It is the late 1950′s in a well to do section of Manhattan and Jan Morrow (Doris Day) is getting annoyed with her neighbour Brad Allen (Rock Hudson). You see, they share a party line and he is always on the telephone serenading his various romantic conquests and Jan cannot make her calls. They have never met but through a mutual friend Allen works out who she is, introduces himself as Texan alter-ego Rex Stetson and tries to woo her. Will she work out his true identity? Will they fall in love? Will Doris Day sing a bit?
Doris Day and Rock Hudson appeared together on screen a number of times and made for a beautiful pairing – she was all wholesomeness with a dash of sexiness, he was a tall, broad, dark, handsome rogue. Looking back on it now, especially within our current cycle of much more explicit adult comedies, their on-screen flirting and quasi-sexual banter (never better exemplified than in Pillow Talk) seems awfully quaint, but it would be churlish to dismiss the film as out of step with modern times, when it fact it was both racy for its time (the Hayes Code presented no small number of obstacles) and also its over-arching themes continue to resonate.
Morrow is a career-minded single woman, not uninterested in love and romance, just picky. Allen is playing the field, but after the initial enjoyment of duping Morrow, clearly develops genuine affection for her, eventually asking her to overhaul his apartment (she is an interior decorator) into something that they can live in together. If the denouement is too simplistic and sudden to be remotely believable, at least it is all played with wit, charm and guilelessness.
Top-drawer support is provided by Tony Randall as the mutual friend who inadvertently brings them together (and who cropped up in a cameo role in Down With Love which riffed on this sort of film a few years back) and Thelma Ritter as the constantly lashed cleaner who comes to Morrow’s apartment each day nursing a king-sized hangover. The script by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin is smart, the characterisation well-drawn, the one-liners rolled out thick and fast, though the finale’s about-face is a mis-step. Peripheral characters are interesting and engaging, especially a thoroughly horny Harvard graduate who offers Day a lift home and then attempts to woo/sexually assault her (depending on your perspective). She valiantly fights him off in return for going for a drink with him, at which point his youthful inability to handle his drink proves his undoing.
Hudson and Day are effortless in their roles, Hudson sort of holding down dual roles as both the (converted) cad and the aw-shucks country bumpkin from Texas. It is to Day’s eternal credit that her character doesn’t become annoying and is able to her own against the more naturally charismatic and appealing Hudson. The set design, costumes and cinematography are things of beauty, sort of Mad Men in dazzling technicolor, much of which is made in the assorted special features (of which more later). Although its relative innocence could leave it feeling dated, it actually feels surprisingly fresh and modern, helped considerably by the phenomenal HD brush-up it has received from those caring bods at Universal. It shows that the templates and archetypes for romantic comedies are decades old, but none the less enjoyable today. Well worth seeking out, you can get it right here (to buy only) from, well, now.
Extras: As with all of Universal’s “we’re 100 hooray!” re-issues, there are a couple of featurettes about Universal itself. One looks at Carl Laemmle, the other looks into the more memorable characters to have come out of Universal over the last century. There is a long documentary about Pillow Talk and its place in the romantic and screwball comedy pantheon, with all manner of historians, authors and experts chipping in with erudite contributions. We also get a look at Day and Hudson as an on-screen couple and their differing paths leading up to and on from Pillow Talk. The commentary is excellent, provided by three film historians who provide a very different perspective than cast and crew tend to. We get very different insights from an unusual vantage point and it proves refreshing and engaging. Good work.