Sunday, April 23, 2006

I'm the Vip Girl.

I've said in earlier posts that Lover Come Back is a movie that reads better than it plays. The movie itself is a typical Universal production from the early '60s: drab sets, hideous hats, terrible back-projection and over-broad acting -- a slightly more expensive version of a TV sitcom, but not a particularly good TV sitcom. However, the script is one of the funniest comedy scripts of the era. It was the first movie script written by radio and TV veteran Paul Henning -- sharing credit with Stanley Shapiro -- and in many ways Lover Come Back is like a feature-length version of Henning's "The Bob Cummings Show." While of course there's no actual sex, most of the jokes are built around sex and suggestiveness. (Typical joke: Day and Hudson are competing to see who can sell a potential client, played by Jack Oakie, on a design for a can of wax. Day says that the winner will be "the one who shows [Oakie] the most attractive can," followed by a smash cut to Oakie, treated to a night on the town by Hudson, ogling the rear ends of various showgirls. In case you didn't get it, Oakie's first line in the scene is "Most attractive!") There are many jokes about scantily-clad, voluptuous babes, particularly Edie Adams as a dimbulb Southern belle. And the movie even has a role for "Bob Cummings Show" mainstay Ann B. Davis.

Though it's basically a follow-up to the first Rock Hudson and Doris Day movie, Pillow Talk (which Shapiro had co-written), Lover Come Back soft-pedals the professional-virgin jokes and emphasizes Henning's obsessions: the brash, sex-obsessed, consumerist urban culture of the '50s and '60s. Advertising is the main target here. Hudson plays an advertising man who uses sex to sell everything; he gets clients to sign up with him by treating them to parties with lots of sexy women, and he creates commericals revolving entirely around the lure of sex ("Give me a stacked dame in a bathing suit and I can sell anything"). To prevent Rebel (Edie Adams) from blabbing to the advertising ethics watchdog about some of his tactics, he puts her in commercials for a product that doesn't actually exist and is never actually defined in the commercials. Unfortunately, ethical rival Carol Templeton (Doris Day) hears about this campaign, and even more unfortunately, the head of the company, hapless rich scion Pete (Tony Randall) releases the commercials to the public. The advertising campaign creates huge buzz, and Hudson has to come up with a product to go with the successful commercials.

The second half of the script isn't as effective as the first -- it's heavier on Pillow Talk-y mistaken identity complications -- but the first half of the script, and some parts of the second, are pure Henning and pure fun. Here are some of the better quotes:

J. PAXTON MILLER (hung over): I'm flyin' back to Richmond.
CAROL: When?
J. PAXTON MILLER: Now, honey, now! We just passin' over Pittsburgh!

BRACKETT (Howard St. John): We've learned to live with Jerry Webster. He's like the common cold: You know you'll get it once or twice a year. There are two ways to handle a cold: You can fight it, or give in and go to bed with it.

CAROL: Let me put it this way, I don't use sex to land an account.
JERRY: When do you use it?

REBEL: Do you think they'll like me on TV?
JERRY: Honey, single-handed, you may bring in the forty-inch screen.

CAROL Jerry Webster's trying to land this account, but we're gonna beat him to it.
MILLIE (Ann B. Davis): Are you sure? He fights rough.
CAROL Then we'll fight rough! This is war, Millie!
MILLIE: That means liquor, wild parties and girls, right?
CAROL: Right.
MILLIE: I'd like to volunteer for frontline duty.

JERRY: What is that?
PETE: The mating call of the moose. This call is absolutely irresistible. Your bull moose will run miles to get to the source of this call.
JERRY: And then what happens?
PETE: I take his picture.
JERRY: Pete, he's not running miles to get photographed.

CAROL: You kissed me and I was thrilled.
JERRY: A kiss. What does that prove? If you can light a stove, it still doesn't make you a cook.

JERRY: Plenty of girls would like to be Mrs. Jerry Webster.
CAROL: I'm sure they have a right.
JERRY: Okay, so I've sown a few wild oats.
CAROL: A few? You could qualify for a farm loan!

And, of course, probably the most-quoted line in the movie and the essence of all that is Tony Randall:

PETE: I'm king of the elevator!


Anonymous said...

Henning and animation/live action director Frank Tashlin seemed to have the same interest in trying to wring as much comedy as possible out of premises involving the most zaftig young female anatomies, and Americans' infatuation with that type of women (See Tashlin and Tony Randall's "Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter" with Jayne Mansfield). Too bad they never worked together on the same movie.

Jenny Lerew said...

Even 2nd rate Doris, Tony and Rock is worth watching--that woman had the most incredibly funny set of takes I've ever seen--she's hysterical without making a sound(oh, maybe a "Mrrrrrrmnph!"). I think she's terribly underrated, overall.
And Mrs. Kovacs had her finest hour shilling for "VIP!". "I owe it VIP!"

Brent McKee said...

I've always been rather fond of this movie myself. The chemistry between the three leads is well defined and if they're a bit "stamped out of the mold" so to speak (Hudson the lady's man, Day the all-business virgin, Randall the neurotic rich guy) the fact is that they work. Plus it was absolutely clear at the end that Rock and Doris had sex and if there was a marriage license it was only there to satify the censors and anyone with half a brain would know that it was there for that reason only. Booze - or a reasonable substitute makes the perpetual virgin into a loose woman. It totally played against her image and I love it.

Wade Rockett said...

Thank you SO much for writing about this movie. I've been saying "I'm king of the elevator!" ever since I was a kid, when I caught it on the afternoon matinee on TV. Till now I'd never known what the title was.