It’s no secret to anyone who has perused my Daily Movie Reviews section that I am rather fond of romantic comedies. And I should make it clear that I don’t just like the old classics; everyone likes It Happened One Night, real rom com fans understand the delights of new films like 27 Dresses. Basically, if two lovers are kept apart until the end of the film through a certain combination of wacky hi-jinx and hilarious misunderstandings, count me in!
The romantic comedy I want to talk about today is from a classic cycle of romantic comedies that showed up in the 1960s. These films often starred Doris Day and/or Rock Hudson, and were basically the last cinematic gasp of the screwball comedies that had had their heyday 3 decades earlier. I initially wanted to talk about the all time best example of this era, Man’s Favorite Sport, but if I let myself talk about the all time best films from every genre I cover in this feature, it would be nothing but Howard Hawks films, so I decided to stick to the most popular examples, the Doris Day and Rock Hudson pairings. Though they only made three films with each other, Doris and Rock have come to be synonymous with the 1960s rom com. Today’s film, their last together, is easily the best of the three.
Though the more famous Pillow Talk is the more typical romantic comedy (which, in my book, is definitely not a strike against it), Send Me No Flowers has the same charm and is an overall much stronger film (if you can get over a few overzealous sound effects). It is the story of a hypochondriac who thinks he is going to die and attempts to make sure his wife meets a new man to support her. Importantly, the audience is in on the mix-up from the beginning which allows the film to milk plenty of great gags out of Rock Hudson’s excellent comedic chops. Though the script leans heavily on the usual string of hilarity that ensues from the initial mix up, it actually gives Doris a bit more agency than the usually got in her films.
Though Doris has been claimed as a feminist icon for standing up to the men who go after her in these films, when examined more closely her defiance is relatively short-lived and usually leads to the inevitable “all is forgiven” moment after the man has lied and sociopathically manipulated her for the entire film (I’m looking at you Pillow Talk). In Send Me No Flowers, while Doris gets her usual blue-balling revenge on Rock after finding out he has been lying to her, it is only after she realizes he didn’t know himself that it was a lie that she takes him back. And even then, she keeps the knowledge to herself as a power play!
In a sense, Send Me No Flowers (along with earlier examples like Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House–not to mention countless classic television series) is the archetypal example of the “dorky dad” trope. Rock spends the whole movie trying to find a good husband to take care of Doris, but in the end Doris is the one who seems to be his “keeper.” Role inversion is not exactly the answer to the battle of the sexes, but, considering Rock’s ineptitude (and, admittedly, his brilliant comic timing) is the source of many of this film’s best jokes, I suppose I can’t really complain.
The Doris Day films are doubly strange considering her on-screen persona. On paper, she is very pretty, has a hot bod (check out Glass Bottomed Boat if you need further proof), and, I suppose, is undeniably “cute.” However, she was so prim and proper, that, as far as raw sex appeal goes, I must admit I rank her only slightly above Katherine Hepburn. I mean, just look at that kiss she’s planting on Rock in the header image here! Sure, they all kissed like that in movies back then, but I bet you the only time she opened her mouth on a kiss was for the purpose of conception. And sure, Rock was a barely closeted gay man in real life, but I don’t think the fault is his in these films; he was too good of an actor to let that happen.
Which is not to say Send Me No Flowers is without any gay subtext, quite the opposite in fact. Tony Randall is in his most effete form here as Rock’s “best friend” who seems to want nothing more than to be a bit more than friends with the implausibly handsome Rock. The longing looks (and hilarious double-entendred dialog) he gives Rock are far more convincing than any of the chaste kisses from Doris.
So why is this (or are any of these films) one of my favorite movies? Well, for all my bitching, I must admit Doris and Rock are pretty cute together. I might not want her (which, I also must admit is, despite my bitching, not really true) but do want her and Rock to end up together (the sign of any successful romantic comedy). Also, against all odds, this brief resurrection of the screwball comedy form (one of my all time favorite genres) worked far better than it had any right to. And finally, as a model of an implausibly shining early 1960s Utopian past that I have never actually experienced, and yet still feel like I know intimately, only the Bond films feel more authentically nostalgic than these old Doris Day movies. For all the praise it gets for its fidelity to the look and the feel of the 1960s, Mad Men has nothing on movies that were actually made in the decade like Send Me No Flowers.