Pillow Talk (1959)

Directed by Michael Gordon; Written by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin

It’s a bad, bad romance. 

A polished, late Hollywood Golden Age product featuring Rock Hudson and Doris Day – Pillow Talk has everything going for it on paper, and at first glance, it delivers. Its sets, costumes, and sound are exemplars of their craft, and ensconced in all this glory are Hudson and Day who both turn in defining performances as their chemistry lights up Pillow Talk from within. But the sleek surface is unfortunately just stellar coating on a wafer-thin plot laced with dialogue and attitudes that are at best troublesome. 

Rock Hudson, with on-brand cool and self-assured charm, plays composer/playboy Brad Allen, who shares a phone party line with Jan Morrow (Doris Day), an ace interior decorator. Allen’s near-endless calls with different sweethearts puts a monopoly on phone time, making him a persona non grata in the Morrow household, despite them having never met.   

But meet they do, albeit it’s only Allen who realizes at first. Gordon’s camera takes Allen’s POV and subjects the back of Morrow to an elevator ogle, piquing Allen’s interest. Aware of his poor standing as Brad Allen, he engages in some subterfuge, posing as a Texan out-of-towner to woo Morrow without the troublesome baggage of his true identity and reputation as a womanizer. 

Rock Hudson being Rock Hudson, spark naturally fly between them, and so the film glides along at a charming and easy pace with clever lines and flirtatious quips going back and forth. Providing comedy off the bench is a solid supporting cast of Thelma Ritter as an alcoholic maid and Alex Gerry as an overzealous obstetrician. Yet, what is otherwise good writing and dialogue is marred by punchlines that play on homophobia and in general aren’t afraid to punch downwards. Morrow’s status as a career-oriented woman of course also doesn’t go unnoticed and unpunished in a universe where Hudson’s playboy is meant to be admired. 

It ultimately concludes with a disappointing final act where writers Shapiro and Richlin can’t extricate themselves from their plot’s mires, and so opt to forego the exercise all together and simply skip ahead to the predestined conclusion without bothering to explain how they got there. Then they cross their fingers and hope no one thinks too hard about it all.

Rom-coms from this period are not in short supply. If star power, Hollywood glamour, witty banter and romantic deception is what you’re looking for, watch Roman Holiday. If Pillow Talk is your idea of romance, I suggest you think about why that is. Then watch Roman Holiday

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