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Blu-ray Review: Pillow Talk

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I will freely admit that I have been guilty of denigrated the romantic comedy genre.  But, that is only the case because I know how great a romantic comedy can be and see all too often where they end up.  If you want to see a brilliant example of the genre, look no further than the new Blu-ray release of the 1959 classic, Pillow Talk.

Directed by Michael Gordon, Pillow Talk stars the fantastic on screen duo of Rock Hudson and Doris Day.  Here, the two play strangers who are brought together by their hatred for one another as they share a “party line.”  It is funny and charming and they make for a perfect pair.

For those unaware of what a “party line” is, imagine sharing a phone line with a complete stranger – you pick up the phone and there is someone else talking on it, someone who doesn’t live with you.  It is always the same household with which you share your line and it kind of stops you from being able to use your phone as you please.  Okay, that’s a hard concept from some today what with people having a personal cell phone on them 24/7 from a very early age, but when there weren’t enough trunk lines, it happened.

So, in any case, in the film, on the one end of this party line is Rock Hudson’s Brad Allen, who is quite the womanizer; on the other end is Doris Day’s Jan Morrow, an interior designer and modern single woman.  They do not like each other – Brad is something of a boor and Jan is done being patient with Brad’s monopolizing the line.

As happens with such films, via a contrived event or two, Brad becomes aware of who Jan is in the real world (as opposed to the disembodied phone line world), but she remains unaware of who he is.   They meet, he pretends to be someone else, and their relationship progresses under false pretenses.

The end of the film is never in doubt, nor are so many of the incidents along the way, but the film still manages to work because Hudson and Day, as well as their costars—Tony Randall, Thelma Ritter, and Marcel Dalio—are game.  Day and Hudson are both incredibly charismatic separately, but put together they are absolutely spectacular.  They are both sharp-tongued, quick-witted, and very charming.   In his supporting role as an admirer of Jan’s and friend of Brad’s, Tony Randall is terribly funny and actually manages to steal a few scenes from the duo.

Much of the film, in fact, works not because we want to know what happens (the end, as stated, is a foregone conclusion), but because we want to see it all unfold.  How can Brad keep this double-life going, even if only for a little while?  When will Jan work it all out?  Will Jonathan Forbes (Randall) ever figure it out himself?  What will he do if/when he does? How is Jan going to even all this out so they two can end up happily together? 

It is not the destination that makes Pillow Talk so much fun, but the journey.  It is not the fact that these two have to get together that makes it a pleasure, but loving the characters so much that we all want them to get together. 

What we probably also want is a better experience from this Universal release.  Although the Blu-ray is a part of the Universal 100th Anniversary celebration and comes with a booklet, DVD, and digital copy, it still is somewhat lacking.  The first thing that people will notice (it is impossible not to), is that it lacks a main menu.  Why anyone would include a booklet, DVD, and digital copy but not a main menu is a conundrum that can’t be answered here.  Special features in the release include a commentary with three film historians and a featurette looking back at the making of the film and what it meant at the time as well as a shorter one on Hudson and Day.  The first of these is interesting, but, even at 22 minutes, it never is quite as detailed or in depth as one might like.  The piece on Day and Hudson, clocking in at closer to five minutes, is even less deep.  One feels as though there is a whole lot more that could and should have been said about Pillow Talk.  Three of Universal’s 100th Anniversary celebratory featurettes (which have been on several releases already this year) are also included.

On the technical side of things, while this is a good release, it certainly isn’t a great one.  While it is mostly clean and free of scratches, there are a number of shots throughout the movie which don’t match the preceding or following ones, where it appears as though, maybe, they simply weren’t worked on to the same extent as the rest of the film or the source material was far more degraded.  The colors are certainly bright and cheerful, and in the best shots the level of detail is really quite good, but the presence of the subpar shots is disconcerting.  The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is far more consistent.  There is no crackle or hiss underlying the film and when Day gets the chance to sing it is just beautiful.

Pillow Talk is a simple, but nonetheless wonderful, film starring one of the greatest on screen couples cinema has to offer.  Even if it doesn’t hit a list of someone’s favorite films, it is inconceivable that anyone could walk away from it feeling disappointed at how they spent their time.  It may deserve a release with more supplemental features, but it is a great movie nonetheless.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.