My current Top 5

My current Top 5

1/28/2010

Best Actress 1959: Doris Day in "Pillow Talk"

Doris Day received the only Oscar nomination of her career for her performance as Jan Morrow, a very blond and self-reliant interior decorator who falls in love with an innocent man from Texas not knowing that he is also the annoying macho with whom she has to share her telephone line.

Pillow Talk is probably the quintessential Doris Day-movie and it’s very fitting that she received her Oscar nomination for this even though she has given a lot of more impressive performances in her career.

Jan Morrow combines everything that Doris Day is famous for – she is a little naïve, pure and innocent, apparently independent and happy without a man while secretly desperate to meet one.

Pillow Talk is very much like Doris Day’s performance – sweet and innocent but at the same time full of sex. It’s a cheerful, colorful and amusing story that is able to mention sex and lust in almost every moment without ever losing its innocence. And Doris Day was always perfectly able to show the same thing in her performances – childlike innocence mixed with a good deal of sex (but of course, not in the way that Carroll Baker did in Baby Doll). The way she runs through her apartment makes her look like a little girl but she has the confidence and the intelligence of a grown woman.

The first thing we ever see of Jan is her naked leg. Finally, the camera pulls away and we see Jan, wearing only her underwear, sitting on her bed. These images contrast sharply with the conservative, independent and old-fashioned woman she turns out to be. And it just as much contrasts with Brad Allen – they both share the same telephone line and whenever she tries to make a call he is on the line, sweet talking different women around the clock. Doris Day shows how much dislike Jan has for this man very effectively – it’s a combination of jealousy, regret for her own state and the simple fact that Brad is a womanizer while she is looking for a perfect Mr. Right.

Of course, officially Jan is very happy without a man – at least, that’s what she says but considering that this is 1959 and a Doris-Day-movie it’s obvious right from the start that this woman is never complete without a man.

Pillow Talk is a real treasure – it’s old-fashioned, but also very sexy and incredibly funny thanks to the hilarious work from both Rock Hudson who looked never better and was never funnier and Thelma Ritter who had a simple role but was still able to steal all her scenes away from everyone else. Unfortunately, Doris Day never gets the same chances to shine as these two – her Jan is the straight character in this story who mostly reacts to her surroundings.

But there is still a lot to be appreciate in her performance. Her overwhelmingly charming personality was never put to better use and she acts with ease and simplicity throughout the movie that allows it to be always much more sophisticated and elegant than your average sex comedy. Doris's confident portrayal also helps to make the ending in which Brad, who could have every woman he wants but choses Jan, as believable as it is romantic.

Doris Day is also able to play a rather naïve woman without ever making her appear dumb or simple. The audience knows that Brad is joking with her and pretends to be a shy guy from Texas but there is never the need to look down on Jan for being fooled thanks to Doris’s honest, goodhearted and straight-forward characterization of Jan as a woman who is longing for love and who is overwhelmed when it finally happens. Of course, the chemistry between Rock Hudson and Doris Day is the key to the success of the movie and they both sparkle together.

Doris starts her performance as a symbol of efficiency, righteousness and goodness but it’s clear that handling men is not one of her strength. When Brad says that she listens to him on the phone to brighten up her drab life, she angrily answers “If I could make a call every once in a while my life wouldn’t be so drab” without even noticing what she says. When Tony, the son of a client, is almost trying to rape her in the car, her reaction is a simple “Oh, control yourself!” and then she even agrees to have a drink with him so he will stop.

As I said, Doris’s Jan is a mostly observing character who only takes initiative when a man tricked her into doing that. This surely reduced every depth in the character and basically turns her into a man’s object of affection who willingly takes that part but Doris Day also gets the most funny moments of her performance out of these reactions. When Brad pretends to be gay or she learns the truth about his identity, Doris’s wide-eyed reaction shots are the most memorable moments of her performance.

Overall, it’s an engaging, but also harmless performance that gets

2 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I like this performance.

Fritz said...

I like it, too, but I don't think of it as Oscar-worthy...