Romantic comedy has been a staple of Hollywood since Tinseltown’s beginning and just over 50 years ago Doris Day and Rock Hudson rejuvenated the genre from an American cinema full of war movies and westerns. The duo made three films together that were released 1959 through 1964 and “Pillow Talk,” in my opinion, is the best. It’s easy to find; enjoy it.
(1959; 102 minutes; unrated; directed by Michael Gordon and starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day and Tony Randall)
IT’S ROCK AND DORIS — WHAT ELSE NEEDS TO BE SAID?
(NOTE: I expanded this review with additional trivia and opinion, fixed some typos and updated links on Jan. 2, 2016.)
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 for some quick movie fluff that easy to watch and not too taxing on the mind.
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.
In short, “Pillow Talk” has Rock (“Brad Allen) and Doris (“Jan Morrow”) as beautiful people in New York City. They 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 in operation.
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 a friend of Rock’s and is 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 – they’re enemies over the phone (today it would be Facebook bullying). At the same time he gleefully uses the telephone as himself to keep pushing her toward Rex.
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.
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 him. The other key supporting player is Thelma Ritter, who plays “Alma” the housekeeper. Alma is the alcoholic, world-weary voice of romance for Doris. At one point Hudson fails trying to keep up drink-for-drink and loses while drinking vodka with her and later says to Randall, “What a party girl she’d make … in Moscow.”
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 yet again hung over 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 small role comes from a familiar face: Hayden Rorke, who played “Dr. Bellows” as the foil to “Capt. Tony Nelson” in “I Dream of Jeannie.” Rorke is a telephone company executive who tries to help Doris with her problem and sadly notes at one point that the phone company may “have to disconnect” Rock’s service!
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.
One 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 his friend, 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.
“Pillow Talk” was the fifth-ranked film at U.S. theaters for films from 1958 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 Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty” with $21.9 million. Another film from that year that I reviewed is “Operation Petticoat” with Cary Grant and Tony Curtis – click here for my review.
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 IMDb.com: “Rock Hudson turned down the film three times, believing the script to be ‘too risqué.’”
- Rock had a hit TV series in the ’70s with “McMillian & Wife,” which co-starred Susan Saint James.
- 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). His career began in 1948 and lasted until his death of AIDS in 1985. He was married once, from 1955 to 1958, to Phyllis Gates.
- Doris’ real name is Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff.
- 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.”
- Directly from IMDb.com: “(Rock’s) favorite of his films was the Cold War drama Ice Station Zebra (1968).”
- Rorke also did TV episodes such as “The Beverly Hillbillies” and films such as “The Barefoot Executive” and died of cancer at the age of 76 in 1987.
- 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.”
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