Thursday, March 17, 2011

"Send" in the Clowns

You know, Rock Hudson and Doris Day only made three movies together, but the two actors were so entertaining as a team that the partnership has taken on legendary proportions and many folks believe that there were more movies than there were (this is likely due to Doris making a lot of films of a similar vein, but with Cary Grant, Rod Taylor and, especially, James Garner taking on the male role.) First came 1959's Pillow Talk, a fluffy, fun, sophisticated concoction that allowed both stars to show off previously untapped talents and assets. That spectacularly successful movie was followed up in 1961 with Lover Come Back. It is enjoyable as well, but is my least favorite of the three because R & D aren't together enough in it for my tastes. Finally, in 1964, they were again teamed up in Send Me No Flowers.

This time out, the stars played, for the first and only time, a married couple. Thus, there was no need for wolfish Rock to try to break down the (ostensibly) virginal Doris. They had already done the deed (and clearly, regardless of any other issues, continue to enjoy a healthy sex life) and were now ensconced in laminated suburbanhood. The conflict here stems from the fact that Hudson is a hypochondriac, so bent on having things wrong with himself that he eventually winds up thinking he's near the end of his life and begins to make plans for Day when the time comes. She misunderstands and there you have the setup for their requisite exasperated face off.

The property first saw the light of day as a Broadway play, performing only forty performances in late-1960 to early 1961. David Wayne and Nancy Olson starred in it. Adapted for the screen by Julius Epstein, he was best known for co-writing the script for Casablanca and is also noted for having given a clever answer to the House Un-American Activities Committee. After Jack Warner, who appreciated him and his twin brother Philip's talent, but disliked their approach to working, gave their names to the committee, they were sent a questionnaire that asked, “Have you ever been a member of a subversive organization?” They replied, “Yes, Warner Brothers.”

Director Norman Jewison, then under contract to Universal Studios, was in the middle of a string of frothy comedies foisted on him in his early career. He would later segue into more serious works as well as musicals and other types of comedies resulting in Oscar nominations for In the Heat of the Night, Fiddler on the Roof and Moonstruck. In 1999, he was given the Irving Thalberg Memorial Award for his body of work.

A bouncy Burt Bacharach-Hal David title song, sung by Day, opens the movie, followed by shots of Hudson asleep in his pajamas being tormented by visions of various television commercials hawking medicines and treatments for this ailment and that one. He awakens to his en suite bathroom where he seems to have every medicinal product known to man. While he proceeds to take his shower (with a thermometer in his mouth!), Day is slipping out to the front yard in her robe to grab the morning paper.

The chatty, gossipy milkman arrives and fills her in on some of the latest juicy gossip while filling her arms with the various specialty dairy products that Hudson seems to require. As she's coming back inside, she spies the mail in the mail slot of her front door and tugs at it, inadvertently locking herself out with arms full! That's only the beginning of her trouble as she desperately tries to extricate herself from the situation. It's a fun scene that shows off Doris' physical comedy ability nicely.
Later, back inside, Rock is having his breakfast, a series of vitamins and supplements, while informing his wife of a pain he's experiencing in his chest. Try as we might, we can't get a real good look at Rock's chest because his robe is wrapped around him snugly. This publicity shot (black & white inset) seems to show more than what's available in the film, though he does have the occasional, if brief, shirtless scene. He decides he needs to see his doctor again even though it's only been two weeks since he had a full physical!

Before his appointment, he lunches with an acquaintance who's known for being a merciless skirt-chaser and who preys on freshly divorced (or nearly divorced) ladies by pretending to be there for them in their hour of despair. (The restaurant, by the way, symbolically features dismembered statues of women!) The irony here is that the straight-in-real-life actor, Hal March, comes off as extremely effeminate while the gay-in-real-life Hudson comes off as straight as an arrow by contrast!

Hudson's harried doctor, played in an entertainingly sardonic way by Edward Andrews, continually moans and groans about how other doctors in specific fields have come out on the better side of things financially. He scarcely has time to deal with Hudson's minor affliction. However, Hudson, feverishly afraid that something's wrong, misunderstands a phone call he overhears and is led to believe that he will be dead of heart failure in just a couple of weeks!

On the way home from work, Hudson breaks the news to his next door neighbor and good buddy Tony Randall. Randall takes the matter worse than Hudson and promptly starts drinking himself into oblivion. By the way, despite the famed status that Hudson and Day enjoy as a legendary screen couple, the presence and participation of Randall as the third point of the triangle (in all three movies) cannot be underestimated. He worked exceedingly well both stars, especially Hudson.

From the minute Randall hears about Hudson's impending demise, which is discussed with their faces only inches apart, Randall, half lit, can't seem to keep his hands off of Hudson! His character is married (to an unseen wife) but he is completely focused on Hudson and is continually given chances to paw on him, compliment him and, later in the film, share a bed with him, though obviously all within the realm of comedic discomfort.
Hudson, earnestly believing his time on Earth is nearly over, starts making plans. He decides to withhold the dire news of his terminal illness from his seemingly clueless wife. Day (in an element that does ruffle some feminist viewer's feathers) shows absolutely no signs of understanding or wanting to understand anything related to the financial running of the household, so Hudson feels he has to take matters into his own hands.

First, he goes off to visit a cemetery where the hilariously gregarious Paul Lynde is on hand as a plot salesman. Lynde, in his typically smarmy, snarky way, delights in sharing all the benefits of his establishment, but is disenchanted when he finds out that Hudson's family consists of only him and his wife. It's an amusing vignette that Lynde milks for all the humor he can get out of it without ever heading completely over the top. Despite his fourth billing, he only has this scene and one more brief one near the end of the movie.
Next, after dreaming of Day willingly falling into the clutches of their snappy teen dry cleaner delivery boy (where Day is shown cavorting energetically with a rose in her teeth and dancing wildly with the kid), Hudson decides that he'd better find Day a prospective husband to take his place. He and Randall head to the country club to spot check the most eligible bachelors. This gives them the opportunity to ogle and size up various men such as this tightly packaged specimen playing tennis. He and a couple of other gents are ruled out, so the guys take a cart onto the golf course to see if there are any further prospects. Day is playing a few holes and happens to have chosen a cart that's brakes give out, causing her to careen out of control, eventually soaring through a section of the course that's being watered by some heavy duty sprinklers!
Luckily, she is rescued by someone dashing who happened to be riding a horse in a nearby field. This turns out to be none other than the dreamy Clint Walker, one of the handful of actors who could dwarf Hudson in height and brawn. It seems he is an old boyfriend of Day's and she's thrilled to have come across him again. Hudson and Randall start to feel that he might make the next Mr. Right for Doris, so he is invited to a dinner dance at the country club that night.
Now, since this is a movie that I am watching, naturally The Underworld's own favorite extra Leoda Richards just has to make an appearance. See the shot here on the right with Ms. Richards, in a customarily attention-getting red dress, to the left of Clint and Doris on the dance floor. For more on Richards, click on the tag Mystery Extra in the column to the right. She had been one of my greatest mysteries until one of my valuable online friends helped me figure out who she was.
At this same dance, March shows up with his latest conquest, a woman heading to divorce court played by Patricia Barry. Hudson feels he has to warn her against March's nefarious schemes to get her into the sack. Now... Barry is fifth-billed, but has only this one scene. Almost all of it is played either with her back mostly to the audience or in profile. Furthermore, she plays the better part of her scene in a coat room behind several coats and with one particular hanger dangling right over her face! Either this was the worst planned shot of the film or director Norman Jewison despised this woman!

Day, unfortunately, mistakes Hudson's kindness for sexual attraction and thinks that he's been distant due to an affair. This kicks off an argument (mostly taking place in a parking lot with a plethora of gorgeous 1960s cars that enthusiasts will love seeing) that is only remedied when Rock finally has to break the news that he isn't long for this world.

Now Day is utterly devoted to her husband and dotes on him, nestles into him and generally fawns all over him, though not giving up hope. She makes plans to take him to the Mayo Clinic for diagnosis and cure. Trouble is, she finds out by sheer chance that Hudson actually has nothing wrong with him at all besides indigestion! Hudson, who really does think he's sick, is baffled by Day's sudden change of heart as she tosses him (and all of his medicines) out.

This is where Hudson has to head next door to Randall's house to spend the night. Doris has doused his pajamas with the contents of a hot water bottle, so Rock has to change into one of his pal's nightshirts. Innocent as it all is, these still photos of the men almost look as if the two gentlemen are getting prepared for a night of passion! (This is partly because Tony is miffed at Rock and is staring him down. Hey... there's a thin line between love and hate, right?) They bicker like two old queens about whether or not to leave the window open and pile into bed where they complain about each other's feet and toenails. The next morning, poor Tony is shown in a fetal position taking up about one fourth of the mattress while Rock is sprawled out on his belly with all the covers on.

Walker takes this opportunity to slip in and be there for Day. He has a fun sight gag in an otherwise rather thankless part. He pulls up in a teeny, slender sports car that can barely contain his massive frame. The joke, like many others in the film, is punched across with the aid of Frank De Vol's whimsical and pointedly amusing musical score. Some folks don't like this type of zany music, but I find it charming and appreciate the embellishments it gives to the visual humor.

Further misunderstanding occurs until the inevitable happy ending comes about. It's spoiling nothing to reveal that everything finally comes out in the open. This isn't Camille, after all! (I always make it a point in my film recaps to leave out bits of information that I think a first time viewer shouldn't know. I don't like to ruin things by giving away too much of the details of scenes, dramatic or comedic, for those who haven't seen the movie yet.)

Hudson is handsome and trim here, though, surprisingly enough, you can see the start of some bags under the eyes, perhaps from some wild living after hours. He was only thirty-nine here. He wisely, as should be done in most any comedy, takes his role and its contents quite seriously.

Day, in spite of all the wacky goings on, has such a wonderful way of delivering her lines in a way that gives them such a natural authenticity. For example, when she speaks with cereal or toast in her mouth or when she offhandedly refers to her wet hair when seeing Walker for the first time in ages. Always an actress who felt her parts personally and deeply, she mostly avoided dramatic parts because of what they did to her inside. My favorite Day moments are when she gets completely frustrated and starts an indignant tirade. Something about her voice and body language in these scenes cracks me up.

Randall is superb here. I'm not even a really huge fan of his in general, but he's just wonderful. His timing, delivery and physicality are all working perfectly. I don't see how any of the Academy Award nominated supporting actors of that year were demonstratively better than Randall. Comedic acting is so often overlooked in lieu of drama and we don't always appreciate what it takes to be a really fine funny man like Randall.

I all but worship Clint Walker and am happy that he was given a chance to do something different here, but he's mostly wasted. The story lacks a true villain and there's no way that amiable Clint could bring about anyone's true ire. Even Rock has difficulty getting too worked up over him, though he tries to toss a few barbs at him from time to time, which Walker just laughs off good-naturedly. The clothing they have him in, especially in his first scene is very awkward and ill-fitting. He seems so constricted and hunched in it, which is very much at odds with the proud, tall, expansive way he usually stood in his western films and TV shows. And would it have killed them to toss Walker one brief close-up of that gorgeous mug and his ice blue eyes?!

This being a suburban romp rather than a big city, professional story, Jean Louis' creations for Doris are mostly less glamorous than fans had become accustomed to in these pictures, but she wears a fun pair of satin pajamas, a flowy chiffon nightgown and one long, tailored dress with a matching jacket. I remember once having to do hair for a stage production of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and using Doris' look with the bow stuck in the top/center for the character of Honey. Her costume was a long dress that was cut off and hemmed for the show and I fashioned her a bow from the leftover material, making sure it matched, all-important for that era! As the drama wore on, of course, the bow came out and the hair started to look more and more disheveled.

Send Me No Flowers is perhaps just a tad too long to support its premise and every once in a while something comes along that is allowed to linger a little bit further than we might like. However, it is mostly a colorful, crisply clean, amusing movie with many little details that help give it life. It's not anything that's going to change the world, but, if you're in the right frame of mind, it could change your mood!


puggerpete said...

We all do have different tastes. "Lover Come Back" was my favorite! Mistaken identity was never so much fun.

dcolp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dcolp said...

Thank you so much for this article. I think you really hit all the main points and the few weaknesses of this movie. It could have easily been ten minutes shorter, but as with most of Ms. Day's movies of this period, it hits the ground running and the viewer is caught up in the plot within the first minute. There is one thing that always drives me nuts about this movie. The train station is obviously in southern California, because there are palm trees nearby. Also, the entire movie appears to be filmed on beautiful, sunny days. But when the men are commuting home on the train, the background footage looks like late autumn or even winter northeastern footage. There are not any leaves on the trees. I always wondered how someone did not notice this during production, and either pick different footage or pick a train station that did not so obviously look like it was located in southern California.

Poseidon3 said...

Thank you, you two, for visiting The Underworld and for your comments.

dcolp, I never noticed that, myself, and I tend to focus on background things upon repeat viewings. I'll have to check that out next time!

dcolp said...

It is always a pleasure to visit your blog. Your articles are well-researched and informative and fun.