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No, this isn't an "R" rated sequel to Boys Town, where Spencer Tracy and Mickey Rooney.... (sentence deleted). MGM's glossy 1962 production Boys' Night Out is a funny, likeable and non-PC sex farce from the reality-challenged days of the Production Code, when clever Hollywood writers were charged with making comedies as hot as possible -- while showing nothing and tiptoeing around any content unsuited to a Sunday School discussion. Un-repressed Americans that grew up after the ratings system came in 1968, won't understand how weird a lot of us sheltered '50s kids felt when we saw our first foreign film with hot content -- "hot" being defined as actually addressing what people do when the Production Code isn't watching. Never On Sunday proposed that people might actually do IT just for ITs own sake. They might even take their clothes off, somewhere in the process.
Back in the warped normality of Hollywood the idea of a sex comedy had been developing throughout the 1950s, in movies that hinted at The Deed but managed never to actually deliver the same. Boys' Night Out's director Michael Gordon had been responsible for the mega-hit Pillow Talk, the Rock Hudson/Doris Day romp that teased us with the unthinkable notion that Ms. Day might lose her virginity in the pursuit of healthy recreation. When it came time to get down to cases, the Day films substituted scenes of people yelling, crossing their eyes and kicking each other in the shins.
Boys' Night Out would also seem to be influenced by an even bigger hit, Billy Wilder's bittersweet comedy-drama The Apartment. The MGM film takes a different approach to the notion of four New York commuters that desire a bachelor pad for illicit sex. Instead of borrowing a key from C.C. Baxter, they decide to share costs on a pied-à-terre -- and the blonde to go with it.
New York residents will burst into tears when a casual bit of dialogue lets us know that a decent Manhattan apartment can be had for just $450 a month. Have your heart medicine ready.
Bored married men George, Doug and Howie (Tony Randall, Howard Duff and Howard Morris) spend their Thursday night 'boy's night out' trying to decide what to do, like upscale versions of Paddy Chayefsky's Marty. Divorced friend Fred Williams (James Garner) gets them started on the idea that they could chip in on an apartment and a call girl if the price were low enough, and the boys eagerly set him to finding an ultra-cheap showplace bachelor pad. Expecting to fail, Fred instead lucks into an amazing bargain, a fancy layout on the East River being given away by its broker (Jim Backus) because it was the scene of a notorious recent slaying. As if in a fantasy, a knockout blonde named Cathy (Kim Novak) shows up and volunteers to service the tenants, one night a week each. The boys are of course ecstatic, but Fred is disturbed to think that such a lovely, desirable woman would need or want to do anything like this. In reality, Cathy is conducting a sociology experiment on "The Adolescent Sexual Fantasies of the Adult Suburban Male" for her college mentor Dr. Prokosch (Oscar Homolka). She plans to collect her data yet avoid sleeping with any of the hot-to-trot males, a ploy that works fine until she gets to Fred: the handsome and sincere fellow clearly wants no part of the deal, and she finds herself attracted to him.
From the moment that Garner's Fred Williams rents the apartment, Boys' Night Out is itself an adolescent male sexual fantasy. Forget the little problem that Cathy never answers the question of why she is volunteering to have sex with four men without pay: it doesn't make any difference. Like many so-called sex comedies in the Seven-Year Itch mode, the men all chicken out before the moment of truth. It's a formula borrowed from Burlesque baggy pants comedy, where the sexless male comedians prove impotent when confronted by erotically charged (but sexually untouched) females. From this comes the sure-fire "sexus interruptus" plot device, guaranteed to give a farce the semblance of life in the face of Production Code no-nos. The smut is all in the minds of the viewer, as crudely proven in a running gag where Tony Randall tells dirty tall tales on the commuter run. The racy stuff is drowned out by a sudden burst of train noise; all we hear is the setup and the punch line.
This farce-on-crutches formula slots Boys' Night Out lower on the evolutionary scale than either Pillow Talk or The Apartment. Instead we have farce comedy in which an unfulfilled aspect of each roving male's home life becomes a substitute for sex in their Manhattan rendezvous: non-diet food, the ability to talk without being interrupted, the freedom to do household repairs. Yes, honestly -- Cathy keeps them out of bed by indulging their real innermost desires, like fixing the garbage disposal. The boys really don't want sexual adventure. As Cathy explains to her faculty mentor, cultural pressue has sold them on the idea that they're supposed to want it. Howie's kid bears that out when he's found to be sneaking copies of "Playmate" magazine to school in his lunch box. The boy senses what pop's up to, even before pop does.
The film's fantasy farce is well supported by some good dialogue and a pack of funny performers. When the charm value of Tony Randall, Howard Duff and Howard Morris runs thin, their wives pitch in. Janet Blair, Patti Page and Anne Jeffreys do good work as housewives who discover that their hubbies have apparently defected to the arms of another. As James Garner's mother, Jesse Royce Landis provides a different perspective, even though she fails at convincing her drunken companions that it might not be a good idea to torture their husbands in the expected divorce proceedings.
What doesn't quite add up, while giving the whole show a rather tasteless edge, is that the comedy never addresses the issue that Kim Novak is supposedly having sex with three, or four men, all of whom know each other and know what's going on (although it isn't). James Garner's misgivings make him seem like a saint or a libertine, and when he gets all pouty on the subject, he comes off a little bit like Cary Grant in Notorious, a strange kind of guilty procurer. That is, he would if Boys' Night Out even acknowledged what should be a real concern in this bed made for five. Garner's Fred thinks he's being chivalrous when he declares a "clean slate" with Cathy's love life. That sounds kind of callow coming from a guy who has more or less pimped her out to his friends.
Then again, the sickest idea in the movie is that organized illicit sex is just the thing to send men back to their wives as better husbands. Oh, I forgot -- except for one suspicious fade-out, NO SEX occurs in Boys' Night Out.
As often happens in Hollywood sex farces of this era, the payoff can't live up to the premise. The writers and director Michael Gordon establish a nice echo pattern of absurdities -- all four men pool their resources to hire a call girl, and the three wives do the same to hire a divorce detective (Fred Clark). Then the usual things happen, starting with Fred's nightmares of the other men ravishing the girl of his dreams. A blue-nosed neighbor is shocked by what sounds like orgies in progress, the detective uses disguises to collect evidence against the husbands, and a bartender (William Bendix) dispenses sage advice. Everybody converges on the bachelor pad for a session of shouting and running in circles around the furniture.
To Boys' Night Out's credit, Kim Novak and James Garner do excellent light comedy work, especially considering that they don't generate all that much chemistry together. Novak's first "date" sees her in a scarlet dress, and she handles the suggestive, teasing dialogue beautifully -- Billy Wilder made a big mistake when he made her look fat and gave her an unpleasant head cold to play Polly the Pistol in Kiss Me Stupid. Novak not playing glamorous on at least one level is a tragic waste of erotic screen-power. She of course doesn't convince as a graduate sociologist, but the movie isn't aiming for that anyway.
Garner has more charm here than in his Warners comedies, where he always seemed to be playing principled cads who get their way and eat it too, so to speak. This may be because the comedy level is pitched a bit lower, but Garner handles the door slams and shouting as nicely as he switches from anger to begging forgiveness on a moment's notice. He gets a solid A+ as well.
One nice touch is seeing actor Larry Keating, who, when it comes to sex appeal, is the live-action equivalent of Elmer Fudd. Keating appears as a philandering executive ushering a sexy blonde into a taxi, a sight that inspires the three husbands to stray. Keating also strolls past the camera with his latest conquest, Zsa Zsa Gabor, in a cute cameo. Boys' Night Out is a case of a sex comedy dumbed-down by the rules of the road in Hollywood censorship. You can tell that it wants to be a bit smarter, as when Jesse Royce Landis offers the topical observation, "Have you noticed how insolent the help is nowadays, ever since the Kennedys got in?"
The Warner Archive Collection DVD-R of Boys' Night Out is a Remastered Edition, and looks splendid throughout. A few moments on the train and in a bar booth look a bit cold in color, but everything else pops with the original Metrocolor - Cinemascope look. Patti Page sings the not-bad title tune. I remember seeing the film about twenty years ago and griping about its non- PC sexist attitudes. This doesn't bother me as much now -- in fact, it's almost nostalgic to look at a film from an era where male fantasies had an almost exclusive hold on the screen. I mean, look at the original poster above. Nowadays, at least in serious non-genre fare, the pendulum has swung the other way entirely.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Boys' Night Out rates:
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