fact is, Eileen is probably—as she puts it—“the only 22-year old virgin” around. Nothing wrong with that, one would imagine, but Eileen’s been at the receiving end of some very snide remarks from men over the years. Russell is no exception, and he’s been saying some truly nasty things to Eileen ever since Eileen refused to sleep with him before they got married.

So Eileen, fed up, has come away. She’s also pretty fed up with men. She confides in Adam: why do all men begin flirting by telling her smutty jokes? And God help her if she happens to laugh—they think that’s a sign she’s willing to jump into bed with them.

Is that all they want? To sleep with women? She asks Adam, straight out and very candid, if he sleeps with the women he goes out with. Adam looks a little startled, then—when she presses him—says no. He doesn’t sleep with them.

Some questioning
Anyway, the end result of this conversation is that Eileen tells Adam she’s going to stay with him for a few days, until she’s ready to go back to Albany. To guard her virtue (so to say) she’s brought along Mother’s blue robe, which she proceeds to drape neatly over a couch. Anybody who comes visiting and gets ideas into their head will be told that Mother is staying at Adam’s flat too: see her robe, right there? The robe, in Mother’s absence, will be chaperone.

Mother's blue robe, acting chaperone
The only person who does turn up is Mona, bearing bagels. Adam introduces his girlfriend to his sister, and then—because Mona and Adam obviously can’t have much fun with Eileen hovering in the background—Adam pretends that he and Mona had planned to go on a picnic. They’re going ice skating at the Rockefeller Center; would Eileen like to come along? Eileen declines, saying she’d rather stay home (and realizing, too, perhaps that Adam and Mona would like to be alone together).

So Adam and Mona leave—only to go to the nearest drugstore and start making phone calls to Adam’s many friends, trying to find a vacant flat where they can be by themselves for the rest of the day.

Adam and Mona try to find an empty pad
In the meantime, Eileen receives an urgent phone call for Adam. His boss, Chief Pilot Drysdale (Jim Backus) needs Adam to report immediately to the airport, to pilot a flight to Columbus—since the pilot scheduled for the flight will not be able to make it. Drysdale doesn’t tell Eileen all of this; he merely conveys the urgency of it to her. Eileen, since she knows (as she thinks) that Adam is at the Rockefeller Center, assures Drysdale that she’ll get the message to Adam as soon as possible.

So Eileen quickly gets dressed and takes the bus to the Rockefeller Center—and, on the bus, gets entangled (literally) with the handsome Mike. She bangs into him, and the corsage pinned to her lapel gets stuck to his jacket pocket. So badly stuck that despite her best efforts (and her deepest embarrassment), she’s unable to disentangle it, and Mike ends up having to get off at her bus stop with her.

Eileen gets entangled with Mike
Eventually, Mike rescues himself—by using a pocket knife to rip off his breast pocket. He’s by now quite amused about all of this (and also quite intrigued by Eileen). She hands him the pocket and tells him to let her know how much it costs to have it mended, so that she can pay him compensation. In all her flustered talk, Eileen has also blurted out why she’s at the Rockefeller Center, so Mike offers to accompany her inside and help her search for Adam.

Mike cuts off his pocket
They end up sitting down at the café beside the skating rink, to have a coffee while keeping an eye out for Adam. It’s an innocuous meeting—ostensibly to negotiate how much Eileen will pay Mike to have his pocket stitched on—but Mike tells Eileen a dirty joke, and that has the instantaneous effect of freezing her up.

At the cafe
Eileen realizes: this nice-looking man, who’d seemed so sweet and decent, is as bad as the rest of them. She excuses herself to go to the ladies’, and while there, scribbles a note and on emerging, leaves it with the waiter to be given to Mike. Instead of going back to the table, she slips out of the café…

…which is why she doesn’t realize that Mike, who’s rather more sensitive to vibes than most other people, has noticed that his joke seems to have irritated her. He takes advantage of her having gone off to the ladies’ to write a quick note and leave it with the waiter, to be handed over to her. In it, he apologizes for having (as he’s figured out) offended her, and he lets her know that he thought it best to remove himself before he could cause her even further pain.

Their paths, however, are destined to cross. Eileen, rushing down a street, happens to glance into a store window and sees Adam and Mona inside. She quickly passes on Drysdale’s message to Adam, and then climbs on to a bus to go back to Adam’s flat…

..and what should happen but that Eileen’s corsage should again get entangled in a man’s breast pocket? The poor gentleman in question is an old man on the bus, and an embarrassed and apologetic Eileen is busy trying to disentangle the two of them when Mike comes along.

Mike comes to the rescue
Mike, since he’s had prior experience of this, is able to disentangle Eileen and the old gentleman (by cutting off the old man’s pocket)—and he then proceeds to get off the bus with Eileen. There is some awkwardness between the two (Eileen, after all, thinks Mike has received her note after she left so unceremoniously, and he thinks the same regarding his note and precipitate departure). The truth emerges swiftly enough, however, and all is cleared up. Eileen is pleasantly surprised to find that Mike is actually sorry for having rubbed her the wrong way by telling her that dirty joke.

This considerable thawing of relations means that they go out boating, chat a good bit, become friends—and, as Sunday progresses, suddenly find themselves caught in the rain. By the time they get to some sort of shelter (an awning), they’re both pretty soaked—and then Eileen remembers that Adam’s flat is just two blocks away. She asks Mike if he’d like to come there to dry off, and Mike agrees.

Caught in the rain
The inevitable happens (yes, this is getting a little Hindi film-like, what with rain, two drenched people, and so on…). At Adam’s, Eileen tries in a ham-handed way to parade Mother’s blue robe and pretend that Mother is staying with them, but even she can see that Mike looks rather sceptical.

Eileen takes Mike’s jacket, with the intention of sewing on the pocket. The sewing kit is inside a small locked closet under the stairs, and when Eileen tries to open the closet, the doorknob comes off. The closet bursts open, and Eileen and Mike see hanging in there—lingerie! Not Mother’s, Mike comments dryly. And Eileen realizes that Adam lied to her.

An wakward moment - and Eileen is disillusioned
Oh, men! She’s so annoyed with the entire race that she decides, there and then, to show them. Everybody who’s been looking down on her all these years just because she’s still a virgin— well, she’ll put them in their place. And Mike is right here…

Sitting there on the couch, nursing drinks, it all gets very steamy.

Eileen makes her move
And the scene shifts to Adam, who’s been having no end of problems. He’s been summoned by Drysdale to pilot that flight to Columbus, so he drags Mona along with him to the airport, begging her to buy a ticket and get on the flight too. They’ll finally get some free time together, even if it’s in Columbus. Mona refuses all the way, but—when Adam goes into the pilots’ office— decides to surprise him by buying a ticket and boarding the flight.

As luck would have it, the colleague who was originally supposed to have piloted this flight turns up just in time. Adam’s immensely relieved—until, just as the plane lifts off into the sky—one of the members of the ground staff sees Adam and informs him that Mona is on that plane.

Adam is told of Mona's surprise for him
Much craziness ensues, what with Mona headed for Columbus and Adam now in New York. And while Adam is arranging for her to come back to New York as soon as possible…

…his sister Eileen is having troubles of her own. Because, in the passion of the moment, she’s murmured to Mike that this is her first time, and Mike (who’s a gentleman the likes of which Eileen has never seen before) says no. He won’t be the man to deflower her. Sorry. Eileen is busy trying to reason with him, and to try and fathom how such a man can still exist in this day and age—a man with a sense of honour old-fashioned enough for him to feel it incumbent to marry her if he had, in fact, deprived her of her virginity.

Eileen and Mike have a talk
They’re both in their bathrobes (rather, Mike is in Adam’s bathrobe), heatedly discussing this, when the door is flung open—and there is Russ (Robert Culp). He is excited and cheerful and bubbling over with joy: oh, Eileen, Eileen. Will you marry me? Yes, I’ve come to my senses, I know I can’t live without you, blah, blah. And Eileen, her dreams suddenly come true (though she does look rather dazed) says yes. Russ assumes Mike is Adam.

Russ arrives
Russ is too elated and chatty to even notice that the brother and sister seem a little nervous and confused. And just then, someone else arrives—Adam. Mike, who realizes who this is, quickly introduces him to Russ—as Mike Mitchell, Adam’s colleague. Russ, overflowing with the milk of human kindness, insists all of them—even his prospective brother-in-law’s friend—come along out to dinner. They’ll have a good time, all of them.

But will they? Adam, after all, doesn’t know Mike from Adam (sorry; I couldn’t resist that) and is therefore suspicious of this man whom Eileen has got in his apartment. Eileen and Mike know she must tell Russ—after all, if she’s going to be spending the rest of her life with Russ, she can’t go on pretending that Mike is Adam. But if she tells Russ, he’s going to blow up.

No prizes for guessing how it turns out, of course, but along the way, there are some funny twists and turns in the respective love lives of both Eileen and her brother Adam.

What I liked about this film:

Rod Taylor. I’d wanted to see Sunday in New York for Cliff Robertson, whom I’d really liked in Charly as well as in Gidget (frankly, Robertson’s Big Kahuna was the only thing I liked about Gidget). But, watching Sunday in New York, I found I liked Rod Taylor far more. Yes, screen time is pretty equally divided between the two men, but Taylor is just that little bit more. Handsome, urbane, charming in a boyish way. And not at all the rugged, he-man type I’d seen him as in films like Dark of the Sun.

Rod Taylor with Jane Fonda in Sunday in New York
What I didn’t like:

Sunday in New York is fairly typical 60s screwball comedy, but by no means the best of the lot. This isn’t a Send Me No Flowers or a Charade or a How to Steal a Million—the plot here is pretty much paper-thin, and the romance between the lead pair doesn’t have much of a comic element to it, even if it is light-hearted. The comic angle to Sunday in New York comes mostly from the thwarted-by-fate attempts of Adam and Mona to have a romantic tryst of their own, and that was what left me feeling unsatisfied: I’d have liked a better balance between the romance and the comedy. More comedy in the Eileen-Mike angle, or more romance in the Adam-Mona one.

Also, this is fairly predictable as far as the exploration of a woman’s sexuality is concerned: Eileen may appear, at first glance, to be that rare creature (by 1960s Hollywood standards), a wholesome, educated, intelligent girl (which is how Mike describes her) who becomes aware of her own sexuality. But no; the film refuses to go that far. And, in typical double standards way, it’s fine for the man, Adam, to be shown with a sex life (and a pretty active one, too, going by his conversations with Mona). But the woman, the heroine? No; she gets to be chaste throughout.

Still, by no means a bad film—in fact, it’s entertaining, fun, and has some good eye candy. And it’s a fine example of actually how versatile Rod Taylor really was. Watch it for him, if for nothing else. RIP, Mr Taylor.

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6 thoughts on “Sunday in New York (1963)

  1. N-i-c-e! This is one film that hasn’t swept into my ken, so now I need to watch this. Thanks for the review, Madhu, but in an echo of your plaint, WDIGTT?!

    (I’m beginning to think you’re taking revenge! *grin*)

  2. I managed to find a little time and saw you were reviewing a Rod Taylor film and therefore decided to read it, appears to be a film that would help me pass my time. I like Rod Taylor but unfortunately am woefully short of time.

    • Yes, this is a good time-pass film, Shilpi. Predictable, frothy, and easy on the eyes, too. Do what I do: I maintain a Word file in which I write down the names of films I intend to watch someday. Never mind that the file grows longer by the day!

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