DayHudsoncoverGrade:  B+
Entire family: No
1959-64, 310 min., Color
Universal
Not Rated (Would be PG-13 for drinking, smoking, and innuendo)
Aspect ratio: 1.85:1, 2.35:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 2.0
Bonus features: B-
Trailer (Pillow Talk)
Amazon link

Back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, the romantic comedy was synonymous with two names: Doris Kapplehoff and Roy Sherer Jr., better known to audiences as Doris Day and Rock Hudson. Though the pair only made three films—Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back, and Send Me No Flowers, all included on this Doris Day and Rock Hudson Romantic Comedy Collection—they helped define the genre for a generation.

Are the films dated? Of course. These are sex romps without the sex, innuendo without the indecency. One of the funniest quips ever made about Doris Day came from comedian-pianist Oscar Levant, who remarked, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin.” Her onscreen performance was virginal, even in Send Me No Flowers, when she and Hudson played a married couple. The writers and directors changed, but all three films followed a tradition that dates back to Shakespeare by incorporating double entendre, confusion over disguises, mistaken identities, or misunderstandings, and minor characters whose job it is to prod and push the main characters toward a chaotic quasi-screwball climax. The colors are deliciously oversaturated compared to today’s color films, and the lifestyles and the moral values are pure ‘50s. Yet, as my teenage son said—and he gave all three films high marks for entertainment value—“These are great!”

Pillow Talk (1959) A-
DayHudsonscreen1The one that started it all is still the best, but the concept might take some explaining. An interior decorator (Day) who shares a party line with a womanizing songwriter (Hudson) ends up being romanced by him as he pretends to be a shy Texan, first to have fun at her expense, and then to seduce her. But of course love and decency win out. As Brad begins to fall for her and realizes he has no chance with her if she finds out his true identity, the plot twists even more so.

It helps to know that in the age of rotary dial phones there were only so many private phone lines available. As a result, many people had to share a line—a party line—and sometimes work out use patterns between them, while others opted for the party line to save money.

The script is clever and all of the actors have a lot of fun with it. Tony Randall is hilarious as a rich client of Day’s who also happens to know Hudson’s character and serves as his confidante, while Thelma Ritter plays Day’s maid, the obligatory hungover heavy drinker that turns up in almost every ‘50s and ‘60s comedy. TV’s Johnny Yuma, The Rebel, appears as an all-hands college boy, while Hayden Rorke (who played Dr. Bellows on TV’s Bewitched) also has a small role. In 2009 Pillow Talk made it into the National Film Registry because of its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance.”

Lover Come Back (1961) B+
The formula returns in this follow-up, with Day and Hudson playing rival Madison Ave. ad executives competing for accounts. Always the wholesome one, she pitches ideas, while he uses women and booze to DayHudsonscreen2win accounts and has plenty of “conquests” himself. To keep one of them from going to the ethics board he invents a product (VIP) and keeps her in line by telling her he’ll make her the VIP girl. When Day’s character gets wind of the new product, she tries to find out more about it and goes to a Nobel Prize-winning chemists that she suspects her competitor has hired. Here’s where the mistaken identity comes in: Day walks in just as the chemist went into the back room, leaving Hudson in his lab coat. And Hudson decides to play the part, again to have some fun at her expense and to keep her occupied so she can’t cause him any trouble.

The bonus for fans of classic TV is that Donna Douglas (Ellie Mae on The Beverly Hillbillies) appears as the secretary of the CEO (Tony Randall again) at the firm Hudson’s character works for, while Ann B. Davis (Alice on The Brady Bunch) plays Day’s secretary, and other familiar faces also turn up, like Joe Flynn (McHale’s Navy) and Jack Albertson (Chico & the Man). Lover Come Back is slightly more risqué (though nothing is shown) insomuch as the two main characters wake up in bed together after a wild party. There’s more drinking and smoking in this one than in the first, but the mistaken identity formula works just as well, and in the end, it’s awfully tame compared to today’s movies, yet just as entertaining.

Send Me No Flowers (1964) B+
DayHudsonscreen3Universal decided to switch it up for the third outing. In this one, Hudson plays a hypochondriac who, after overhearing his doctor talk about the x-rays of a dying man, thinks he has only two weeks to live. His first thought is, of course, for his wife, and after talking to his best friend and neighbor (Tony Randall) he decides the best thing to do is to try to find another husband for her, so she won’t be all alone after he’s gone.

There are plenty of twists and allusions in this one, with TV’s Cheyenne (Clint Walker) riding on a horse to save Day from a runaway golf cart. It turns out that he’s her old college sweetheart, and a little too familiar with her for the jealous Hudson, who nonetheless reminds himself that he is, after all, looking for a replacement husband. Norman Jewison (Moonstruck, Fiddler on the Roof) directed this one, which also offers a fun amount of familiar faces. The acerbic Paul Lynde plays a cemetery director, while veteran character actor Edward Andrews (who guest starred in so many TV sitcoms it’s hard to name them all) also appears.

All three of these films share the same winning formula, and while there are dated elements, the core ingredients are timeless. Families with older teenage children should enjoy these together. They’d probably merit a PG-13 rating today, for their use of tobacco and alcohol and sexual innuendo—though again, it all seems so tame compared to today’s movies. But all three of these romantic comedies still work. Fans might hope that the next “collection” Universal releases will be the Doris Day and James Garner Romantic Comedy Collection. Though the pair only did two films together (The Thrill of It All, Move Over Darling) they’re as much fun as the Day-Hudson romps.

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