Looking Back: Pillow Talk (1959)

With the passing earlier this week of Hollywood legend Doris Day, I thought I’d take a look again at one of her biggest films, PILLOW TALK. I may have met the actress when I was five years old. My aunt was the sister of Al Mendelson, one-half of the legendary Nate’n Al Delicatessen in Beverly Hills, so when my parents took us to California for a holiday way back in 1963, we ate there at least once. Miss Day was a regular at the deli, and she was extremely approachable. Every time my aunt came home from visiting her brother, she would tell us about her regular breakfasts or lunches with Doris. I honestly don’t remember if my family met her too but in my mind we did.

About PILLOW TALK though, the musical romcom co-starred Rock Hudson, Emmy award winner Tony Randall (TV’s THE ODD COUPLE) and Tony award winner Thelma Ritter (ALL ABOUT EVE), and featured Hayden Rorke, whom fans of the 1960s TV show I DREAM OF JEANNIE will remember as Dr. Bellows. The film was not only a huge success taking in over US$18 million at the domestic box office alone (equivalent to almost US$165 million today), it also turned Day into a sex symbol. Up to that point, the actress had portrayed wholesome, girl-next-door types on screen. PILLOW TALK put her in a whole different light as she played a successful and independent, big-city woman – sort of like Carrie Bradshaw, nine years before Carrie’s alter ego, Candace Bushnell, was born. While the movie critics of the day weren’t overly impressed with the story, they all loved the beautiful outfits Day wore as well as the on-screen chemistry between her and Hudson. Indeed, Day is quoted as telling author Mark Griffin (“All That Heaven Allows: A Biography of Rock Hudson”), “Between scenes, we’d walk and talk and laugh, and I guess our comedic timing grew out of our friendship and how naturally funny we were together.” Movie-going audiences certainly loved seeing them together and the pair went on to make two more films after that – LOVER COME BACK in 1961 and SEND ME NO FLOWERS in 1964.

In case it’s been a while since you last saw PILLOW TALK (or never), Day plays Jan Morrow, an interior decorator to New York City’s elite. Being 1959 though, she has to share a telephone party line with a complete stranger – the successful and handsome Broadway songwriter, Brad Allen (Hudson), who lives in another apartment building in Manhattan – until the phone company can install more private lines. (I remember having a party line up at our summer cottage. It was great fun listening in on the neighbours’ conversations!) Allen, we all learn, is quite the lothario, wooing a procession of women by performing the schmaltzy songs he’s written for them over the phone. His dominance of their shared line irks Morrow to no end and the two have daily arguments over who can use the phone and when. As luck and movies would have it, Morrow’s puppy dog client, the rich but unlucky-in-love Jonathan Forbes (Randall), just happens to be best friends with Allen and, through a series of events, Allen meets Morrow in a restaurant and realises who she is. He quickly decides to pose as a politer-than-polite Texan named Rex Stetson to woo her away from Forbes and the pair seemed destined for the altar… until both Morrow and Forbes realise they’ve been duped.

PILLOW TALK is definitely a product of its time with dialogue and situations – particularly the film’s climax – that would certainly raise eyebrows today. Kids, if you try to do what Allen did, you’ll be arrested for sure! And while it was admirable in 1959 to show a single career woman do something other than type or answer phones, the rather blatant message was that as successful as Morrow was, she could never be completely fulfilled unless she had a man. If the film would be remade today, the story would have to change so much that it wouldn’t be recognisable. Nevertheless, PILLOW TALK a fun way to spend 102 minutes and see why Doris Day was such an immense talent.

Watch the review recorded on Facebook Live on Friday, May 17th at 8:30 am HK time!

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