Comedy

Doris Day: The Most Glamorous Curmudgeon in NYC

Doris Day and Rock Hudson are luminescent. Image: The Ace Black Blog

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 can’t take all this malarkey. Image: Kino

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.

“You kids get off my phone!” Image: Java’s Journey

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.

Hudson is too good to be true. Image: Valentina Peretto

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.

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41 thoughts on “Doris Day: The Most Glamorous Curmudgeon in NYC

  1. Another film along somewhat similar “lines” is BELLS ARE RINGING (1960), starring Judy Holiday and Dean Martin. It was based on a Broadway play which opened in 1956 and, in my opinion, has better songs than PILLOW TALK. Sadly, that was Judy’s last film — she was a unique talent and died much too young.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is one of my favorite films, so whenever I see a post about it, I kind of hold my breath, hoping that the writer enjoys the movie as much as I do. (Some lazy writers actually call Day’s character a virgin, as if trusting a man before sleeping with him is indicative of being a virgin. Sigh.)

    Hudson definitely has the showy role here, but you’re right that without Day’s perfect performance, this movie wouldn’t be the same — especially since Hudson relied on her comedic expertise to craft his own delightful performance!

    I’m so glad you chose Pillow Talk for my blogathon. It wouldn’t have been the same without you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Michaela! (I just left a note on your announcement page before I saw your thoughtful comment here…)

      I agree with your thoughts re: lazy reviewers of this film. There is a lot more to Day’s character than is sometimes given credit. I don’t think she’s desperate to find someone just to get married, I think she truly desires a lasting, fulfilling relationship. And if she’s picky, then good for her.

      I love the chemistry she has with Rock Hudson. This is one of my fave films, too!

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I was surprised to learn she was nominated for an Oscar. Don’t get me wrong – I think she deserved it, it’s just the Academy’s sometimes-spotty track record.

      Don’t you just love her scenes with Rock Hudson? Like you said, a brilliant casting choice.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I actually haven’t seen the movie, but my high school did a play version of it back in the day. I worked backstage for the play and enjoyed listening in! 🙂 Seemed like a really good story. And since Doris Day is fabulous, I’m going to have to see if I can get the movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post! I love “Pillow Talk.” Doris Day’s clothes are gorgeous and I love her apartment. Even though I was born in the mid-80s and well past the party line era, I was definitely aware of them from an episode of “I Love Lucy” when Lucy randomly has a party line in one episode, and only one episode. I also love the use of the split screen, I thought it was done very effectively. The “Roly Poly” scene is excellent as is Tony Randall–he is hilarious. My favorite part is when Rock Hudson sees his apartment after Doris Day re-decorates it. I also love when he goes to the bar with Thelma Ritter and she drinks him under the table to the point where she’s still blathering on about something and he’s completely trashed and passed out.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I know I’ve seen Pillow Talk at least once before, but when pressed, I can hardly remember any of its plot, characters, or story line. You know what this means, don’t you? Time for a re-watch! I adore Doris Day – for me, she’s such a joy to watch!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Doris and Rock- can’t go wrong- I love Doris Day’s outfits!!! And the cool thing is like most style icons. she never set out to be one!! Too bad now a days we cant fall in love from a party line!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have been told that the first house we lived in when – when I was a wee child – had a party line, but I was too young to remember it.

    The part I always recall is was when she sits at the piano and starts playing the song he always plays and she realizes who he really is. What an exit she makes!

    You have made me want to see this again. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Pillow Talk is a lovely movie. When I watch movies like this one and even Romance on the High Seas, I imagine how their plots would instantly be ruined by modern technology. It’s nearly impossible to not recognize someone’s face or voice in the internet age. But we suspend our beliefs and dive deep in the time period to enjoy such treats anyway.
    Thanks for the kind comment!
    Kisses!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! True! So many plots would be ruined by modern technology. (Is that why, in so many movies, there’s a sudden disappearance of cell phone reception?)

      Like you said, the best way to enjoy these movies is to suspend disbelief and enjoy.

      Like

      1. Oh, by the wat, I found the remake of Romance on the High Seas, called Romance Musical, on YouTube. I’m saving it to watch later and compare – and practice my Spanish!

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Beautiful analysis of my favourite sex-comedy (of course sex-comedies back then meant, they dealt with “battle of the sexes” – Men are from Mars & Women are from Venus, theory; today the term would imply something else completely). I don’t think this movie is dated, at all. In fact, I think lot of crappy blockbusters that come today will keep getting outdated as CGI keeps improves. But these are human interest stories, that are ageless. Playboys/gals will always exist, as will feminist and open minded individuals. Of course, I watched this in my teens, in the 90’s. I really ought to re-watch it. Love this movie.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You’re right that this film is a gem. Doris Day is just luminous, and I’m predisposed to love anything with Thelma Ritter in it. Love is a drug and Pillow Talk uses that to great storytelling effect. You’ve left me wanting to revisit it!

    Liked by 1 person

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