Passed, but how did we sell our souls to say that this was an innocent movie? I mean, it has Doris Day and Rock Hudson, it should be the alternative to Mary Poppins. But no, there's all kind of gross innuendo in this movie. Also, I'm going to hold it up to today's standards and say that this movie feels gross at times in terms of women's rights. There's also some stereotypes that are played up that are a might uncomfortable. Regardless, passed.
DIRECTOR: Michael Gordon
I'm back to writing after my scheduled break and I start with...oh right. Pillow Talk. I actually ended up rescuing a bunch of DVDs from my in-laws who were trying to clear up space and, considering that I think of myself as a shelter for unwanted popular culture, I rescued them. When I get new movies, those movies hit the top of the "To-Watch" pile. So when you see a long list of movies that seem to be someone else's personality, you know what is going on. Also, I'm very sleepy.
I've actually seen this movie before. I own it on Laserdisc. But this is the first movie in a Doris Day / Rock Hudson box set and I'm going to watch a better copy of the movie is what's what. I admit. The print of this movie destroys my Laserdisc copy. I also acknowledge that it has been a while since I watched this last. I had the vibe that it was a cute if very forgettable movie. But there was something far less cute about watching Pillow Talk this time. I mean, it had a lot of the elements that I sign up for when watching this specific subgenre of film. It had a couple that was completely mismatched. I love the cast of the movie. It has some decent jokes in there. (Sure, the OB who is searching for a pregnant male seems to be a bit over the top, but I can forgive it.) The color palate is to die for. It just has so much going for it, but the movie might be one of the most telling entries into evidence about why the late fifties were so darn toxic, especially to women.
Pillow Talk shares a lot of the problems that I have with The Taming of the Shrew. I love me some Shakespeare and it is so odd to be teaching Much Ado About Nothing, a play that grounds itself on the notion of male fragility, while trying to convince myself that Shakespeare is somehow progressive. In terms of beats and storytelling, the movie mostly works. But the film hinges on the notion that societal norms are completely unfair to women and that we should be celebrating them. Jan holds her own in society. She sometimes is a little trodden upon, but she is more of an advocate for herself than her female contemporaries. She doesn't put up with Brad's crap, despite the fact that she doesn't narc on his shell game either. And if I'm going make the comparison to Shakespeare, the world around her views her as a little shrewish. But Jan herself is actually pretty bubbly. She lives a life where she doesn't really feel bad that she is unmarried. Because the color scheme of the film is bright and pink and bubbly, Jan's personality matches. A lot of this could probably be attributed to Doris Day, but that's not exactly a problem either.
But Brad doesn't really have a long term plan. This attempt to give him a redemption arc doesn't really make a lot of sense. He has two reasons for seducing Jan. The first is that his friend is really interested in her. He's problematic to say the least with his "No means yes" attitude. But Brad only considers going out with Jan because he knows that she's off the market. Secondly, he does so as a means to humiliate her. The more he plays into that fantasy of Rex Stetson, the greater the impact of the damage that he's going to cause. It's not like he can get out without any repercussions. But he keeps piling on the misdeeds and the lies for his own satisfaction. That's not what love is. There isn't any moment where he's really caring for Jan. He just wants to have this newfound feeling that he has for Jan and wants to avoid the consequences for his actions.
This makes the resolution of the movie all that much more problematic. In an attempt to speak to Jan, who understandably wants nothing to do with him, he hires her to redecorate his apartment. From moment one, the audience is aware that Jan is going to get her revenge in this moment, causing his apartment to be a gaudy mess. Okay, funny gag. But Jan does so because she's angry with him. There's this false equivalency of behavior between sabotaging someone's apartment decor and fully on trying to seduce the other under false pretenses. When she forgives him, it feels like she is forgiving all of mankind for their sexual ownership of women. I mean, he invades her bedroom and she doesn't play coy. It's never a game for her. She straight up tells him that she doesn't want to go with him and to put her down. All along the way, there are these men who are high-fiving Brad's attitude of sexual ownership, despite the fact that she is verbalizing her intentions. A police officer helps him out as he's carrying her to the apartment. It's supposed to be romantic but it is just an affirmation that Brad's choice of lifestyle is the one that should be supported. When she kisses him and likes him for this action, it's the validation of it all that comes across as gross.
But the most depressing scene is the meta context of what Rock Hudson is going through in that moment. There's a scene where Brad starts implying that Rex, his alter ego, is gay for not trying to put the moves on Jan. He flirts with every stereotype, implying that gay men are too obsessed with their mothers and cooking. He does the pinky finger thing while drinking, implying that gay men have to be effeminate. And then there's the real Rock Hudson, having to do that. How humiliating must that have been? He's this closeted dude having to put on this toxic macho crap for people just so he could continue having a career? That's just depressing.
So now I own two copies of this movie in two separate formats. That's probably not my favorite thing in the world. While the movie is kind of watchable, it is also extremely problematic, especially considering where we've come from and where this movie was going. I also don't really know what the audience was for this movie. It looks like a rom-com directed at women, but it also is ribald and plays more towards traditionally male humor. It's just kind of uncomfortable, the more I think about it.
So when Brad starts trying to seduce her, the movie is in direct opposition to its tone. The easy view is to have the movie state "Oh, boys will be boys" or "That's just the way it was back then." But the movie keeps putting smiles on some really bad behavior. For example, Jan is pressured by work to go on a date with Tony. Tony is meant to be the worst. He gets extremely handsy. We're meant to dislike Tony a lot, but the movie doesn't want us to hate him enough to feel vulnerable. If anything, the movie fears the heck out of vulnerability. Tony's sexual assault is often played off for laughs. Because Jan is far more capable of handling herself, Tony's advances come across as buffoonish. Her capability tries to misdirect the reasons that Tony gets rejected. The movie leaves Tony rejected because of his buffoonery, not because he's a rapist and a drunk. When Brad steps in, he's doing something equally toxic to Tony. But Brad is the male hero because he does so with sophistication. Say what you will, but Brad's entire "Rex Stetson" act is an attempt to seduce Jan and leave her. It's only because the movie needs him to fall in love that the story treats him as heroic.
The movie almost keeps putting things in the way to make Brad the villain of the piece. All this is done to give him a redemption arc. But I argue that there isn't a redemption arc and that the film instead answers the problems with a deus ex machina, where Jan erases her personality for the sake of a happy ending. Going back to Much Ado, it really wants that Benedick and Beatrice dynamic, but instead gets something more akin to Sandy by the end of Grease. The story needs a happy ending. We know that Jan is capable of loving Brad because she loves Rex Stetson. (It's a stretch, but that's kind of the point that I am making.)
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.