Movie review: ‘Pillow Talk’

Romantic comedy has been a staple of Hollywood since Tinseltown’s beginning and in 1959 Doris Day and Rock Hudson rejuvenated the genre from an American cinema full of westerns and “spectacle” films as they brought light comedy back into the national lexicon with “Pillow Talk.” The duo made three films together that were released 1959 through 1964 and “Pillow Talk,” in my opinion, is the best. Everyone in this one is nicely dressed, polite and urbane. You might say this is the grandmother of modern “chick flicks” – if I’m able to still use that term (and I enjoy such films (take “You’ve Got Mail” – click here for my review). So, go look for “Pillow Talk” … it’s easy to find and I know you’ll enjoy it.

‘Pillow Talk’
(1959; 102 minutes; unrated; directed by Michael Gordon and starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall)

IT’S ROCK AND DORIS … ENOUGH SAID!

(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional trivia and opinion, fixed some typos and updated links on Jan. 2, 2016. I again expanded the review on Dec. 15, 2018. I further expanded and reorganized the review on April 1, 2020.)

While Frankie and Annette had a lock on the beach movie genre of the 1960s, Rock Hudson and Doris Day ruled the romantic comedy roost with three films: “Pillow Talk” (1959), “Lover Come Back” (1962) and “Send Me No Flowers” (1964). Of the three, I believe “Pillow Talk” is the best and often toss it into the DVD and enjoy a flick that’s easy to watch and not too taxing on the mind – and it is simply a whole lotta fun and will leave a smile on your face!

(CLICK HERE FOR ALL MY MOVIE REVIEWS)

So much about the film today comes off as quaint, such as the “party line” telephone (where you share it with a stranger) and the phone company wanting everyone in the country to have his or her “own line.” Of course, with G-rated dating and the guys after a girl and the girl after a guy, “Pillow Talk” is certainly nothing like the deplorable dreck on TV today such as … well, take your pick on E! or MTV networks (much less the insipid, vapid fecal matter that is the hallmark of WEtv).

Plus, Day earned an Oscar nomination for “Pillow Talk” – as did supporting actor Thelma Ritter.

In short, the movie has Rock (“Brad Allen”) and Doris (“Jan Morrow”) as beautiful people in New York City. He’s a songwriter with Broadway hits and she’s a successful interior decorator. No Hell’s Kitchen for these two … they’re at the top of their respective food chains.

However, these two beautiful people become mortal enemies because he uses their shared telephone line for his extensive amorous calls to numerous girlfriends, while, as an interior decorator, she finds she cannot make business calls because he’s on the line wooing that night’s coming conquest. It’s funny because, of course, in today’s world one or the other would get a restraining order faster than you can say 1-800-SUE-THEM – but really wouldn’t need it because they’d each have three iPhones going and the thought of a “shared” phone would be further away than the moon launch from the movie’s premiere.

Well, back to “Pillow Talk.”

Enter Tony Randall as “Jonathan Forbes.” He’s the bridge as well as the catalyst to the whole romantic mess because he’s Rock’s best friend and he’s busy trying to convince Doris that he’s the one for her. Of course, the triangle converges, but with Rock pretending to be “Rex Stetson,” a Texas good guy. You see, he and Doris have never met in person – they’re enemies over the phone (today it would be Facebook bullying or a Twitter war). Of course, at the same time he gleefully uses the telephone as himself to keep pushing her toward Rex.

And, once again and of course, the wheels come off and then are repaired. It is a romantic comedy, after all. The best part is that it all works well for the audience.

So, here I go with a look at the top of the cast …

  • An Oscar nominee (sadly, not for this one), Hudson is pitch-perfect in this romantic comedy. He is just so at ease in front of the camera that you wouldn’t believe it took talent to be so smooth. However, he was a quite solid actor. He was nominated for “Giant” with Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean and was a Golden Globe winner of the “Henrietta Award” (now a “retired” honor) as “World Film Favorite – Male” four straight times from 1959-1963 (he shared 1961’s with Tony Curtis). You simply sit back and let him entertain you in this one. Hudson was in has been quoted as saying that “Ice Station Zebra,” in which he plays a U.S. submarine commander on an espionage mission, was his favorite film (click here for my review). I also enjoyed his work in “Pretty Maids all in a Row” and he had a signature TV series co-starring with Susan Saint James in “McMillan & Wife.” His career began in 1948 and he had 75 acting credits in a career that lasted until his death of AIDS in 1985.
  • In addition to her Oscar nomination for this one, Doris was a four-time Golden Globe winner and eight-time Globe nominee (thankfully, one for “Pillow Talk”). Wow! A legendary career. Day shows her best stuff as she plays off Hudson with aplomb with class, even though she’s seething inside. Day doesn’t make any missteps and this one is a jewel in the crown of her legendary career of just 45 acting credits spanning four decades with the last being in 1973 for her own TV effort “The Doris Day Show.” Doris left us at age 97 in 2019 when she died of complication of pneumonia. Thank you, Doris, for a sterling career! Doris and James Garner became a pair in a pair of films in 1963: “The Thrill of it All” and “Move Over Darling.” With Rod “The Birds” Taylor, she was in “The Glass Bottom Boat” (click here for my review) and “Do Not Disturb.”

While Rock and Doris are the stars, Randall steals the show. He is so wonderfully manic and conveys his part well that you cannot help but like his character and the other key supporting player is Thelma Ritter, who plays “Alma” the housekeeper who has a taste for the bottle.

  • A six-time Golden Globe nominee (yes, one for “Pillow Talk”), Randall has such talent that he’s nothing more than being Tony Randall in this one. You just enjoy seeing him on screen and the character or setting doesn’t matter, you’d enjoy watching him do just about anything. It’s simply impossible to believe that Randall didn’t win a Globe or get an Oscar nomination for any of his work. He was a talented actor deserving of better from the awards circuit. Randall was in the TV version of “The Odd Couple” as well as films such as “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” with Jayne Mansfield in 1957. He died at 84 in 2004 of complications from pneumonia following heart surgery.
  • It’s truly a fact that should astound you: Ritter is a six-time Oscar nominee (including for this one). She plays “Alma,” who is the world-weary, alcoholic voice of romance for Doris … and she plays it to perfection. At one point, Hudson fails trying to keep up with her, drink-for-drink and loses while slamming down vodka and later says to Randall, “What a party girl she’d make … in Moscow.” Like her boss in the film, Ritter is smooth and neat in every delivery of her lines. You couldn’t have picked a better actor for the role. Her first nomination was for 1950’s “All About Eve” with Bette Davis (a film that won six Oscars and was nominated for another seven) and her last was for 1962’s “Birdman of Alcatraz” with Burt Lancaster. In between, she was nominated for “The Mating Season,” “With a Song in My Heart” and “Pickup on South Street” Thelma died at 66 in 1969 of a heart attack.

There isn’t much after the actors I already noted, but one small role comes from a familiar face: Hayden Rorke, who played “Dr. Alfred E. Bellows” as the longsuffering straight man to Larry Hagman’s “Capt. Tony Nelson” in iconic TV series “I Dream of Jeannie.”

In this one, Rorke is telephone company executive “Mr. Conrad” and tries to help Doris with her problem and sadly notes at one point that the phone company may “have to disconnect” Rock’s telephone! Rorke also did TV episodes such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and films such as “The Barefoot Executive” and he died of cancer at the age of 76 in 1987. He was a busy actor, notching 145 credits in a career spanning five decades from the first in 1943. Rorke brought back the “Dr. Bellows” character in his final credit: “I Dream of Jeannie … Fifteen Years Later” in 1985.

The character of “Alma” also shows how quickly language can evolve. The doorman at Doris’ building who operates the elevator (a quaint job!) comments as “Alma” arrives hung over yet again for work, “Why does she have to go out and get stoned every night?” Well, it wouldn’t take many years after “Pillow Talk’s” release for that word to have a completely different meaning.

One funny thread in the film is when Rock has to duck into a doctor’s office to keep out of sight of Doris. It is an obstetrician and Rock unknowingly tries to make an appointment to the horror of all the women in the waiting room. A somewhat continuation of the scene would be continued later.

Another cute scene is at a piano bar with an engaging singer (Perry Blackwell) where Rock is confronted by Randall while Doris is away and then despite his promise to dump her, he arranges for a weekend away with her. The singer is good (she leads the “Roly Poly”) and the scene is crisp and reflects the actors’ talent. As he leaves, she begins to sing … “You lied! You dog … and you’ll be sorrrryyy!”

Pillow Talk” was the fifth-ranked film at U.S. theaters for films from 1959 and it made $9.6 million, according to Wiki. It also did a respectable $7 million (estimated) in video rentals and sales, according to the film’s page on Wiki. The No. 1 film was the spectacular “Ben-Hur” with Charlton Heston and its 11 Oscars ($36.9 million) and coming in at No. 2 was one I like very much – “Operation Petticoat” with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis – click here for my review. I’ve only reviewed PT and “Operatio Petticoat”of the films released in 1959.

Other cast and film notes (from IMDb.com):

  • Marcel Dalio plays “Mr. Pierot,” who is Doris’ boss in the film. His extensive career beginning in 1931 includes classics such as “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “Sabrina” and TV shots including “77 Sunset Strip.”
  • Another “77 Sunset Strip” veteran here is Jacqueline Beer, who also notched TV credits such as “The French Atlantic Affair” miniseries and a “Mister Ed” episode.
  • Directly from com: “Rock Hudson turned down the film three times, believing the script to be ‘too risqué.’” No further comment.
  • Rock’s real name was Roy Harold Scherer Jr. and he was very tall for a Hollywood star at 6-foot-5 (Clint Eastwood is 6-foot-4).
  • Doris’ real name is Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff.
  • Finally and directly from IMDb.com: “Ross Hunter (the producer) wrote that after he made this film, no theatre managers wanted to book it. Popular movie themes at the time were war films, westerns, or spectacles. Hunter was told by the big movie chains that sophisticated comedies like “Pillow Talk” went out with William Powell. They also believed Doris Day and Rock Hudson were things of the past and had been overtaken by newer stars. Hunter persuaded Sol Schwartz, who owned the Palace Theatre in New York, to book the film for a two-week run, and it was a smash hit. The public had been starved for romantic comedy, and theatre owners who had previously turned down Ross Hunter now had to deal with him on HIS terms.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014-2016, 2018, 2020.
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