Blu-ray Disc review by Joe Marchese of The Digital Bits
1959 (2012) - Universal Studios Home Entertainment (Universal)
Released on Blu-ray Disc/DVD Combo on May 1st, 2012
Also available on DVD
Film Rating: A-
Video (1-20): 17
Audio (1-20): 15
Have you any idea what it's like to be on a party line with a sex maniac?
When Doris Day, as cosmopolitan career woman Jan Morrow, posed that question back in 1959, the thought of America's girl next door even mentioning such an unsavory thought was naughtily scandalous. Today, the answer to such a question might still be a resounding "no," but likely not because of the sex maniac part!
|For while celebrity bedroom escapades never seem to be far away from the news spotlight, "party lines" have become extinct. Yet Pillow Talk, the Michael Gordon film which paired Day with Rock Hudson for the first time, is far from a dated relic of Eisenhower America. On Universal's new Blu-ray release (part of the studio's 100th Anniversary Collectors' Series), it retains the power to delight.
Pillow Talk is an urbane time capsule that retains an idealized innocence as well as a chic sophistication. The film depicts an age where everybody smoked, men still wore suits and "stoned" meant "drunk." Rock Hudson is Brad Allen, a carefree bachelor and songwriter in the big city who shares a party line (one telephone line used by numerous customers) with Day's successful interior decorator Jan Morrow. The somewhat uptight Morrow, increasingly frustrated with Allen's tying up her telephone line to conduct his various liaisons, wants nothing to do with Allen... that is, until she meets him. He takes on the persona of Rex Stetson, a Texan transplanted, all alone, to the gleaming metropolis. Needless to say, the sparks soon fly.
Day brings to Pillow Talk her singular blend of sex appeal and wholesome virtuousness (not to mention innate class). Looking trendy in Jean Louis' haute couture, she's the rare actress who could impart warm sincerity and an icy veneer at the very same time. Pillow Talk also redefined Day as a strong, independent woman as the sixties began. The clean-cut, impeccably-tailored Hudson matches her with a relaxed, easy comic flair. Hudson, reportedly nervous during the shoot about starring in his first comedy, shines, whether performing shtick in a too-small automobile, or adopting the voices of both "Rex" and Brad on one telephone call with an agitated Jan. A playful tone permeates the screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin, which Gordon plays up with his clever visuals. The film shows just how far innuendo could go when delivered with wit, style and flair. There's very little that's actually risqué, but the hint is there. Gordon makes delicious use of split screens, including one memorable moment in which Jan and Brad, both bathing, appear to press their feet up to each other! In another device which sets Pillow Talk apart, voiceovers are used to reveal Jan and Brad's hidden thoughts. Naturally, there were opportunities in the film for song, including a turn from singer/pianist Perry Blackwell in a bar scene, and Doris Day's own performance of "Possess Me" as an inner monologue. She sings the infectious title song over the opening credit sequence.
Day and Hudson are surrounded by a "who's who" of character actors including William Schallert, Mary McCarty and Hayden Rorke, as well as Thelma Ritter and Tony Randall in prominent roles as Jan's tipsy housekeeper and her potential suitor, respectively. Randall, playing much-married, eight-million dollar man Jonathan Forbes, pursues Jan with the impeccably-timed comic fussiness he would perfect in later roles such as Felix Unger in television's The Odd Couple. (So important was Randall to the Day/Hudson "formula" that he would appear in both of the duo's future onscreen pairings.) Thelma Ritter as Alma steals each of her scenes with her deadpan (if sometimes sloshed!) delivery of the movie's best zingers. New York City itself is a supporting character, with one memorable montage including shots of the old Madison Square Garden, Roseland Ballroom, the Horn and Hardart automat, and the remarkably unchanged stretch of 45th Street with the Music Box and Imperial Theatres.
After a number of disappointing DVD releases in 1999, 2004, 2007 and 2009, Universal has finally treated Pillow Talk with respect for its Blu-ray debut. The 2:35: 1 widescreen film sparkles in its new 1080p transfer, restored from the original 35mm film elements. The yellows and pinks in Jan Morrow's tony apartment practically jump off the screen as do the vibrant hues of the dresses and hats worn by Day. Reds are particularly potent. The image isn't devoid of grain, but when grain is referred to in the commentary track (held over from a previous DVD), it's not nearly as distracting as you might expect. The Blu-ray offers a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track as well as Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish and French. The mono track isn't impressive, but is solid and clean on both dialogue and Frank DeVol's prominent, jazzy underscore.
The Pillow Talk bonus features have all been repeated from the 2009 DVD released for its 50th anniversary. Back in Bed with Pillow Talk, approximately 22 minutes in length, features a number of talking heads dissecting the film with special attention paid to its gender roles. Samantha Cook, author of The Rough Guide to Chick Flicks, joins authors David Thomson and Daniel H. Kimmel and Professor Judith Roof to dissect what the comedy meant on the cusp of the sexual revolution, the pill and society's changing mores. There's nothing about the "making of" Pillow Talk here; instead, the interview subjects analyze how the filmmakers pushed the envelope ever so slightly, and contrasts Day's persona with that of Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn, two of her cinema contemporaries. There's also discussion of Rock Hudson's sexuality, and its impact (or lack thereof) on Pillow Talk and the subsequent Day/Hudson film Send Me No Flowers, with its jokey scene of Hudson and Tony Randall sharing a bed. This 2009 feature is presented in standard definition, as is its much shorter companion featurette, Chemistry 101: The Film Duo of Doris Day and Rock Hudson. For a brisk five minutes, the same interviewees focus on the onscreen relationship between Day and Hudson over the course of their three films together. Of course, both of these mini-documentaries suffer from the lack of participation of anyone actually associated with the film. It's particularly unfortunate that Day couldn't be convinced to participate via a voiceover. She's recently consented to a number of audio interviews which have all revealed her as remarkably warm, sharp and astute at the age of 88.
The third bonus here is a feature-length commentary from a trio of film historians, Nick Redman, Julie Kirgo and Jeff Bond. Redman is a congenial host for this roundtable-style to discussion. The style brings to mind three friends sharing a film together, and the conversational tone is entertaining and, needless to say, informative. (Redman leads off the commentary track by posing the question, "What the hell is a party line?" for the benefit of younger viewers.) The theatrical trailer has also been included.
Three more bonus features round out the Blu-ray, all in high definition. These are part of the Universal 100th anniversary series, and all have appeared on other releases in this series. As such, they don't specifically relate to Pillow Talk at all, but if they're new to you, they're well worth a viewing. (They're also all under ten minutes' length.) These are Restoring the Classics; The Carl Laemmle Era; and Unforgettable Characters.
Pillow Talk is housed in a colorful and attractive digi-book package which also includes a DVD. The DVD contains only the film and the Pillow Talk bonuses: the featurettes, commentary track and trailer. The attached 44-page book leads off with an introduction from historian/television personality Leonard Maltin, and includes many short, fluffy essays such as the "The History of Telephone Party Lines" and "The Films of Rock and Doris," to name a couple, plus spotlights on the stars. Best of all are the reproductions of various posters, lobby cards and ads, all in that special early-sixties style, along with pages of the original script. The remaining two Day/Hudson comedies, Lover Come Back (1961) and Send Me No Flowers (1964) are also worthy candidates for the deluxe treatment.
The cover artwork for the new Blu-ray asserts of the title, "It's what goes on when the lights go off!" So turn out those lights, turn on your hi-fi, pour yourself a double, and luxuriate in this splendid and overdue restoration of Pillow Talk, a romantic comedy that's lost none of its charm.