Doris Day, pornographer
PILLOW TALK (Mark Gordon, USA, 1959, 8)
LOVER COME BACK (Delbert Mann, USA, 1961, 7)
I am officially becoming a prude in my old age. My days of loving EYES WIDE SHUT, LAST TANGO IN PARIS, THE ARISTOCRATS and Chris Rock standup are coming to an end. Twice within the last couple of weeks, Doris Day movies have given me the subject-matter willies. If I’m making any of this up, may God … etc.
First of all, a couple of weeks ago, a coworker (born 1958) told me that he is able to get his 10- and 12-year-old daughters to watch and enjoy the big-budget widescreen color films of the 50s and early 60s that he loved as a boy. So I loaned him my DVD of MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION, with Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson, and Douglas Sirk directing. A few days later, I planned to bring into work ALL THAT HEAVEN ALLOWS (Wyman and Hudson again in Sirk’s greatest melodramatic weepie) and PILLOW TALK (the first and best-regarded of the Hudson/Doris Day comedies).
But when I was checking my DVD of PILLOW TALK (a regular check to make sure it was successful “burn” off the TCM broadcast), I watched the intro material with host Ben Mankiewicz. And he reminds me that there is a couple-of-scenes thread where Hudson pretends to bat from the other side, just to mess with Doris’s head. Rock plays two roles in the film. In the first of the two scenes cut into this clip here, he’s a greasy, unseen neighbor whom Doris detests but with whom she must share a party line; in the second, he changes his voice and plays a good country boy who suavely gets Doris to fall in love with him.
As you can see, there’s nothing terribly explicit …. this being a 1959 Doris Day film and all … a couple of double entendres and stereotype-mannerism jokes. But still I felt obliged to say “I would not be bothering you with this, Dean, except that I’m loaning you PILLOW TALK on the assumption that you think your girls will like it — which I think they will, but I forgot about this one scene …”
Then a few days later, I’m watching for the first time LOVER COME BACK, the second of the Day-Hudson films and the last to be seen by me. I must honestly say that my reaction was “ick,” though I hasten to add that all three films (SEND ME NO FLOWERS being the third, but it’s not a courtship comedy like the other two) are expertly done entertainments, comparable to all but the very summit of the 30s and 40s screwball comedies. But still I couldn’t shake the feeling of being debased by what I was watching. Here’s a couple of clips from LOVER COME BACK to illustrate what I’m getting at. The first one is an early scene starting with Day showing up at a CEO’s penthouse for an ad-campaign appointment, only Hudson had gotten to him the previous night, impressed him with a wild party, and nabbed the contract. The second is a fake advertising campaign Hudson cooks up to buy a “party girl’s” silence about that night.
Again, this is a 1961 Doris Day film, so there is nothing that could be considered objectively pornographic or even really explicit per-se to any but the most Puritanical. But what was bothering me was that the film had so much innuendo and seemed so intent on skating right up to the line as asymptotically close as it could manage, that the overall effect was “ick.”
In the second clip, notice how the behavior, costumes and setting advance through the stages of courtship, and when you listen to the dialogue, substitute the word “sex” in your head for every mention of “vip” and the dialogue makes just as much sense, if not more. (Yes, I understand that the point is advertising satire and how “sex can sell anything” … it is genuine well-done double-entendre humor, not simple crudity.) In addition, notice how in the first clip the jokes are mostly on Doris’s virginal puritanism at what she’s coming across and not getting that boys will be boys — see that “Doris Day ‘shocked, shocked’ reaction” shot at the 50-second mark, and look at the stiff gestures, clipped high-throated diction and sensible clothes that put one in mind of Dana Carvey’s Church Lady. Then, when Doris goes to complain to her boss, to see whether anything can be done with the advertising standards board, she demands that he think about “what else went on there.” His reaction? A wistful “yeeeeeees.” Then there’s Doris’s walk-off line, which is quite funny, but so obviously so that your reaction is, “doesn’t she realize what she said?”
There’s a lot more in this vein throughout LOVER COME BACK (and PILLOW TALK) — a visit to the Playboy Club, concentrating on Doris’s “shocked shocked” reaction shots; an early editing-cut punch line involving the phrase “the most attractive can” (of wax); and a set of so-absurd-they-had-to-be-deliberately-so narrative contrivances at the end that have Doris being both married on the night of conception and the date of birth, but not in between.
It was as if this 1961 movie was chomping at the bit, waiting for “the 60s” and the end of restraint and morality, in the name of authenticity and “truth.” Watching LOVER COME BACK was seeing the result of non-belief in the studio-era content-codes, while being formally still bound by them and thus not having the ability to take that lack-of-belief to its logical conclusion. Viewed from the vantage point of 2009, the film was like a high-school senior eager to go exactly as far as he can in the time before adulthood officially arrives and the parental authority evaporates. Time and again, you see the edges of the envelope being pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed — and while the edges never exactly break, they became weak enough for the next round of romantic comedies to … ahem … go all the way and rip the envelope to shreds. When LOVER COME BACK is at a Playboy Club show but concentrates on a woman’s appalled reaction without ever showing what she is reacting to, the unconventional cutting (or lack of cutting, mostly) actually makes what it is NOT showing you (let’s just say it: “the boobs”) more present than a less-ostentatious actual showing might have.
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