The Perfect Furlough (1958)

There was a time, some years back, when I watched a lot of Tony Curtis films (I didn’t get around to reviewing all that I watched, though I did some, such as Some Like it Hot, The Vikings, and Who Was That Lady?).  I haven’t watched a Tony Curtis film in years, but when blog reader Hurdy Gurdy Man sent me a mail informing me of a bunch of old classics that he’d discovered—good prints, too—on Youtube, I found that one of them was a Tony Curtis-Janet Leigh rom-com named The Perfect Furlough.

So I decided it was time to return from that furlough away from Curtis. And with a film that had him opposite Janet Leigh too! That seemed to bode well.

The Perfect Furlough begins in the Pentagon office of Col Leland (Les Tremayne), where a group of military psychologists have been summoned by the general to address a very specific and very troubling problem the US Army’s facing.

Up in the Arctic Circle is a US Army base where a group of 104 soldiers have been stationed for a period of one year. Since the posting was going to be so long, it was decided to pick only bachelors for it: it was thought that married men would not be able to stay away from their wives and families for such a long spell.

But the plan, it seems, has misfired. Because the men are going berserk. Fights break out, there’s acrimony and complaints and all sorts of discontent. Only seven months of that year-long assignment have passed, and nobody knows how they’re ever going to survive the remaining five months without killing themselves or each other (or both).

Naturally, it’s not possible to send all of the men on furlough. And if they agree to send one, then everyone will be clamouring for their turn too, and that is something the Army can’t handle. They need a solution for this.

One of the psychologists, Lieutenant Vicki Loren (Janet Leigh) has a suggestion: how about asking the men to choose their idea of the perfect furlough, then pick one man from amongst them to live out that perfect furlough? The others can ‘go’ on furlough through the experiences of the one man—they can have the vicarious pleasure of the furlough.

This meets with approval. Yes, that sounds like a doable idea.

The scene now shifts to the camp in the Arctic Circle. When news arrives of the Pentagon’s idea, there is extreme excitement. A furlough! Even if it’s only one man! But a furlough. What would be their idea of the perfect furlough?

Paris. Three weeks in Paris.And, says Corporal Paul Hodges (Tony Curtis), who spends a good deal of his time throwing darts at a life-size poster of the ‘Argentine Bombshell’, Sandra Roca (Linda Cristal), Sandra Roca to spend those three weeks with.

Very well. The message is conveyed to Army Headquarters, and from there (where a very sceptical General thinks this is never going to happen) to Sandra Roca’s mentor and manager, Harvey Franklin (Keenan Wynn). Harvey is a bossy man who prides himself on having discovered Sandra (who, despite living within 40 miles of Buenos Aires, had never been to that city, and when he found her, was riding a burro and knew not a word of English—and look what he’s made of her!)

Harvey tells Sandra that this idea, that she spend three weeks in Paris with a soldier on furlough, will be great for her career. It will win her millions of fans in the Army. Do it. Sandra looks sceptical, but with Harvey pushing her to do it, she has no option but to agree.

Meanwhile, at the camp, the men have all been given numbered tokens, one per man, for the lottery that will choose the lucky man. Corporal Hodges quickly gets to work, placing bets—on cards, on the ball-under-the-three bowls trick—with as many men as he can, winning away their tokens. By the time the day dawns for Sandra Roca to draw the winning number, Hodges holds a pretty impressive number of tokens…

… and still loses. But he manages to browbeat the winner (a timid sort with a bad cold) and frighten him into yielding up the token.

Thus it is that Hodges gets himself into position. This is the perfect furlough, waiting for him.

However, unknown to him, his past record has surfaced at the Pentagon, and suddenly everybody is in a flap. Hodges has an impeccable history as a very intelligent and competent scientist—but an abysmal record when it comes to women. He isn’t any small-time Lothario; this man, who once took six days to cover a distance of three miles (because he was driving a young woman home from Seoul to another town) would put Casanova to shame.

And this is the man they’ll be unleashing on Sandra Roca! They have to take steps to ensure the safety of Miss Roca and the dignity of the US Army. The Colonel deputes his assistant, Major Collins (King Donovan) and Lt Loren to accompany Hodges to Paris—they are in charge of making sure he behaves appropriately. Inactivate that overactive libido, is the order.

So when a cleaned-up (and how well he does clean up, too!) Hodges arrives at the airport to meet Sandra Roca, it’s to discover that this is not going to be the cozy little holiday-for-two he had expected. Major Collins and Lt Loren are there, hovering disapprovingly in the background; there are two Military Police soldiers; and, along with Sandra Roca (who is pleasantly surprised to meet Hodges) is Liz Baker (Elaine Stritch), who’s sort of secretary-cum-manager-cum-guard-cum-nursemaid for Sandra.

Liz is intent on taking her job very seriously indeed, as are the others. The major and the MP men huddle around while Hodges regales Sandra with stories of the Army, and when it’s Sandra’s bedtime, Liz comes along to take her off to her own bunk…

… which happens to be, to Hodges’s glee, right next to his own. On the pretext of fixing a stuck curtain rod at the window, Hodges gets into her bunk, and then—having snapped off the rod—apologizes and offers that she come to his bunk instead. Sandra gratefully accepts, and then rains on his parade by asking him, all innocence, where he will sleep. Hodges has no choice but to graciously accept that he’ll sleep in her bunk.

This, of course, leads to misunderstandings in the morning. Lt Loren, getting out of her bunk in the morning, sees Hodges in Sandra’s bunk. Then, while Loren’s back is turned, Sandra gets out of Hodges’s bunk, goes to her own bunk, and retrieves a pair of stockings from it. Loren has turned back by now, and with all that she’s seen, comes to the conclusion that yes, Hodges has indeed succeeded in seducing Sandra. Oh, the lothario!

She raises the alarm, and both she and Major Collins decide to step up the security around Sandra. When they check into the hotel, Sandra is on one floor (along with Liz and Lt Loren), while Hodges is one the floor above (and, after he manages to come down a knotted bedsheet and into Sandra’s balcony, he’s shifted even further away from her room).

And as Hodges go on ‘the perfect furlough’, everything is carefully documented, photographers busily recording the moment when the soldier and the famous actress pose so beautifully in front of the Eiffel Tower, and along the Seine, and at all the other picture-postcard-pretty sites of Paris.

Alas for Hodges, as soon as the mandatory photo has been taken, the two MPs are on hand to escort him away. Hodges isn’t even allowed to sit in the same car as Sandra: she rides in one car with Liz, the Major and Lt Loren; he rides in another with the MPs. Not just that; after Hodges’s latest stunt, the Major and Lt Loren have ordered the MPs to stand on guard outside Hodges’s room. He is to go nowhere without them.

This is getting more and more irksome for Hodges. This was not at all what he’d bargained for when he cadged his way into coming to Paris with Sandra Roca. So one day, at the end of his tether, he decides he must take matters into his own hands and somehow get Sandra away from her guards…

… not realizing that all the while, Lt Loren is developing a tendre for this reckless soldier. She denies it vehemently when Liz suggests it, but Vicki Loren is obviously taking more of an interest in Corporal Hodges than she should be, given especially that he has only one goal in mind, and that’s to get Sandra Roca into bed with him.

What I liked about this film:

The basic storyline, which combines romance and humour—in the form, especially, of some convoluted misunderstandings. It’s all totally farcical, of course, but that is par for the course with most rom-coms of that period. Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh make for great eye candy, as does Paris and the French countryside.

And the dialogues! A good bit of the humour of The Perfect Furlough lies in its witty dialogues. Elaine Stritch, as Liz Baker, gets some particularly witty lines, and she delivers them with just the right amount of dryness and wryness. Here’s a sample:

Colonel Leland: “He’s loose in Paris?!”
Harvey Franklin: “Well?”
Liz: “Well… everybody’s loose in Paris.”

What I didn’t like:

For a film which starred Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh, it doesn’t take enough advantage of that pairing. These two had great chemistry (a shame that just three years after The Perfect Furlough, they got divorced), but this film doesn’t get them together until very close to the end. Not only does this mean we get to see very little of Curtis and Leigh together, it also means that the Hodges-Loren romance becomes a little hard to believe: it’s too rushed, too sudden and then too intense to be believable.

What this film needed was better pacing: all the time they spent showing Hodges in the Arctic Circle camp, the manipulation so that he won, etc—that could have been cut down drastically to free more time up in the second half, to build the Hodges-Loren relationship.

And yes, it’s sexist and it stereotypes women. No more, perhaps, than most rom-coms of that era, but still. Even a blue stocking (so to say) like Loren is ultimately bowled over by the charm of this soldier (and he is bowled over, or so it seems, by the fact that she has all the traits it takes—as an old Frenchman says—to ‘be a good wife’. Yes, eye roll here).

Funny and pleasant enough ‘time-pass’, as we say in India. Don’t expect a genius screwball comedy.

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6 thoughts on “The Perfect Furlough (1958)

  1. Have never watched The Perfect Furlough, but I’ve always felt a weird connection with the film. Reason: when I first became interested in Old Hollywood at around age 13, I saw a splendid-looking photo-heavy magazine at the Sehgal Bros bookstore in South Ex — it was a special collectors’ issue of an old film magazine, and the first page I opened had these huge black-and-white photos of Leigh and Curtis in stills from, and on the sets of, The Perfect Furlough. I knew Leigh from Psycho and Curtis from Spartacus, two of my favourite films at the time, and I was very curious about this film. Partly because I had not the slightest idea what “furlough” meant.
    P.S. Madhulika, we need to do an Old Hollywood anthology together, even though no one will ever pay us for it

    • What a delightful anecdote! I don’t remember which was the first Curtis movie I watched, though I don’t think I’d seen any of his films when I was 13. Janet Leigh I got acquainted with sooner, thanks to Psycho.

      “P.S. Madhulika, we need to do an Old Hollywood anthology together, even though no one will ever pay us for it

      Yes! Splendid idea! :-) I’m all for it.

  2. love the coincindence of this. Just yesterday, I was watching a youtube video of Tony
    Curtis talking about working with Marilyn Monroe and he comes across as a very insightful man of the world. Can’t imagine him ever getting involved with anyone, coz if you are evolved, why get tied down by the shackles of standard issue lives?
    but, I guess, back in the day as you say, it was sexist and he did look very ‘dishy’. He fit the bill and became the fantasy. Not love, but that loving such a man would make him want to stay, leaving behind the allure of the world.
    Old Hollywood was a very different beast, selling fairy tales through real live people.
    Love the review and the fact that it inspired me to write all of this. :)

    • That is a real coincidence!

      Agree about what you say regarding Hollywood ‘selling fairy tales through real live people’. But then, of course, one must also remember that Curtis and Leigh divorced a few years after this film was made and went on to marry other people.

      But, if you want to add to the fairy tales, my favourite one is that of Charles Boyer, who was married to his wife for I don’t know how many decades. When she died, he was so heartbroken that he committed suicide four days later.

  3. The Perfect Furlough was one of the earliest Hollywood films I watched and I remember – without then knowing of sexism or stereotypes – being turned off by the ‘perfect wife’ slot for Janet Leigh. It just rankled, without really knowing why – you articulated it for me: the romance between the leads was too rushed to be believable and therefore the stereotype became almost a caricature of a ‘good wife material’.

    • Yes, that ‘perfect wife’ thing was so irritating! And the worst thing was that that’s when the penny seems to drop for Hodges and he suddenly begins to feel an attraction for her. It seems so obvious that he looks at her only as the ‘good wife’ she’s been labelled. Ugh.

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