Essential: LOVER COME BACK (1961)

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TB: We thought it might be fun to look at a couple of Doris Day films. Namely, ones where she is playing a career woman and finding her place in the business world. In our first selection, Doris is a single character who finds conflict and love with a rival played by Rock Hudson. It was the second of three pairings for the duo at Universal, and arguably the funniest. Next week we will look at how the formula was revised a bit when she costars opposite James Garner, that time as a wife and mother who begins a new career outside the home.

One thing I enjoy about LOVER COME BACK, as opposed to PILLOW TALK or SEND ME NO FLOWERS, is how much energy Doris’ character has. In quite a few respects, she is someone we want to succeed. Especially when Hudson’s character tries to outmaneuver her; typically he doesn’t play fair. Of course, much enjoyment comes in watching how flustered Doris gets and her resolve to try harder to beat Hudson at his own game.

The film also has some good supporting players. Notably, it features Jack Oakie in what would be his last motion picture (though he would do some television after this). Also, we have other character actors like Jack Kruschen, Joe Flynn and Jack Albertson. Plus Tony Randall is again along for the ride, like he is in the other two Day-Hudson rom-coms.

JL: We are quickly motivated by the proceedings with some clever animation over the opening credits by Pacific Titles: cute female bird thwarts the advances of frisky male bird in a sequence also showing bees and flowers, the birds-and-the-bees emphasizing that this is a “sex comedy.”

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Madison Avenue is presented with buildings resembling honeycombs as our narrator introduces Doris Day’s Carol Templeton as a “worker bee” competing with her company against that of Rock Hudson’s Jerry Webster, a “drone” who arrives to work with a hangover and some passionate kissing with one of multiple ladies seen with him early on.

TB: Of course we know right away that Hudson and Day will soon clash, and given the conventions of the genre, their clash will lead to romance/love.

JL: Carol resembles Elizabeth Moss’ famous character Peggy Olson in that she wants to prove to the world that she is as efficient as any man in the advertising business without having to resort to the sex angle, while Jerry steals an account both are competing for by swaying Jack Oakie’s J. Paxton Miller his way with Southern style liquor and showgirls, a method totally foreign to Carol.

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She, in turn, tries to get even: first by reporting his unethical behavior to the Ad Council, then she learns from one of Jerry’s girlfriends, Rebel Davis (Edie Adams), of a new mystery product “VIP” involving a noted Greenwich Village chemist, Dr. Linus Taylor (Jack Kruschen) in its creation…so she tries to investigate him in order to steal that account from Jerry.

TB: One thing I didn’t care for about this part of the movie is that Carol is a bit too righteous and blowing the whistle on Jerry is not going to get her anywhere. Particularly because it is still a man’s world and if she screamed bloody murder, would anyone believe her side of things? To some extent her righteous attitude is carried over from the previous film these two stars made together.

JL: Yes. If you have seen PILLOW TALK already, you may sense some déjà vu since this is recycling some plot details. Doris’ character is locked in battle with Rock’s but doesn’t know him on a face to face level at first and he takes advantage of her once he identifies her: as the annoying swinging bachelor aggravating her due to a shared telephone line, he woos her in the earlier 1959 film as an effeminate Texas businessman and, in the ’61 film, he fools her into thinking he is Dr. Taylor himself…and is as equally “innocent” of women and dating.

All of this draws out Doris’ maternal side. Once she discovers she has been fooled, Hell hath no fury like a woman and she revenges, in the former film, by doing the most outlandish interior design job possible on his bachelor pad and, in this one, woos him to the beach for a midnight swim, only to abandon him in “seaweed shorts” to hitchhike back into the city in a ladies’ fur coat truck.

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TB: You have to wonder if things cut from the rough draft of the first film were copied and pasted into the script for this film. In some ways it is a creative “rewrite.” They’ve even repeated the use of the split screens. Also giving LOVER COME BACK that sense of deju vu is the casting of Tony Randall.

JL: Tony Randall pretty much plays the same role in all three Day-Hudson comedies, being single (and super rich in two titles) and sometimes questionable in his, um, orientation. He woos Doris in the first one but she is not interested in him due to a certain lack of sincerity on his part, even though he claims he was married three times before.

In the third film of the Hudson-Day trio, SEND ME NO FLOWERS, he is actually married but we never see his wife and child on screen (?!) and, if that one was remade today, he would more likely have a boyfriend. As Pete Ramsey in LOVER COME BAC, he is the spoiled boss’ son who has no interest in girls at all, a bit like the many characters played by Edward Everett Horton. Pete: “Girls again! What’s the obsession with girls?” Jerry: “I was a poor kid, remember? I didn’t have toys to play with.”

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TB: Good point. And Randall doesn’t seem to have a problem, or much aversion, to portraying his characters in the Edward Everett Horton vein.

JL: Providing the “Greek Chorus,” observing some of the goings on, are Jack Albertson and Charles Watt as middle-aged shriner club men, who are impressed each time they see Jerry wooing a different woman. “Let’s face it, Charlie. Either you’ve got it or you haven’t. He’s got it.”Later, they react in shock to his hotel arrival in a ladies’ fur coat with the line “That’s the last guy I would have figured” (a.k.a. it was assumed in 1961 that all cross-dressers were gay).

TB: Yeah, definitely some stereotypes used for laughs.

JL: Meanwhile, when the real Dr. Taylor, a professed “woman hater” whom Carol would not have succeeded with as she does Hudson as his impostor, finally unveils “VIP”, it is revealed as colorful candy that intoxicates like 100% proof brandy.

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When everybody gets drunk, including Carol, we are instantly reminded that this is a Doris Day comedy, so there is this complex situation made in order for Hudson’s Jerry to “wed” Carol before he can “bed” her. I am always tickled by such plots (and AUNTIE MAME is another famous example from a few years earlier) because it is highly unlikely a full marriage license and justice-of-the-peace ceremony can be accomplished successfully under the influence and the characters still not remembering anything. Yet there were obvious “rules” that Hollywood still had to follow to avoid the wrath of the Catholic Legion of Decency.

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TB: I agree. It’s the most far-fetched element of the whole movie. By the way, the VIP plot device reminds me of the Vitameatavegamin routine in I Love Lucy. I also thought the plot of this movie would have worked as a vehicle for Lucille Ball and Bob Hope.

Care to discuss the director a bit?

JL: Director Delbert Mann previously worked on MARTY and SEPARATE TABLES as one of the most successful TV directors (with over a hundred live dramas between 1949 and 1955 under his belt) making the transition to the big screen; not surprisingly TV becomes an additional “character” quite often in his films and the domination Madison Avenue has over the electronic tube is made quite obvious in the commercial making scenes. The screenplay by Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning has plenty to say about how advertisers sell you any product regardless if it useful to your life or not. In this case, we see VIP getting commercial treatment before Jerry, Pete and Rebel Davis the VIP Girl even know what it is.

TB: We should mention that Paul Henning would go on to create enormously successful sitcoms on television after this film. The Beverly HillbilliesPetticoat Junction and Green Acres were all just around the corner. Shows that featured backwards characters.

JL: LOVER COME BACK is both ahead of its time…and a bit backwards…in regards to gender relations.

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The wild party of J. Paxton Miller may have been considered a riot at the time, but modern viewers may squirm at the sight of so many ladies willingly becoming men’s playthings. On the other hand, Doris Day is again playing a woman fully committed to her career and her secretary Millie (Ann B. Davis, “Alice” of The Brady Bunch) was obviously hired for her work efficiency rather than her looks, unlike Jerry and Pete’s (even though sexy Karen Norris and Donna Douglas do make the most of their limited roles).

When Carol and Jerry fuss about “my baby,” they do agree in the end as equal partners in a way not often covered in romantic comedies. When the liquor council board-members talk Jerry into buying off the account and halting the production of VIP due to potential damage to liquor sales, Jerry insists that Carol gets 25% of the profit even though she was currently trying to seek an annulment from him. My guess is that, after she finally agrees to have the child and stay married, they both work together with their own created agency. Certainly she can take some time off for child rearing but not give up her work entirely…and I suspect, despite all of his earlier partying and womanizing, Jerry is broad minded enough to allow her to do what she wants.

TB: Given the narrow-minded notions of the era, about women knowing and keeping to their place inside the home, I don’t think Carol would have had an agency with Jerry. Jerry would have become the sole breadwinner. Maybe using business ideas that Carol provided for him, but allowing him to claim the credit. She would likely have been pregnant again, with a second and a third child.

Anything else you want to add?

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JL: This is the one Rock Hudson movie I’ve seen where his shirt is off roughly ¼ of his screen-time. Hey…you might as well flaunt it if you got it. He is well tanned from the California sun and clearly had some training in the gym. Too bad they did not include a scene of him hitchhiking in his “seaweed shorts.”

TB: Funny. Thanks Jlewis. Like always, I’ve enjoyed discussing an essential with you!

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