– Ross Hunter, Producer, “Pillow Talk” (1959)
At least not until she has the ring on her finger. And by then the film will be over anyway, as it is here. Although there is a moment when she sings“Should I Surrender?” after Rock takes her off to a log cabin for the weekend. Thankfully her virtue is saved in the nick of time when she discovers that Rock is a big wolf in sheep’s clothing.
It’s difficult now to imagine the excitement that Pillow Talk generated when it was first shown. Doris Day and Rock Hudson were both big stars at the time and the film was risky and ground breaking for both of them. Both were concerned that the sexually-implicit story might appear in bad taste. But for Rock, his career had reached a plateau playing strong, silent, humourless types and he needed to expand his male-lead repertoire before audiences got bored. For Doris, her films were becoming less successful and she also needed a new direction.
And what a direction! Don’t forget that two of the three films she made before Pillow Talk were in black and white, Teacher’s Pet and the low-budget The Tunnel of Love.
The third, It Happened to Jane, was a box-office disappointment, despite the presence of Jack Lemmon and some good reviews.
With Pillow Talk, audiences were unprepared for both the glamorously-transformed Day, the sexy titillating modern story, and seeing Rock Hudson in a romantic comedy. Producer Ross Hunter, who persuaded her to play the role, claimed he was responsible for taking her out of the kitchen and into the bedroom.
And perhaps unwittingly taking Rock Hudson out of the bedroom and into the kitchen. In Pillow Talk, his ‘real self’ suggests to Doris (by phone) that his ‘pretend self’ (the ‘cowboy’ imposter attempting to seduce her) might be gay as he hadn’t hit on her. Doris is outraged but Rock’s ‘pretend self’ plays along with it, talking about his mother and his interest in recipes and only manages to get a few kisses from Doris. (Those kisses were sweet, however, in terms of their careers, which were given a huge boost and opened up new opportunities for both stars.)
But for Rock, a gay man playing a straight man who might possibly be gay, this follows the Hollywood tradition of blending fact with fiction and probably amused him that he could be so daring as to hint at it. (In many interviews, Rock said, the first question he was often asked was “Are you gay?” To which he always replied, “Next question”.)
Doris Day’s role was also tailored to her on and off-screen persona – a woman of integrity with high moral principles who didn’t sleep around. Doris, like Rock, wasn’t quite so saintly in real life and with her third husband Martin Melcher who, as her manager, was busy controlling her and all the money she was earning. She would later learn it had all (approx $24 million) been lost in bad investments. But these things are not uncommon in Tinsel Town and the show must go on.
Doris Day was nominated for an Academy Award for the first and only time for her role in Pillow Talk – an honour that I’ve never heard her refer to. Was she excited at the possibility of winning an Oscar? Was she disappointed at not having won? Or was it just Que Sera, Sera?
Thelma Ritter was nominated for Best Supporting Actress and Tony Randall for ‘Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role’ by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who also nominated Doris for ‘Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture, Musical or Comedy’.
Of course, Pillow Talk is not a politically-correct movie today, with lines such as ‘If there’s anything worse than a woman living alone, it’s a woman saying she likes it.’ – Thelma Ritter to Doris Day. However, as a product of the late fifties, it was perfect and Pillow Talk was one of Universal’s three biggest money makers that year. At $15m, it was book-ended by Cary Grant’s Operation Petticoat ($18.6m) and Lana Turner’s Imitation of Life ($13m).
Pillow Talk Reviews
“The fabulously successful Pillow Talk was essentially Shop Around the Corner for the 1950s. Playboy composer Rock Hudson and interior-decorator Doris Day are obliged to share a telephone party line. Naturally, their calls overlap at the least opportune times, and just as naturally, this leads to Hudson and Day despising each other without ever having met in person. In a cute but convenient coincidence, Doris’ boyfriend is Tony Randall, who also happens to be Hudson’s best pal. Thus Hudson gets a glimpse at Day, and it’s love at first sight. To avoid revealing that he’s her telephone rival, Hudson poses as a wealthy Texan and turns the charm on Day. But when he starts pitching woo, Day instantly recognizes all the “make-out” lines Hudson has used on the phone with his other conquests. She gets even by decorating Hudson’s apartment in a hideous manner. But Hudson loves her all the same; he “kidnaps” her, carrying her through the streets in her nightgown in full view of everyone, including a laughing cop who refuses to intervene. He praises her horrifying interior decoration job effusively, and at this point Day can’t help but give in to his marriage proposal. A bit too arch and cute for modern tastes at times, Pillow Talk is still one of the best of the frothy Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles; it made a fortune at the box office and garnered five Oscar nominations”. – Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide
New York Times original review, 7 October 1959:
“A nice, old-fashioned device of the theatre, the telephone party line, serves as a quaint convenience to bring together Rock Hudson and Doris Day in in what must be cheerfully acknowledged one of the most lively and up-to-date comedy-romances of the year. “Pillow Talk” is the item, and it was duly presented last night at the Palace and the new Murray Hill Theatre, 160 East Thirty-fourth Street.
It is really the clever, witty screenplay that Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin have prepared from a story by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene that accounts for much of the sparkle in this film. Their devices are crisp, their dialogue funny and their cinema mechanics are neat. Frequent clever use of a split screen make for fresh and appropriate drolleries. With a CinemaScope screen to play on, they and director Michael Gordon have much fun.
And this fun is transmitted to the audience in an easy and generous flow of ingeniously graphic situations and nimble repartee. The opportunity for the tricky song writer to court the lady through a wicked pretence of being a high-minded Texan is in Mr. Hudson’s groove, and he carries off the delicate deception with surprising dexterity.
You give me a real warm feeling, like a potbellied stove on a frosty morning.”
– Hudson softly drawls to Miss Day.
What girl could resist that line? Well, certainly not the young lady played fiercely and smartly by Miss Day, who has a delightful way of taking the romantic offensive against a man. Her dudgeons are as chic and spectacular as her nifty Jean Louis clothes, and her fall for Mr. Hudson’s deceptions is as graceful as a ski-run down a hill. Singing is kept to a minimum, but Miss Day does cut loose a couple of times, very pleasantly, as usual. Perry Blackwell also sings two bistro songs.
In support of Miss Day and Mr. Hudson are Thelma Ritter as an alcoholic maid and Tony Randall as a disappointed suitor, than whom no others could be more droll. Nick Adams as a wolfish Harvard senior almost steals one sequence from Miss Day, and Marcel Dallio, Allen Jenkins and Lee Patrick are fun in a couple of scenes. Color and some likeable music brighten this pretty film, which has a splendid montage of New York in it. Thank Universal for the boon.”
– Bosley Crother , New York Times
“Director Michael Gordon – working from Maurice Richlin and Stanley Shapiro’s lighthearted screenplay – has infused Pillow Talk with an irresistibly breezy sensibility that’s certainly reflected in the charismatic performances, with Hudson and Day’s palpable chemistry together evident almost immediately (it’s consequently not difficult to see why they remain one of the most enduring on screen couples in cinematic history).
The presence of Tony Randall within the supporting cast only cements the film’s exceedingly agreeable nature, as the actor delivers as entertaining a performance as one might have expected (Thelma Ritter does an equally effective job as Day’s sassy confidant). The only overt deficiency within Pillow Talk comes in its final 20 minutes, with the expected fake break-up lasting much longer than one might have liked – though that’s a fairly minor complaint for a romcom that still holds up surprisingly well all these years later.”
“It’s a film that seems loaded with in-jokes. Some play with the actors’ roles — Rock Hudson played a Texan much more seriously in the dramatic Academy Award-winning epic Giant, and of course Doris Day can’t get through the film without getting a chance to sing some fabulous songs even though he’s the songwriter! Others play on the cosmopolitan nature of the City and the suburban-housewife role that 1950s America shoehorned on women. From the stereotypically grand music as the camera tilts up a skyscraper, to characters getting romantic help from their psychiatrists, to the overeager Harvard man who “dig[s] older women,” Pillow Talk takes jabs at the things that were unspoken of of polite society, even though everyone knows all about them. There also seems to be some buried social commentary, as all the nightclubs feature lily-white sharply-dressed customers and black or Caribbean musicians. It does bring to mind Holden Caulfield’s comments about white vs. black singers in The Catcher in the Rye.
Still other in-jokes must’ve been either unintentional or truly limited in their inner circle, as is the case when Allen toys with Jan by suggesting that Stetson is gay, and Rock Hudson dangles his pinky and discusses recipes until Jan practically begs him to kiss her to prove it isn’t true. Come to think of it, the mere suggestion of homosexuality is audacious, as the next year’s Kubrick epic Spartacus had to excise all hints that Laurence Olivier’s commanding Roman Senator was bisexual. Maybe the Code Office let it go because Rock Hudson’s character did not turn out to be gay.” – Taoyue.com
“Doris Day is bubbly as chewing-gum, Rock Hudson is stoically naughty in a chauvinistic way, Tony Randall is believably insecure as the client and college buddy Jonathan Forbes, and Jan’s alcoholic maid is played by Thelma Ritter in much the same role that she played in Hitchcock’s Rear Window — the dour, slightly coarse working-class woman who thinks all this intellectual activity between the two leads is silly and they should just jump into bed. And it’s rather fun to listen to the music score which punctuates every on screen action in that style that works well for comedies like this one.” – Taoyue.com
But not everyone liked Pillow Talk – below, a dissenting voice from Clark Douglas.
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.” – Clark Douglas, DVD Verdict
In 2009, Pillow Talk was added to the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress for being culturally, historically or aesthetically significant and will be preserved for all time.