Happy Friday, Persephoneers! This week’s classic woman-centric movie pick is “Pillow Talk,” made in 1959, starring Doris Day, Rock Hudson, and Tony Randall. This film is supposed to be a romantic comedy, but I found it to be anything but. It’s really a commentary on the very warped 1950s ideas concerning sex and dating.
Jan Morrow (Day) is a very successful interior designer who finds fulfillment within her career and being her own woman. She shares a party line with songwriter and playboy Brad Allen (Hudson), who hogs the phone nonstop while talking to his many girlfriends. Because of this, Jan is unable to conduct business from her home, and when she rebukes Brad about this, he only laughs her off and reasons that she’s jealous of his very active love life. Unbeknownst to Brad, Jan works for his best friend from college and his patron, Jonathan Forbes (Tony Randall), who repeatedly proposes to Jan after she repeatedly refuses. Brad finds out about Jonathan’s infatuation with Jan, but he hasn’t put two and two together yet.
While on a date with one of his many girlfriends at a nightclub, Brad sees Jan dancing with a young man and finally does put two and two together. It turns out that she’s in a very sticky situation: Jan’s client asked her son to take her home after a housewarming party. The son made romantic advances to Jan, who refused, and to try and get out of the situation, Jan caved to the son’s suggestion that they go to the nightclub for a drink. Brad takes the opportunity to pretend to be a noble-hearted Texas rancher named Rex Stetson. He takes Jan home, and Jan is hooked on his gentlemanly ways. They begin dating regularly, and soon Jan finds herself in love with Rex. But Jonathan is jealous, and he soon hires a private detective to
tail Jan and Brad. He discovers that Brad is dating Jan under false pretenses, and he intervenes and demands that Brad head to his cabin in Connecticut. Jan ends up going to the cabin with Brad, and when she sees his sheet music there, she figures out exactly what Brad is doing. And who else is there to take Jan back home but Jonathan?
Jan refuses to speak to Brad, though he wishes to reconcile with her and make things right. He finally succeeds in doing so by hiring Jan to redecorate his apartment. Jan decides to use this as an opportunity to get back at Brad, and she picks the tackiest decorations for his apartment. Brad hurries to Jan’s apartment and picks her up out of bed and carries her to his apartment. Once they arrive there, he finally makes his intentions known: he’s in love with her, and he changed his lifestyle because he wanted to marry her. Of course, Jan is thrilled and embraces him.
Perhaps the biggest issue that I have with “Pillow Talk” is the incessant validation of the beliefs of the 1950s patriarchy: it’s OK for a man to date several different women at once and play around while a woman has to be careful about such things. While a
man might find fulfillment in his career and in his own person, it’s unnatural for a woman to do so, and if she does find fulfillment in such things, she is only pretending to or there must be something wrong with her. It also exemplifies the attitude of “boys will be boys,” but that women still must be “nice” and yet still try to finagle a way out of the situation. What occurred with Jan and her client’s son would nowadays be considered attempted rape and could lead to criminal charges. Jonathan’s persistence in pursuing Jan isn’t cute but is really sexual harassment. Brad’s deception in pretending to be Rex Stetson is not all right at all if someone wants to be in a really loving, trusting relationship. Moreover, the fact that Brad vows to change his lifestyle after meeting Jan is evocative of the old adage that the love of a “good woman” can fix a man, and that if a woman is willing to settle for some things, she can eventually “train” that man into being the man that she wants.
While I didn’t necessarily find “Pillow Talk” to be a funny movie, I did find it to be an excellent portrayal of society in late 1950s America, when the strict roles of each gender and the importance of marriage and family were key ideals. While some people would honestly tell me to lighten up because hey, it’s a funny movie, I can only reply that its absolute ridiculousness is the only funny thing about it. So I definitely think I’ll find something for next week that’s more of a palate cleanser. I’m thinking “Auntie Mame.” We just need something about a woman who lives life on her own terms and flips the bird to what society thinks after this one, I think.