N.Y. Times critic A.O. Scott has become a pet peeve around these parts. Last January he posted “My Woody Allen Problem,” which all but ignored the glaring doubts and ambiguities coloring the charges against Allen, especially since the 5.23. posting of Moses Farrow’s essay, which pretty much closed to the book on the case. And last night he darkened my brow by persuading me to watch Lover Come Back (’61), the crusty, throroughly constipated Rock Hudson-Doris Day sex comedy. Scott didn’t actually steer me wrong last night — I happened to watch a 8.4.09 N.Y. Times “Critics Pics” essay in which Scott praised it to the heavens.
Lover Come Back is strangely “funny” to Scott, and presumably to others. Or it used to be. It helps if you can tolerate broad, wafer-thin farce, which leaves me out. Or if you’re down with an arch parody of middle-class sexual attitudes as they existed in the early JFK years, but there isn’t a single line or situation that reflects the human experience as I know it. To really get Lover Come Back you probably need to be coming from a place of straight-jacketed middle class propriety and sexual suppression — then it’s a laugh riot.
All I can tell you is that I didn’t so much as crack a smile, much less chuckle or guffaw. There are two or three lines that aren’t half bad, one about “seaweed jockey shorts” and another from one hospital orderly to another: “Now that’s what I call cutting it close.”
I guess it’s not really A.O. Scott‘s fault — it’s mine. I did it. I found Lover Come Back on Amazon Prime and watched it of my own free will.
From “Doris Day Is Mostly Okay,” posted on 1.10.10:
In today’s N.Y. Times, director Douglas McGrath ( Infamous, Emma) makes a case for Doris Day, now 87, receiving a special career-honoring Oscar. McGrath writes persuasively and with feeling about Day’s special qualities. She committed to her light-comedy roles, held her own with the likes of James Cagney, etc. But there’s one negative he can’t wave away.
I’m speaking of Day’s ghastly performance in Alfred Hitchcock‘s The Man Who Knew Too Much. I love aspects of this 1956 thriller (the murder in the Marrakech marketplace, the assassination attempt in Albert Hall) but Day’s grating emotionalism makes it a very hard film to watch. She cries, shrieks, trembles, weeps. And when she isn’t losing it, she’s acting pretentiously coy and smug in that patented manner of a 1950s Stepford housewife. Or she’s singing “Que Sera Sera” over and over again.
I’ll give her credit for almost everything else that McGrath brings up, but she’s so awful in Hitchcock’s film that this single performance almost tips over the entire apple cart of her career.
Day was great in Young Man With A Horn and Love Me or Leave Me. I remember something true and tolerable about her performance in Young At Heart, in which she played the love interest of a dark-hearted Frank Sinatra.
And yet it’s hard to think of another living veteran of ’50s and ’60s cinema who is more of an icon for uptight middle-class values and zero sexuality. I know I suddenly liked Day a lot more when I heard that rumor about her having had a hot affair with Sly Stone — but that turned out to be bogus. Day did apparently have a fling with L.A. Dodgers base-stealer Maury Wills.