Now this Popcorn Dialogues, er, thing is really useful to me, as a writer of romantic comedy (at least I hope I’m a writer of romantic comedy…), but sometimes it’s almost too painful.
Last week’s film was Pillow Talk, which I would have thought was one of my favourites – I was brought up on Doris Day films and was so in love with Rock Hudson as a teen – but it turns out it’s… not good. In fact, it’s very bad.
Okay. Not all of it. It started well. Doris Day is wonderful (and reminded me a LOT of Jennifer Anison. A lot!), Rock Hudson was gorgeous and sexy. The sets and the clothes were just fabulous. And Tony Randall’s in it! I love Tony Randall! But…
In case you’ve never seen it, I’ll just summarise the plot – with spoilers, so if you don’t want to know how it ends, look away now! Jan and Brad share a party line. Brad uses it for chatting up many, many women, which means Jan can’t use it for her business (she’s an interior designer) and arrogant Brad gets right on her wick. Tony Randall is Brad’s best friend and in love with Jan. He tells Brad about Jan and then Brad happens to bump into her and decides he’s going to mess with her. He pretends to be a Texan tourist named – yes – Rex Stetson – and proceeds to woo her.
So this is a fairly standard romance plotline, yes? It’s got a touch of You’ve Got Mail and a dash of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. But the romance itself is just dreadful. For a start, Brad is an asshole. He has switches in his apartment for when he’s “romancing” a woman: one dims the lights, one puts on music, one turns the sofa into a bed and one locks the door. He locks the women in! Ew! His alter-ego Rex Stetson, however, is a doofus. He calls Jan “ma’am” and is sweet and funny, but not in the least bit sexy, so I wasn’t egging Jan on to fall for him, particularly since I knew he was, you know, not real. Of course, Jan does fall for him and then, when she finds out that Rex is really Brad, is understandably humiliated. If at that point, you’d got the impression that Brad had been in love with her and that he’d changed his caddish ways then maybe I could have got on board with the romance, but no.
For the majority of the film, Jan is great. She’s such a cool character. She’s independent, she doesn’t take any crap and she’s happy to live alone. To be alone. But then at the end, Brad decides he wants her. I’m not sure we see why. Presumably because he knows he can’t have her and he’s a big brat. Anyway, he goes to her apartment, drags her (literally) out of bed and then carries her – kicking and screaming (again, literally) to his apartment. She’s outraged. And then he mentions marriage and she goes all misty (again, literally – the director had a soft-focus filter on the camera for quite a few of the Doris Day close-ups) and forgives him. Gag.
I know it was the 50s. I know things were different, but still. I was so angry! And I haven’t even mentioned that, on the way to a weekend away together, Jan sings a song (in her head – there are some really feeble ‘hearing characters thoughts’ moments too) the main refrain of which is “Possess me.” It genuinely made me feel ill. Possess me, indeed. You can watch it here, but don’t blame me if you puke.
So the romance aspect is a total bust. What about the comedy? Yes, there are definitely funny moments. I loved Thelma Ritter as Jan’s maid, although much of her comedy came from the fact that she was basically an alcoholic, so that’s not without its problems. Tony Randall is very funny too, but then he slaps Jan and becomes a little too giddy over the fact that her romance has gone sour and I went right off him.
But there was one defining moment for me in this film. I’ve been arguing so far that the movies, however old-fashioned, have been more respectful of women than modern films. In Pillow Talk, Rex is on a date with Jan when he sees Tony Randall come in (I could look up the character’s name, but I can only ever think of him as Tony Randall, so I’m not going to bother). Rex needs to put Randall off and so he tells him he’s there with a woman, but he needs to leave and can Randall take the woman off his hands. He then points out a fat woman sitting in the corner, she smiles and waves and, shuddering with horror, Randall scarpers. How utterly delightful. How exactly the kind of thing I’ve come to expect from modern films. Cheers, Pillow Talk.
Oh, and there’s a grim bit when Brad tries to convince Jan that Rex is gay. He’s, you know, good with colours and drinks with his little finger crooked, that kind of thing. Poor Rock Hudson.
Next week: The Apartment. Please let this one be good. *cries*
* Yes, I know it’s Tuesday. I wasn’t going to bother writing this since Pillow Talk annoyed me so much, but my bossy lovely friend Diane Shipley convinced me.