Two aging playboys are both after the same attractive young woman, but she fends them off by claiming that she plans to remain a virgin until her wedding night. Both men determine to find a way around her objections.
Successful architect Don Gresham (William Holden) engages a young actress, Patty O'Neill (Maggie McNamara), in conversation on top of the Empire State Building, and she accepts his invitation to dinner. Dropping in at his apartment on the way, they decide to dine there as Patty announces herself an excellent cook. Don slips out to buy food, and Patty is briefly visited by his ex-fiancée, Cynthia Slater (Dawn Addams), and not too briefly, by Cynthia's father David (David Niven), a middle-aged, practiced charmer who, on her invitation, stays to dinner. A slight accident at the table occasions Patty to change her dress for Don's bathrobe. While Don is away placating the jealous Cynthia, David loses no time in offering Patty a proposal of marriage and a six hundred dollar gift. She accepts the latter and is surprised by Don in a grateful kiss to David. Don is still enraged with Patty when her father arrives, and, outraged to discover his daughter in a bachelor's apartment, knocks him ... Written by
Forget the 'stale sex comedy' label; there's nothing here that's in the least shocking any more. What remains is an enchanting Fifties farce of misunderstandings, as Patty O'Neill -- the girl with a talent for saying exactly what she means and precisely what she should not -- innocently turns the lives of Don Gresham and his upstairs neighbour upside down.
Maggie McNamara is all artless elfin charm as the worldly but naive Patty, and William Holden provides solid support as Don, the architect who makes a pass at a pretty stranger without realising quite what he's letting himself in for. But, frankly, it is David Niven who steals the show, with a performance of endearing shamelessness as David Slater plus an exquisite sense of comic timing. With his appearance on the scene, the film ceases to be a simple screwball romance and becomes extremely funny.
Ironically, it is Slater the middle-aged playboy who shows the most sensitivity to Patty's own desires and expectations -- where the younger man demonstrates first an exploitative and then a self-righteous streak -- and Niven, with his knack of debonair self-deprecation, fully lives up to the 'sweet' and 'adorable' tags which to Don's fury she so casually bestows upon him. And even when the tables are apparently turned, David Slater's reaction is a good deal more generous-spirited than that of his rival. An ageing opportunist and ineffective father makes for an improbable attractive character, but in his way Slater is more likable than either of the younger but equally self-centred protagonists.
This being a romantic comedy, there has to be a proposal of marriage; several, in fact. Other features of significance include also a baking-tray, a bath, an electric iron, a fire-escape, an Irish cop, a promotional spot for beer, and the inevitable state of blameless but multiply-misinterpreted undress -- all the ingredients for a classic farce, with the aid of a snappy script, and expressive reactions from all the principals. This film had me laughing out loud in front of the television (admittedly mostly at Niven's tongue-in-cheek contributions!) but it also has the vital touch of humanity lacked by too many entries in the screwball genre. Crucially, despite its subject-matter, it doesn't depend on the shock-value of 'naughty' words to get its laughs, and as a result has worn well. Attitudes to pre-marital relations may have changed, but crossed wires and ironic repartee are as entertaining as ever.
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