A movie log formerly known as Bookishness / By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Monday, May 21, 2018

Pillow Talk (Michael Gordon, 1959)

Rock Hudson and Thelma Ritter in Pillow Talk
Brad Allen: Rock Hudson
Jan Morrow: Doris Day
Jonathan Forbes: Tony Randall
Alma: Thelma Ritter
Tony Walters: Nick Adams
Marie: Julia Meade
Harry: Allen Jenkins
Pierot: Marcel Dalio
Mrs. Walters: Lee Patrick
Nurse Resnick: Mary McCarty
Dr. A.C. Maxwell: Alex Gerry

Director: Michael Gordon
Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin, Russell Rouse, Clarence Greene
Cinematography: Arthur E. Arling
Art direction: Richard H. Riedel
Film editing: Milton Carruth
Music: Frank De Vol

The Production Code censors wanted to change the name from Pillow Talk to something less redolent of sex, which is one of the more ludicrous of their demands. Because if Pillow Talk is about anything, it's about sex -- more particularly sexual anxiety and, to some extent, sexual identity. The date of the film's release, 1959, is just before the great revolution started by The Pill, and viewing it in that context only highlights how odd some of its dilemmas seem today -- as forgotten, let's say, as the telephone party lines on which much of the movie's plot depends. Doris Day's Jan Morrow, the career woman outwardly convinced that she likes being single but inwardly doubtful, is as problematic a figure as Rock Hudson's Brad Allen, the swinging bachelor who has a pad with switches that turn it into a rape trap. That so much fun can be had from these somewhat reprehensible characters is one of the things we can't quite share in naively today, just as Thelma Ritter's perpetually hungover Alma would be in reality a figure more in need of help than of laughter. Of course, the film knows that these are flawed people, and it sets out to help them in the only way possible in 1959: by marrying them off. (Even Alma finds her mate in Harry, the elevator operator.) Marriage was never really the cure-all for personal dysfunction, but the film was made in an era when we still liked to pretend that it was. The other rich subtext of Pillow Talk is sexual identity, most evident when Hudson, in real life a gay man, plays a straight guy who wants the woman he's trying to bed to think he might be gay, the better to pounce. Here the joke extends beyond the screen into the actor's private life, and it's to Hudson's everlasting credit that, though he's in on the joke, he can play it as if he isn't. The filmmakers take the game one step further by having Hudson's character blunder into an obstetrician's office and wind up  suspected of being a pregnant man -- a twist in the farce that provides the movie's kicker. All of this is meat and potatoes for queer theorists and other miners of cinematic subtext, and one reason why Pillow Talk remains a minor classic when other romantic comedies of the period just seem dated.

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