Once upon a time, there was an inconvenient telephone arrangement called the “party line”.
Never heard of it? Here’s a description from Mental Floss:
A party line was a local telephone loop circuit that was shared by more than one subscriber. There was no privacy on a party line…anyone on your party line could pick up their telephone and listen in.
Well, in the early days of home telephones, it would’ve been better than nothing, we suppose.
One Hollywood film had a lot of fun with the party line concept. Pillow Talk (1959) stars Doris Day as an exasperated interior decorator who shares a phone circuit with Rock Hudson, a philandering songwriter. Unhappily for Day, Hudson spends Hours on the phone seducing women.
Not only are Hudson’s activities preventing Day from getting Real Work done, it’s turning her into a cynic. No one is going to hand her any baloney disguised as love, no siree. She’s smarter than all of us put together – and certainly smarter than the women courted by Hudson.
In one scene, Day picks up the phone and listens to yet another corny-but-successful seduction pitch. She demands Hudson hang up because Some Of Us have work to do.
“She’s always listening in,” he explains to his girlfriend. “It’s how she brightens up her drab, empty life.”
This is spiteful, but not inaccurate. Day frequently listens to his conversations with a mixture of disgust and fascination. When she says she can’t phone anybody, we wonder if she really means she can’t find a lasting relationship.
Nevertheless, this business isn’t creating a positive environment. She’s becoming the person in the neighbourhood who hollers, “Get off my lawn!”
Day’s character is really up against it. She’s an attractive, successful woman, but Hudson’s character has Charm To Spare.
When she files a complaint against Hudson re: his excessive telephone use, her complaint is dismissed. Sadly, the phone company sent a (female) inspector to his apartment, with unfortunate results.
Inspector: “I’m an inspector.”
Hudson: “What would you like to inspect?”
Inspector: “You. I mean – uh, we received a complaint about you.”
Hudson: “I’ve never received any complaints before.”
You likely guessed this cheeky film tap dances around a Certain Subject. Filmmakers make a real game of it by using split screens. It sounds cheesy, but Pillow Talk is one film that employs this effect in a clever and amusing way.
There’s also a superb cast. Tony Randall plays Hudson’s wealthy friend with a martyr complex. (“I started out in college with $8 million, and I’ve still got $8 million,” he moans. “I can’t get ahead.”) Thelma Ritter is a perpetually hung-over housekeeper who sees Hudson’s appeal. (“He’s brightened up many a dreary afternoon for me,” she sighs.)
Hudson himself is engaging, but the film rests on Doris Day. It does have a far-fetched premise, especially when Hudson unexpectedly meets Day in person and affects a Texas accent so he can woo her.
It’s inconceivable Day wouldn’t recognize his voice from her party line, accent or no, but she presents us with a choice: Either climb in and hang on, or pooh-pooh it and miss all the fun.
It helps that Day has perfect timing and an incredibly expressive face. Her eye-rolling, clenched-jaw reactions are laugh-out-loud funny. Interestingly, her character is largely unaware of her allure, unlike You-Know-Who from the party line.
Pillow Talk is a treat. It has an Oscar-winning screenplay, memorable music and glamorous footage of New York City nightlife. And the Clothes!! Day wears an array of Jean Louis gowns that look dazzling in Cinemascope.
Besides its Best Screenplay Oscar, the film was nominated for Best Art Direction, Best Music/Scoring, Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter), and Best Actress for Day. According to Wikipedia, this “film transformed her image from ‘the girl next door’ to classy sex symbol”.
We hope you’ll have the chance to see Pillow Talk. This film is dated, but it wears its age well.
This is part of THE DORIS DAY BLOGATHON hosted by Love Letters to Old Hollywood.
Pillow Talk: starring Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall. Directed by Michael Gordon. Written by Stanley Shapiro & Maurice Richlin. Universal International, Colour, 1959, 102 mins.