Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

13 November 2014

A Few Queer Moments in Lover Come Back

Delbert Mann's hilarious Lover Come Back (1961) is a classic Doris Day/Rock Hudson picture that is just as silly as their 1959 film Pillow Talk, and this film is much the same as the earlier one, playing on mistaken identity and on Doris Day's rep as an uptight, virginal woman who hasn't figured out the pleasures of sex and Rock Hudson's rep as a lazy but clever ladies' man.

The film, of course, is a heterosexual romantic comedy, and it is aimed mostly toward when the two main characters will finally have sex – actually, no, the pleasure of the film is watching Hudson try to have sex with Day and watching Day somehow weasel out of it.

The title of the film is strange. It is a reference to the last 8 or 10 minutes of Lover Come Back and has basically nothing to do with the plot of the film which is about two advertising executives attempting to one-up one another about a product that doesn't even exist called vip.

In any case, though the film is about heterosexual coupling – and it ends in a marriage and a baby both – there are a couple of odd/funny/queer moments that are worth recording.

The film begins with these two visitors to New York City catching a woman driving Rock Hudson to work still in his tuxedo from the night before. She asks him to kiss her in her convertible before he goes into the office, saying, I'm not your wife. The two men exchange a glance and a few witty barbs. This is the town for them. Throughout the film, they continue to catch Hudson with different women paying for different things or saying very suggestive things. To the two men, Hudson is some kind of magician.

At the very beginning of the film Carol (Day) is trying to get a new account. She is talking to one of her assistants and they have the following exchange:

Carol: That's a very good idea, Leonard. Develop it further.
Leonard: And here...
Carol: Mmm. This isn't bad either. But what color is that floor...?
Leonard: Lilac.
Carol: Lilac?! Leonard, who has a lilac floor in their kitchen?
Leonard: I have.
Carol: Oh! Well... Leonard, everyone isn't as artistic as you are.

And then she gives him this look:

Apparently, though it is obvious to the viewer that Leonard is a gay man, it hadn't been obvious to Carol. Her look is pointed; she is unsurprised, but she thinks he is a bit much.

If Leonard is obviously gay, our introduction to the Tony Randall character Pete pegs him as effeminate and ineffectual if apparently heterosexual. Still, his first entrance is into Rock Hudson's bedroom. They are talking about work, but Hudson is dressed like this:

Then the two men have breakfast together.

Jerry (Hudson): Your trouble is you're still living in the shadow of your father. You're even afraid to get rid of his old car.

Pete: You have no idea how much he dominated me, ever since I was a little boy.

This isn't queer per se, I just couldn't get over this whole spending the morning with your boss thing that was happening. They have breakfast, they analyze Pete's daddy issues, Pete helps Jerry get dressed. (He hands him his tie, etc.) They're clearly not a couple, of course, but they act like one, and it's delightful.

And then they go on vacation together:

I don't need to say anything about Tony Randall's outfit here, I imagine. 

They are on vacation as a plot device. Jerry grows a beard and then Carol mistakes him for a Nobel-prize-winning chemist, and hilarity ensues. Still, these two men (and the butler) are on vacation together and have been on vacation long enough to grow beards. Proper beards like these would take me about a week, and I'm a pretty hairy guy. Also, Tony Randall's outfit. It's a lot.

Back in New York, Carol and her secretary Millie plot how they're going to get an account away from Jerry, and Ann B. Davis as Millie surprises us with more queerness:

Millie: Are you sure you wanna tangle with him again? He fights rough.
Carol: Then we'll fight rough. This is war, Millie.
Millie: That means liquor, wild parties, getting the sponsor girls, right?
Carol: Right.
Millie: Good. I'd like to volunteer for front-line duty.

Delivered in Davis's usual deadpan way, the line comes off as both a joke and an obvious statement of fact. And Davis is definitely not volunteering to be one of the girls at the party. She's volunteering to get a few.

More missed connections and mistaken identities occur. And once Carol figures out who Jerry is she convinces him to skinny dip in the ocean and then drives away leaving him stranded and naked outside of the city. (We are not shown any of this nakedness, for the record.) Jerry gets a ride home from a furrier, and sneaks into his apartment in a full-length fur. When he sees that no one is watching him, he stands upright in the elevator and pulls the coat tighter around him.

But he is being watched. The two men who have been a running joke in the movie, watching Jerry as he womanizes his way through New York City, are having one last drink in the lobby of this apartment building, and they see Jerry walk into the apartment and get into the elevator. Their look of puzzlement is classic:
And one says to the other: He's the last guy in the world I woulda figured.

History, it seems, was as surprised as these men.