Pillow Talk (1959, Michael Gordon) – Screening Notes

“It’s so nice to meet a man you feel you can trust..”

Ladies man Brad (Rock Hudson) and career woman Jan (Doris Day) fall out over his excessive use of their shared phone line. Brad’s best buddy Jonathon (Tony Randall) confides in him about his infatuation with the attractive interior decorator who redesigned his office and mentions how she is having trouble with a neighbour. Figuring out Jan is the lady in question Brad pretends to be a country boy from Texas and sets out to seduce her.


The Doris Day/Rock Hudson partnership is one of cinema’s most iconic pairings. Day was already famous for musicals like Calamity Jane (53, David Butler), but the success of Pillow Talk turned her into Hollywood’s biggest female star. Hudsonhad worked his way through the studio system  but as a leading man he seemed bland and wooden in genre films. However he made a huge impression as a dramatic actor proving himself to be more than a 6’4 hunk in a series of films for director Douglas Sirk (Magnificent Obsession, All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, The Tarnished Angels). Dismissed somewhat patronisingly on their release as being merely ‘women’s pictures’ they are now recognised as classics and Hudson’s performances show a remarkable depth of feeling. New to comedy and wracked with doubts about his ability to be funny Hudson was lost until Pillow Talk director Gordon told him to play it as seriously as if he were acting in a tragedy. It probably helped having gifted comic actors like Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter around him though.
Producer Ross Hunter was an influential figure in the making of Pillow Talk. The findings of the recently published Kinsey reports (1948, 53) signalled the changing mores of American society. Hunter was fed up adhering to the Hay’s Code, a censorious set of rules which had been in place since 1930 and aimed to protect public morality. Pillow Talk may seem tame by modern standards but screenwriters Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin push the envelope with suggestive dialogue. Michael Gordon also uses a split screen technique (see picture left) so Jan and Brad appear to be in the same bathtub or bed which in 1959 would still contravene the Hay’s Code.
Pillow Talk was so popular Day/Hudson/Randall reteamed again for two other films – Lover Come Back (61, Delbert Mann) and Send Me No Flowers (64, Norman Jewison). What seemed progressive in 1959 dated in the 60’s as younger audiences turned away from the popular entertainment their parents liked. By the early 70’s all three leads were working primarily in television. Tony Randall had a huge hit with the long-running TV version of The Odd Couple. Hudsonstarred in McMillan and Wife and made his last onscreen appearance in 1985 as a regular on Dynasty, essentially a trashy but fun distillation of the kind of melodramas he made back in the 50’s. Sadly Hudson is best known these days for being the most high profile victim of the AIDS virus. Doris Day starred in her own comedy show until 1973 but retired from public life afterwards. In 2011 she made a comeback of sorts by releasing a new album entitled ‘My Heart.’ 

Skyfall Station Screening Notes

Can’t say I cared much for Skyfall but clearly I seem to be in the minority. Anyway here’s the programme notes for the latest screening at The Station. 

Skyfall (2012, Sam Mendes)

“Sometimes the old ways are the best.”

Having successfully rebooted the Bond franchise with Casino Royale (2006, dir. Martin Campbell) producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson found making a worthy follow-up problematic. A strike enforced by the Writers Guild of America meant Quantum of Solace started filming without a finished screenplay. The resulting movie naturally enough seems rushed but despite the low-key approach and its perceived failure Quantum of Solace remains one of the more interesting Bond films. Not many big-budget action movies are concerned thematically with the effects of grieving.

Still it wasn’t what audiences wanted after the confident approach of Casino Royale. Worse was to come for Eon Productions when their partners MGM filed for bankruptcy. There were worrying echoes of the prolonged absence from the screens after 1989’s Licence to Kill (John Glen) when a series of legal wrangles shut down the franchise for six years and led to the cancellation of a proposed third Timothy Dalton film titled ‘The Property of a Lady.’ For a few months it seemed like Daniel Craig might share the same fate as his predecessor until Sony stepped in and signed a deal to co-finance and distribute all future Bond films.

Eon have brought together an impressive group of A-List talent. Director Sam Mendes won an Oscar for American Beauty (1999) and previously worked with Daniel Craig on the gangster movie Road to Perdition (2004). Cinematographer Roger Deakins (The Assassination of Jesse James) is widely regarded as being one of the greatest in his field. Spanish actor Javier Bardem is an impressive bad guy sporting a haircut that’s every bit as weird as his barnet in No Country for Old Men (2008, Joel & Ethan Coen). The plot is relatively straightforward. Bond must battle to save his surrogate Queen M (Judi Dench) from a vengeful former agent while Intelligence Chief Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) tries to enforce her retirement.

Skyfall feels like a new beginning once again reinstating classic elements from the Bond franchise including Q (Ben Wishaw) and the Walther PPK, but also reinventing the past. Danny Boyle opened the Olympics in style with a short film showing James Bond escorting a certain VIP to the opening ceremony. Mendes continues this celebratory theme for the franchise’s 50th anniversary year and affirms James Bond’s place as a British cultural icon even going as far to emphasise his Anglo-Scottish roots. Time will tell if Skyfall deserves a place alongside the great Bond films but for now it is the right film at the right moment.  

Seven Psychopaths (2012, Martin McDonagh)

Courtesy of CBS films

“Bet you wish you had your gun now.”

On the surface Seven Psychopaths appears to be a knockabout comedy featuring a bunch of guys pointing guns at each other and talking bollocks. McDonagh’s screenplay is essentially an exercise in navel-gazing and overall the film is a mess. Yet Seven Psychopaths works because Martin McDonagh has something to say about loss. Any comparisons to Quentin Tarantino are dismissed in an opening sequence showing two overly talkative hitmen (Boardwalk Empire stars Michael Pitt and Michael Stuhlbarg) too busy conversing to notice one of McDonagh’s anarchic psychos casually walking up behind them with a gun in each hand.
Marty (Colin Farrell) is a blocked screenwriter whose technique of using alcohol for inspiration isn’t working. He has a title – Seven Psychopaths and a vague idea about a Vietnamese man taking vengeance on Americans for the My Lai massacre in 1968. Best friend Billy (Sam Rockwell) wants to help and puts an ad in the trades looking for killers to share their stories with Marty leading them to an unusual encounter with Zachariah (Tom Waits), an eccentric who carries around a white rabbit and claims to have been part of a couple who hunted down and killed other serial killers. Billy also has a sideline in dog-napping with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken) but when they kidnap the beloved pet of gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson) all hell breaks loose.
The characters are as self-aware as those in Wes Scream (1996) with an abundance of knowledge about how movies work, but the narrative also deals with the art of storytelling, not just in screenplays but in urban legends, or fairy tales. The film has plenty of depth but its much vaunted humour is only intermittently funny with most of the laughs coming from Waits who longs for a reunion with his former lover and partner in crime.  The white rabbit renders him with a touch of the Mad Hatter. Zachariah may well be a harmless lunatic telling tall tales or a lunatic who really does kill people. Walken is great too delivering the kind of graceful, haunted menace we haven’t seen from him since Abel Ferrara’s masterpiece The Funeral (1996).
The movie is driven by two opposing viewpoints – Marty’s pacifism and Billy’s insistence that genre rules must be obeyed. So while Marty wants to chill out in the desert and talk about things Billy wants the showdown you would expect an action film to deliver. Ideally Marty would prefer to not write about violence at all and his developing interest in Buddhist philosophy undercuts the action, particularly in relation to the acceptance of death. Recurrent throughout the film is the theme of passive resistance, of refusing to accept threats often to the bewilderment of the aggressor. “But I have a gun…!” responds Zeljko Ivanek’s mobster when Hans refuses to surrender.
Though it shares with Charlie Kaufman and Spike Jonze’s Adaptation (2002) a self-reflexive approach to narrative the film it recalls most is Mike Hodges underrated Pulp (1972), a thriller also about a writer which deconstructs male machismo and leaves its faux hard-boiled protagonist wiser and sadder at its end. McDonagh has been playing about with genre tropes since his early days in the theatre and in his short film Six Shooter (2005) and feature debut In Bruges (2008) but maybe it’s time he embraced the message of his latest movie and put those guns away.