Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
This is it, the original template film for Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Their early 60s work
changed the course of romantic comedy. Previously things ended in marriage, with sex
never part of the pre-nuptial deal. It still isn't in Pillow Talk, but the object is
to make actually doing the deed a possibility. That wasn't thinkable a few years earlier, as
witness the "shocking" use of the word "virgin" in Otto Preminger's code-defying The Moon
The clever, Academy Award winning screenplay plays a brinksmanship job with good taste, with
chaste double-entendres and the knowledge that smiling, wholesome Doris would indeed hop in the
sack for the right man under the right circumstances. The point of the farce seems to be about
preserving Day's virginity long enough for the mistaken identities and amorous deceptions to
play themselves out.
Furious that he hogs their party line, interior decorator Jan Morrow (Doris Day)
turns in songwriter-ladykiller Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) to the phone company. But they send a
female investigator, which he
seduces the same way he does every female. As revenge, Brad tries to seduce Jan in the guise of an
aw-shucks Texan by the name of Rex Stetson. Meanwhile, an amorous client of Jan's who, unknown
to her, is Brad's best friend learns of the charade. Aiding and advising the lovestruck Jan is her
alcoholic housemaid Alma (Thelma Ritter), but it's only a matter of time before Jan finds out
that her Texan beau is really the despised Brad.
It's hard to believe New Yorkers still had to have party lines in 1959, or at least people
living in slick high-rise apartments. Pillow Talk uses the eavesdropping angle for its
comedy hook and dresses up phone conversations with split screens that create sexy scenes that
defeat the censor. Rock and Doris would never be allowed to share the same bathtub, but the matte
line bisecting the screen allows them to sprawl in two tubs on opposite sides of the Panavision
screen, and even get away with playing "footsie" with each other. It was considered risqué
back then and is still too cute to be completely tame now.
There's also a high percentage of randy jokes and allusions, what with the eternally sexless Tony
Randall failing to win Doris, even when he tries to buy her a Mercedes convertible. Rock tells
him a story about marriage being like a forest tree cut down and floated down the river with
all the other logs, whereupon Randall protests that if he could marry Doris, he'd be happy to have
his branches cut off.
The sex politics are pretty thick. It's presumed that wealthy single professional woman Doris is
still a cripple without a man to call her own, and as an example of female failure we're given Thelma
Ritter in a two-joke role as a tippler with a problem riding elevators when hung over. When Doris
finds a man she wants to marry, Thelma advises her to "get out of that (dressing) robe and rope him."
On the other hand, Hudson lives the bachelor life in a Hugh Hefner pad with a switch that
automatically locks doors, dims lights and cues the makeout music. A second switch pops a fold-out
bed out of a sofa. That's perfectly okay because literally every female he meets falls in a dead
faint at his feet. Doris however, possesses that rare magic quality that women desperately need
in the movies, the ability to make goons like Hudson fall in love.
The main farce situation that recurred in later Day/Hudson romps is the love-nest retreat, wherein
Rock draws an amorously aroused Doris out to some hideaway shack, usually under false pretenses.
There'll be a big tease while Doris demonstrates that she's "ready" to , uh, you know, and then
something has to happen to interrupt at the last moment.
Pillow Talk handles all these situations with deft ease, including the requisite Doris Day
song, this time handled nicely in a night club. Michael Gordon's direction uses the anamorphic
screen well, and the split screen party line scenes aren't overdone or tacky. There's a good
sidebar story with a hot-to-trot Nick Adams as a Harvard man trying to assault Day in his MG
sports car, and Marcel Dalio, Lee Patrick and Allan Jenkins provide memorable support.
Important to mention are the single-swinger trappings that looked so attractive to young people in
1959. Living alone in modern apartments with maids, the principals haven't any family to fuss with
and the female in particular has an enviable freedom. How many girls in 1959 could carry on an affair
and not have everyone from their kid sister to the milkman not find out about it? Miss Day's
fashions were every bit as important as her acting, and the movie has a fine joke on Hollywood
art direction when Doris gets to use her interior decorating skill to turn Hudson's pad into a
bad taste nightmare that even terrifies a cat. Funny thing is that the horror-look has to be
cued with a blast of music; romantic comedy decor would become even more garish as the decade wore on.
Oscar-winning writer Russell Rouse earlier wrote D.O.A., wrote and directed
The Thief and produced the docu
oddity U.F.O.. But he also was connected to The Oscar, a monster embarrassment that
cooked many a goose in tinsel town.
Universal's peppy DVD of Pillow Talk has good color and sharpness and we only noticed some
dirt on the titles and a bit of grain now and then. The audio was also good if a bit compressed in
some of the songs. The enhanced picture doesn't hack off the jokes in the party line
split-screen setups. A tacky original trailer is included to show how this monster hit was sold.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Pillow Talk rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Very Good
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: August 28, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson