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Case Number 16149

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Pillow Talk: 50th Anniversary Edition

Universal // 1959 // 102 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // April 14th, 2009

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas wonders what his pillows talk about when he isn't using them. His dandruff, maybe?

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Pillow Talk (Blu-ray) (published June 7th, 2012) and Universal 100th Anniversary Collection (Blu-ray) (published November 26th, 2012) are also available.

The Charge

It's what goes on when the lights go off!

Opening Statement

"I understand that we're going to have to share this party line for at least another month. I suppose we'll have to try to get along."

Facts of the Case

Jan Morrow (Doris Day, The Man Who Knew Too Much) is a sensible interior decorator attempting to lead her life in a perfectly sensible manner. Alas, the peace of her existence has been upset lately. Jan is forced to share a party line with Brad Allen (Rock Hudson, Magnificent Obsession), a lazy playboy who seemingly spends all of his time wooing ladies over the telephone. This makes Jan very irritated, partially because she can't make phone calls and partially because she can't stand Brad's womanizing ways. However, when Brad starts posing as a romantic Texan, Jan starts to fall for him. Will she stay in love with the "Texan" when she finds out he's really Brad, or will she take the safe option and marry her swooning millionaire employer (Tony Randall, The Tony Randall Show)?

The Evidence

Is Pillow Talk a sacred cow? Whenever the film is discussed, I generally hear it praised as one of the all-time great romantic comedies. Oh, that legendary chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and that delightful screwball plot which just keeps piling on the comedy! I'm not so sure. Revisiting Pillow Talk was a surprisingly disappointing experience. Though the film certainly has its share of old-fashioned charms, this breezy little flick is a far cry from the comedies of, say, Billy Wilder.

Any film from the 1950s that makes an attempt to deal with sexuality is inevitably going to feel a little dated, but Pillow Talk handles sex in a downright childish manner. One particularly uncomfortable scene features a young suitor attempting to force himself on Day. She resists, and eventually resorts to threatening the young man with telling his mother if he doesn't stop. He pauses and looks at her for a moment. "It's your word against mine," he says, attacking her lustfully before she finally shoves him off. We're meant to laugh at the goofball antics of the horny young lad, but the creepy date-rape undertone kills any potential humor. Day's eyebrow-raising expressions at the audacious impropriety of people having sex become annoying after a while. The film spends considerably too much time giggling over the way people react to anything having to do with sexuality.

The sexual politics of the film have been analyzed to death, and I don't think they are a primary factor in preventing the film from attaining success, but they should be noted. The whole film is more or less based on the assumption that every woman needs a man. After all, what is an intelligent woman worth, if they haven't got a handsome husband by their side? As evidence of this, the film presents us with an old maid played by Thelma Ritter, a washed-up alcoholic whose complete lack of marriage has obviously ruined her life. On the other hand, single men are not desperate in the least, but rather millionaire playboys who treat love like a carefree game. Maybe they'll succeed, maybe they won't, but hey, there's always someone else to go after if it doesn't work out.

I know people will hate me for daring to criticize the magical team of Doris Day and Rock Hudson, but they just aren't that great. Day's brand of acting involves over-emoting at every possible turn and it becomes tedious. As for Rock Hudson, I'm not sure he's entirely up to handling the demands of the role. Some may regard Brad as a playful and entertaining rake, but he's really nothing more than a deceitful jerk cruelly manipulating the emotions of an unsuspecting woman. Someone like Cary Grant might have been able to conjure enough raw charm to make viewers overlook this fact, but Hudson's charisma level just isn't strong enough to cover up the character's despicable traits.

This 50th Anniversary Edition DVD offers a brand-new transfer that slightly improves upon the release from a few years earlier, offering a generally brighter and cleaner image. There are still some noteworthy problems, including loads of scratches and flecks in certain scenes, and a pretty high grain level. That said, I'm more pleased than not. The Dolby 2.0 audio is perfectly adequate. It's a clean, nicely-divided stereo track but nothing substantial, leaving Day's requisite handful of agonizingly cheesy songs sounding particularly solid.

The supplements kick off with a new audio commentary from film historians Jeff Bond, Julie Kirgo, and Nick Redman. These three are all living treasure troves of cinema knowledge, and have a lot of interesting thoughts to offer on the themes of the film. Of course they all love it a good deal more than I do, but I found it an engaging listen. "Back in Bed with Pillow Talk" (20 minutes) covers rather similar territory in a less comprehensive manner, while "Chemistry 101: The Film Duo of Rock Hudson and Doris Day" (5 minutes) offers a quick look at the collaborations of the famous romantic comedy team. Finally, you get an original theatrical trailer.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

If I wasn't entirely impressed by the lead characters, I immensely enjoyed the supporting performances of Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter. Despite the fact they are both playing pretty one-dimensional characters, they bring a lot to their roles. Randall in particular demonstrates a great sense of comic timing, managing to make his increasing exasperation quite funny. Additionally, the film is solid from a technical perspective, offering excellent set and costume design, a charming musical score, and great cinematography. Finally, I suppose one must take into account that for every person such as myself who doesn't care for the film, there are some 20 others who adore it to no end.

Closing Statement

I'm not sold on the idea that Pillow Talk is a high point for the romantic comedy genre, but fans of the film should be reasonably pleased with the upgraded transfer and the engaging new supplements.

The Verdict

I know I'll be covered in tomatoes in a moment, but I have no choice. Guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 87
Audio: 82
Extras: 85
Acting: 80
Story: 75
Judgment: 77

Perp Profile

Studio: Universal
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• Commentary
• Featurettes
• Trailer


• IMDb

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