A November 2019 HE plus piece, liberated from the paywall: Almost all mainstream Hollywood sex comedies of the early to mid ’60s are pretty close to unwatchable now. (Can anyone think of a single tolerable film in this vein?) A year or two ago I was close to condemning Lover Come Back as the most painfully unfunny of them all, but they’re all horrendous to sit through.
Any way you slice it, ’60 to ’65 was a truly grotesque era when it came to farcical middle-class comedies.
Frontline commercial filmmakers of the early to mid ’60s had been aroused and influenced by French nouvelle vague and the British kitchen-sink genre, both of which ignited in the late ’50s. This resulted in frank sexual situations in several early ’60s dramas — Billy Wilder‘s The Apartment (which may have been the first Hollywood dramedy of a sexual nature), Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho, Lewis Milestone‘s Ocean’s 11, Richard Quine‘s Strangers When We Meet, William Wyler‘s The Children’s Hour, Stanley Kubrick‘s Lolita, Alexander Singer‘s A Cold Wind in August, Vincent Minnelli‘s Two Weeks in Anther Town, Joshua Logan‘s Fanny.
But at the same time a steady outpouring of constipated sex comedies — largely inspired by the triple-whammy of Ross Hunter‘s Pillow Talk, Wilder’s Some Like It Hot and the Oscar-awarded The Apartment along with increasingly randy Playboy stirrings in the culture at large — began to manifest.
All that sexual interest, energy and intrigue, and almost all of it shackled and smothered. So many U.S. comedies about characters wanting to get randy, and all of them constrained because of the industry’s still-prevailing production code, which didn’t begin to erode until ’66 or thereabouts.
The taboo-dialogue groundbreaker was Mike Nichols‘ Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff, which opened on 6.21.66. Believe it or not, it was regarded as a big deal when Elizabeth Taylor‘s Martha said “goddam you!” (a substitute for the original “screw you!” in the stage version) to Richard Burton‘s George. Mainstream sexual frankness followed in short order (particularly in ’67’s The Graduate, The President’s Analyst, Belle du Jour, Reflections in a Golden Eye, Hurry Sundown and Bonnie and Clyde), and the industry was off to the races.
An HE commenter recently wrote that most early to mid ’60s sex farces are “not just bad by present standards but borderline inexplicable. They couldn’t talk about much and they couldn’t do anything, and the elaborate artificiality produces an effect not unlike a Kabuki play.”
Another said that “any film in which you hear smarmy saxophone over a close-up of a zaftig woman’s ass as she sashays out of a room is a piece of shit. And almost every sex farce from 1960-’66 had that exact shot.”
To name but a few stinkers in this vein:
Blake Edwards‘ Operation Petticoat (’59).
Henry Levin‘s Where The Boys Are (’60)
Melvin Frank and Norman Panama‘s The Facts of Life (’60)
Stanley Donen‘s The Grass Is Greener (’60)
Richard Thorpe‘s The Honeymoon Machine (’61)
Delbert Mann‘s Lover Come Back (’61) and That Touch of Mink (’62).
Jack Arnold‘s Bachelor in Paradise (’61)
Michael Gordon‘s Boys’ Night Out (’62)
Norman Jewison‘s The Thrill Of It All (’63)
Michael Gordon‘s Move Over, Darling (’63).
Henry Koster‘s Take Her, She’s Mine (’63)
Stanley Shapiro‘s Bedtime Story (’64)
Richard Quine‘s Sex and the Single Girl (’64).
Richard Quine‘s How To Murder Your Wife (’65).
I can’t get past the antiseptic awfulness of Lover Come Back. 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, in which case it’s a laugh riot.
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.”
But I suspect Delbert Mann‘s That Touch of Mink might be the worst of all. I’m uncertain because I can’t bring myself to write about it, which of course would dredge everything up. Too many bad memories.