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Mark Christopher is a 35-year old, award-winning comedy scriptwriter who is struggling to be taken seriously as a drama writer. On Christmas Eve, two police officers bring 17-year old Susan (picked up for vagrancy and brawling) to Mark's apartment. If she spends a few days with him, Mark could use Susan as inspiration to write a script about juvenile-delinquents and Susan could avoid spending Christmas behind bars. Written by
After the lamentably unseen The First Time, the next Frank Tashlin movie showing at my local revival theater was Susan Slept Here. I was sure that SSH could not live up to the high standard set by the first film. But it did, and surpassed it. Personally, I think it's one of my five or ten favorite comedies. Dick Powell (whom I've always loved) stars as Mark Christopher, a Hollywood screenwriter who hasn't had any success after winning an Oscar (which, incidentally, serves as the narrator). He once had an idea to write a serious picture (as opposed to the frivolous comedies that he has specialized in) about a juvenile delinquent, which he mentioned to a policeman friend of his. Well, on Christmas Eve, that policeman, along with his partner, shows up at Mark's door with a 17 year-old juvenile delinquent as a present. Her name is Susan (Debbie Reynolds, whom I also love, almost desperately!), and the policeman proposes that Mark hang around her for a couple of days, you know, for research. He's in a hurry to take his girlfriend (the gorgeous but ferocious Anne Francis, who would star in Forbidden Planet a couple of years later) out on a date, but that comes to an abrupt halt when Susan answers Mark's phone. You know the schtick: Mark starts out annoyed at Susan, but they grow attached. The age difference is brought up frequently enough so it doesn't get too creepy. Mark is 35 ([laugh] - maybe when Powell was dancing with Busby Berkeley) and Susan is 17 (Reynolds was 22 at the time, but she is probably the only actress who could get away with playing a teenager until she was in her 40s). For a very long time Mark doesn't respond to Susan's crush. The only major flaw in the film - and even it's acceptable - is Mark's motivation in marrying Susan. He does it, he says, to save her from six months jail time (she has been arrested for assault on a sailor and vagrancy). It's not very believable, but it's also not that big a deal.
The two leads are exceptional. This was Powell's last movie. After it, he retired to television, although I only call it retirement as a movie snob; he was enormously, enormously successful in the new medium. He's more or less the straight man here. He has a particularly great scene where he watches a 20 year-old movie for which he wrote the dialogue on television. As the actors speak their horrendous dialogue, we watch Powell as he mouths their words, both a man's and a woman's (it's a break-up scene), with an embarrassed look in his eyes. If Powell is good, Reynolds is masterful. She's such an odd actress, not conventional in any way. She had her own niche in Hollywood. Her acting is doll-like with its jerky movements and huge facial expressions. That isn't a criticism whatsoever. I have never seen her in a straight drama (the closest is How the West Was Won); I'd imagine she acts differently, or she never made one. In comedies like this and Singin' in the Rain, she's absolutely perfect. There is not a moment when she's on screen during which I was not laughing myself to tears. The film also has one of the greatest supporting casts ever. Anne Francis I've already mentioned. I very much appreciate the fact that the writers didn't make her character abominable; Susan Slept Here, although it's not a musical, is very much a direct descendent of An American in Paris and Singin' in the Rain. One criticism I have of Singin' is that Jean Hagan's villain is too cartoonish (or at least I would have that criticism if Hagan weren't so damn funny in that movie). Francis in SSH is played sympathetically for the most part. Glenda Farrell plays Mark's secretary, Maude, an alcoholic who answers the telephone on Christmas morning: "You talk, I can't." Alvy Moore is Mark's friend and assistant, Virgil, who can crack wise with the best of them. Horace McMahon and Herb Vigran play the two cops, and Les Tremayne plays Mark's lawyer, who is obsessive about his therapy sessions. Red Skeleton has a wordless but amusing cameo as Maude's teenage sweetheart. 10/10.
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