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Pillow Talk (1959);
Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Pillow Talk (1959)
May 19, 2012 - 7:30 pm

New restoration!

Pillow Talk (1959)

Directed by Michael Gordon

Despite Universal’s declining box office returns throughout the 1950s, producer Ross Hunter achieved great success at the studio with handsome and glossy productions, many directed by Douglas Sirk and starring favorite leading man Rock Hudson. Sensing Hudson’s potential as a comic actor, the savvy Hunter seized on the idea of teaming him with Doris Day, America’s favorite girl-next-door, in a sophisticated bedroom farce. By the mid-1950s, Day was free from the “gingham” roles of her Warner Bros. contract, but was suffering from a series of career misfires and a lack of cinematic identity. As Hunter infamously declared in his pitch to Day for what would become Pillow Talk, “Under that dirndl lurked one of the wildest asses in Hollywood!” Day and her co-producing husband, Martin Melcher, were convinced.

Even with Hunter’s confidence, Hudson was nervous about starring in his first comedy. Making matters seemingly worse for Hudson was the fact that director Michael Gordon (helming his first film since being blacklisted in 1951) was a very intense and serious man. Gordon told Hudson to treat the comedy “like the very most tragic story you’ve ever portrayed. If you think you’re funny, nobody else will.” Thankfully the two leads took an instant liking to each other; Hudson credits Day’s incredible comedic instinct and timing for why he became so successful in the genre. The breezy Oscar-winning screenplay also allowed pitch-perfect wisecracking co-stars Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter a chance to display their immense natural comedic talents.

Pillow Talk would garner Day her only Oscar nomination and would become her most identifiable role. Costume designer Jean Louis created a meticulously beautiful wardrobe for Day that instantly transformed the star into a fashion icon throughout the 1960s. Pillow Talk was a colossal critical and box-office success. The film grossed over $18 million and paved the way for two more “Doris & Rock” projects, as well as the slew of Universal sex-comedies to come in the following decade, including Come September (1961), That Touch Of Mink (1962), Man’s Favorite Sport? (1964) and Strange Bedfellows (1965).

—Todd Wiener

Universal-International Pictures. Producer: Ross Hunter, Martin Melcher. Screenwriter: Stanley Shapiro, Maurice Richlin. Cinematographer: Arthur E. Arling. Editor: Milton Carruth. Cast: Rock Hudson, Doris Day, Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter, Nick Adams.

35mm, color, 110 min.

Magnificent Obsession (1954)

Directed by Douglas Sirk

Universal struck gold in the 1950s with a string of melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk, whose Imitation of Life (1959) was the studio’s biggest hit until Airport (1970). Sirk was an émigré under contract who cut his teeth in German theater during the 1920s and ‘30s. Although he made eight films with Rock Hudson, their most successful were soap operas boasting a European formalism that framed American passions with searing clarity.

Magnificent Obsession made a star of Hudson, a studio hunk previously relegated to supporting roles, and reinforced Jane Wyman’s “weepie” credentials after her Oscar-winning role in Johnny Belinda (1948). It also helped define the tone for Sirk’s melodramas, mostly shot by ace cinematographer Russell Metty (Spartacus, Touch of Evil): heightened emotions conveyed through lush, expressionist visuals.

The film is a remake of director John M. Stahl’s 1935 adaptation of the "pay it forward" novel by author-minister Lloyd C. Douglas ("The Robe") that indicted the hedonism of the Roaring Twenties. Sirk transposes the story to the materialism of the 1950s: Bob Manning (Hudson) is a millionaire playboy whose reckless behavior contributes to the death of a revered doctor. Captivated by the doctor’s widow (Wyman), Manning takes a cue from an idealistic painter and devotes his life to charity.

Sirk utilizes the colorful peaks of Technicolor but grounds them, and his fanciful story, in a rigorous and carefully composed materialism of pristine decor: the latest fashions, houses, cars, vases; even a lamp provides a major metaphor. As the narrative progresses into greater realms of dramatic incredulity, the film’s sunny, vacation exteriors—an amalgamation of Lake Arrowhead and Lake Tahoe—give way to sober interiors and shadowy evenings. Like many melodramas, the film revolves around hospitals and medical professionals, and the spectre of death hangs around every perfectly lit corner. But its awareness of mortality strengthens its conviction that life in all its splendor must be lived while it can, a passionate exhortation of the ultimate magnificent obsession.

—Doug Cummings

Universal-International Pictures. Producer: Ross Hunter. Based on the novel by Lloyd C. Douglas. Screenwriter: Robert Blees. Cinematographer: Russell Metty. Editor: Milton Carruth. Cast: Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Agnes Moorehead, Otto Kruger, Barbara Rush.

35mm, color, 107 min.