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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
an idea to write a serious picture (as opposed to the frivolous comedies
that he has specialized in) about a juvenile delinquent, which he
to a policeman friend of his. Well, on Christmas Eve, that policeman,
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
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
long time Mark doesn't respond to Susan's crush. The only major flaw in
film - and even it's acceptable - is Mark's motivation in marrying Susan.
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.
I love the apartment in this movie. It is so fifties, in a very good way. The song is good too. This is a cozy movie to watch anytime. Debbie Reynolds is cute and funny, the dialogue is witty, and even the kind of creepy age gap thing has its charm! I've seen this a few times on turner classics, but missed taping it. I would highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys stylish witty comedies with a twist of the surreal.
I confess to a soft spot for this candy-box confection. Ordinarily 10
minutes of Debbie- Reynolds-spunk is enough to last me for 2 hours. But
I've got to admit she brings genuine verve and sparkle to the role.
Never mind that Dick Powell is closer to 50 than the movie- claimed 35,
and at least twice as old as the juvenile Reynolds. Fortunately their
clinches are kept to a minimum, even as the under-age innuendo is
exploited to the hilt for titillated 1950's audiences. If the plot
skirts the bounds of good taste, director Tashlin keeps things from
straying with a speeded-up pace that allows little pause for
contemplation. I would love to have been in on the meetings where
studio exec's kicked this premise around for the censors.
Anyway, Powell is appropriately dour as the sober-sided screenwriter, while Glenda Farrell gets the kind of caustic role that would later suit Thelma Ritter to the proverbial T. And, of course, there's Alvy Moore looking like a college freshman and getting all the clever wisecracks, even if in real life he was a veteran of the bloody WWII battle for Iwo Jima! Too bad Anne Francis doesn't get more screen time as "the other woman". But then she does show why she deserved that drop-dead sexy outfit she wore in Forbidden Planet (1956). Cult director Tashlin manages a few of trademark effects from his cartoonist pastnote Reynolds cooling off her libido with a swinging freezer door, and, of course, the fantasy sequences that fit in perfectly.
All in all, I think RKO got away with one-- had the movie been handled less deftly, someone might have landed in 1954's county clink.
One of the missed opportunities of the era was to have Debbie Reynolds and
Dick Powell paired in this very funny and perceptive romantic comedy, but
not to make it a musical. That would have given it just that bit of an edge
to make it different to hundreds of other movies being churned out with
However, what we have is Reynolds as a teenage delinquent foisted on the well-meaning Powell, a writer, at Christmas. He wants inspiration for his writing, she wants a sugar daddy. Guess how this one ends up?
One thing I did especially like were the dream sequences, involving cages and spiders and all kinds of things, in lurid pinks. Where was Tashlin's mind going here? Fun stuff throughout, however, with a sparkling performance from Reynolds.
Witty romantic comedy with a superior cast. Contains some of the sloppiness one would expect from RKO under Hughes. Powell's character has supposed to possess one of the first writing Oscars, yet he is only 35 (26 years after the first Academy Awards). Spotting Reynolds using Oscar as a nutcracker, Powell drops lit cigarette on carpeted floor. Reynolds offer Powell scrambled eggs; Powell and Reynolds are then seen eating eggs "over easy." However, even Hughes' RKO can't ruin wonderful performances from Powell, Reynolds, and a fine supporting cast. I rate this movie very highly because, underneath the frothy comedy is some very uneasy themes, which would garner such a movie an "R" rating today, assuming it could be made. Though by SUSAN, the 22 year old Reynolds was a real Hollywood veteran (she'd made SINGIN IN THE RAIN two years earlier), she plays a 17 year old (which she continued to do for at least the next three years; witness TAMMY AND THE BACHELOR) Powell's at ten years too old for the part, making the May-December romance issue REALLY stick out. This movie is a "coming of age" film for the characters portrayed by Powell, Reynolds and the character "Maude," Powell's man-hungry writing assistant (Always wondered if Rose Marie's character on DICK VAN DYKE was modeled on this character). Powell's Mark and Reynolds' Susan walk a slender tightrope which IS the "father-daughter / daughter-wife" romantic conflict. Mark is a lifelong bachelor, apparently unable to commit, unsure what he really wants. Susan is a young romantic, certain of what she wants, ready to commit. The movie has a good romantic score and a great ballad, "Hold My Hand." One shudders at what Hollywood would do with such a story these days. These days they usually kill one of the members of such a match, even when the female is in hear twenties. Make the girl 17 (such as here) and I doubt any studio would release it. MEMO TO HOLLYWOOD: Justice William O. Douglas and Charlie Chaplin both had "child brides." Sometimes, these things work. No one would believe Mark could keep his hands off Susan, since the "moral restrictions" so prevalent up to 1960 no longer exist. Food for thought...
The plot of this movie was a bit silly even when it came out in 1954. But because it features Debbie Reynolds at age 22 (playing a 17 year old) -- when she was very beautiful, vibrant, and also quite sexy -- it's one of my favorite films. Everyone seems to concede that the young Debbie Reynolds was talented and spunky, but because of her girl-next-door persona, few seem to recognize that she had more genuine beauty and sex appeal than many overtly "sultry" or "sexy" actresses of her era -- or, indeed, of any era. The rest of the cast is quite adequate but it's Debbie who makes this movie a lot of fun to watch.
Yet another Frank Tashlin (a former cartoonist) farce, set in LA on Christmas Eve with juvenile delinquent Debbie Reynolds (as perky and as cute as ever) consigned to old Oscar-winner Dick Powell--with the late Alvy Moore as his kookie sidekick, Virgil. Dated now with early 1950s song and look (dig that crazy sports car Powell drives), "real nervous" dialogue, etc. but something still comfy and fun about it--especially to watch on Christmas Eve. Look for great cameo at end by Red Skelton. Oh yes, and *I* like dill pickles and peanut butter!!
Well, not really. But, nevertheless, there seems to be quite a traffic jam snaking its way through Dick Powell's life and apartment. Does anyone knock? Or call ahead? In Mr. Powell's last appearance on the silver screen (he would soon slide over to the small screen), the former juvenile crooner turned hard-edged gumshoe actor, finds himself entangled in one of the most bizarre babysitting assignments ever. Debbie Reynolds plays the swooning teenager placed in the charge of bachelor Powell. He's a screenwriter and she's a piece of work. Incorrigible, really. Also on hand is the Amazon-like, Anne Francis--all 5'8" of her. She's his fiancé and is striking to look at: her famous facial mole comfortably in place, face impeccably made up and her blue eyes popping like fireflies kissing an electric bug zapper. She's definitely a sight for sore eyes. The plot, as it is, revolves around Debbie trying her best to break up the upcoming marriage between Dick and Miss Francis, and steal Powell for herself. Nothing new. But expertly rendered off. Oh, did I mention that the proceedings occur between Christmas and New Year's Eve, the twelve days of Cristmas falling firmly into play. Director Frank Tashlin has the seasonal colors lords-a-leaping off the screen. I love the fake white Christmas tree adorned with blood red balls. All of the apartment's holiday decorations signal a sobering degree of suburban chic. There's a wild dream sequence involving Debbie trapped in a bird cage and Anne spinning a spider's web. Have I mentioned how lovely Anne Francis was? She's a knockout. In the end, the movie is pure farce and slightly perverted. Otherwise, this film might be the perfect package to open up on a Christmas morning. The RKO logo is in color and the film is narrated, strangely, by an Oscar statuette. So enjoy. Pass the eggnog and light the yule log, please.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
It must have been in the air at the time, though why in the Eisenhower
In the 1950s several films (two by Billy Wilder) had successful marriages between young women and middle aged men. Wilder's two films were SABRINA (where Audrey Hepburn falls for Humphrey Bogart) and LOVE IN THE AFTERNOON (where Hepburn fell for Gary Cooper). Hepburn also was paired in FUNNY FACE with Fred Astaire. Astaire was also in the movie DADDY LONG LEGS with Leslie Caron as his ward turned lover. Caron would also be in GIGI where her little girl is paired off with a slightly older Louis Jourdan.
And there was SUSAN SLEPT HERE, Frank Tashlin's second feature film comedy, starring Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds. The difference in ages is mentioned - Debbie Reynolds is supposed to be 17 (she was 21 at the time), but Powell is supposed to be roughly 20 years older. He is supposed to have been an early Oscar winner (for screenplay) and to have served in the navy with his friend Virgil (Alvy Moore), who was his superior officer. It is possible if Powell was 55 to concede this, but he is supposed to be about 43 or so. He just looks too old. But despite this the film does work. It has good lines in it (particularly some zingers used by Glenda Farrell at her favorite target Anne Francis, and by Les Tremayne as Powell's overwrought and overworked attorney).
Powell is a successful if jaded screenwriter who is dating Anne Francis, a snobbish Senator's daughter. On Christmas Eve he is visited by two members of the L.A. Vice Squad (Herb Vigran and Horace MacNally) who have a "gift" to drop off. Vigran had been an adviser on a film script that Powell worked on, and the latter made the mistake of mumbling an idea about having a day or so talk with a genuine juvenile delinquent about his lifestyle). Of course the problem is he meant a male juvenile delinquent.
Vigran (in what is really the only weakness of the story) has arrested Debbie Reynolds in a brawl with some military police, but has not reported it yet. He thinks she'd be perfect to give to Powell for his research over Christmas Day (Vigran eventually pays for this stupidity and it's outcome by getting demoted - he's lucky, in real life he might get arrested and charged with pimping). The plan is for Debbie to be "rearrested" on December 26th, and thus to act as though nothing wrong was done.
Powell is not pleased with this - he can't depend on his secretary Farrell, nor on Moore (who quickly takes a powder). He tries to work around the "Susan" problem, but no matter what he tries it blows up in his face. Worse, Reynolds answers the phone by habit, and Francis discovers that her boy friend has an underage girl in his house.
Slowly, however, Powell and Reynolds settle down and learn about each other's life. It turns out Reynolds mother is out of the U.S. with her second husband (a man Reynolds thinks was a better choice than the first husband, who was her own father). The mother is one of these modern types, and has left a note of consent for whomever Reynolds meets whom she may wish to marry. Powell finds that she is a feisty and independent young woman, and he finds himself falling for her. But when Moore learns that they shared Powell's apartment for the night, he drags Powell's lawyer Tremayne into it. Tremayne starts planning damage control to prevent a scandal or worse* But the detectives return to pick up Reynolds (Vigran's Sergeant is not very understanding about what they did - really hard to understand that reaction!!).
(*Having sexual relations with any underage child or girl is always treated quite harshly in the U.S., but California had a really heavy reputation in this area back in the 1920s - 1960s because of the Hollywood crowd. In the Marx Brothers' 1940 comedy GO WEST, Groucho's name of "S. Quentin Quayle" was based on the term "San Quentin quail" which was about under-aged, but attractive girls who got men into serious trouble when arrested. The trial of Errol Flynn for rape in 1944 was worse because the two victims were teenage girls. I may remind you also of the still odd situation involving director Roman Polanski today concerning a statutory rape charge from California.)
Powell flees with Reynolds to Las Vegas where they can get legally married despite her age. He reasons that they can remain married for a few months (while he is working in Sun Valley on a screenplay) and she can then get the marriage annulled, while he finds her a job. But Reynolds is determined to prove herself a good wife. And Powell is not all that sure if he wants her to cease being his wife - especially after Tremayne sees evidence that she may be pregnant.
The wit in the script is hard to describe - it ranges from comments like Farrell momentarily thinking Reynolds has arrived in Sun Valley, and welcoming her with a "Come to momma", but finding it is Francis (whom she loathes) and saying, "Oh, Dracula's daughter!", to Tremayne having a session with his psychiatrist interrupted by an angry Powell, and letting Powell take over his session as Tremayne can bill him for it later). The acting is good. Anyone who thinks of Moore only as "Hank Kimble" on GREEN ACRES should see his rather thoughtful Virgil, who gets an emotional slap-in-the-face from Reynolds that makes him rethink himself carefully. All in all it is far better than one would have thought - given the one blunder in the screenplay that I mentioned.
What would a confirmed bachelor, of a certain age, do with the
unexpected arrival of a lively 17 years old girl into his life? Reason
would indicate to run away from the situation! But have no fear, in the
theater, as well as in the movies, these two unmatched people get to
grow fond of one another and eventually they get married. That seems to
be the premise of "Susan Slept Here", a movie that proves irresistible
because of the two leading stars.
Under the direction of Frank Tashlin, this movie, although reflecting a naivete not in synch with the present times, is good fun to watch. The film is done with an impeccable good taste and there is never anything tawdry, or out of place with what one is watching.
Dick Powell was at his best when he took the part of Mark Christopher a thirty-something man in the plot, but looking older than that. Debbie Reynolds, as Susan Landis, brought her winning personality and charm to this rebel girl that begins a total transformation as she discovers she is attracted to Mark.
The supporting cast is also up to task under Mr. Tashlin's guidance. Anne Francis is seen as Isabella, Mark's present love interest. Glenda Farrell, Horace McMahon, Herb Vigran and Alvy Moore, among others make this delightful film into a winner.
Mr. Tashlin includes a dance sequence that plays as a dream in which Mr. Powell, Ms. Francis and Ms. Reynolds are seen as the players. The film is festive and it will delight any viewer looking for an easy time at the movies.
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