Wednesday, December 08, 2010


This stagy romantic comedy in an important landmark in Hollywood history: it was the first mainstream film since 1934 released without a Production Code seal. The problem wasn't just language (words like "mistress" and "virgin") but, I suspect, the very light-heartedness with which the movie treats sex. Architect William Holden, who has just broken up with Dawn Addams, meets young screwball Maggie McNamara at the Empire State Building, and the two spend the rest of the day and evening playing romantic games, mostly at Holden's apartment. She is much more forthright about sexual matters than Holden (or a typical 1950s film audience) is used to, asking if he has a mistress and letting him know right off the bat that she's a virgin. Addams, the ex-, lives a floor above Holden with her father, David Niven, who falls for McNamara and tries to buy her love with a cash loan so she can pay her rent. The three do some witty sparring, with Addams eventually entering the picture, but for all the flirting and innuendo, no virtue is lost, though Holden does get a sock in the jaw from McNamara's father. The next day, Holden proposes to her back at the Empire State Building and she says yes.

Though the situations and dialogue are no longer scandalous, one can still get frissons of delight from some of the mildly naughty exchanges. Early on, in order to "save time," McNamara asks Holden if he has a mistress; he says no, apparently making the claim that he and Addams didn't have sex, but later when he says Addams was "pretty all over," McNamara says, "Then she was your mistress!" No, he insists, claiming "it's sort of high school to have a mistress unless you crave one" (mimicking an earlier line of hers about drinking alcohol). When McNamara asks if it's OK to take off her shoes, Holden says, "Take off anything you like." At one point, Niven announces that he likes "steaks, liquor, and sex--in that order." When Holden worries that McNamara is preoccupied with sex, she replies, "Isn't it better for a girl to be preoccupied with sex than occupied?" Eventually, McNamara is accused of being a "professional virgin," using her virtue as a selling point. And so on. McNamara comes off like a virginal Holly Golightly, though it's unclear how much of her flirty manner is deliberate and how much is accidental. I think we are meant to take her at face value, meaning she's a bit ditzy but intends to be a good girl. Once the action settles in Holden's apartment, we rarely leave there (except for a few scenes at Niven's place) and there is a claustrophobic feel to the proceedings eventually. Holden and Niven are fun, but there is a bit of an off-putting distance to McNamara's performance. Largely the film does hold up after all these years, though it's best appreciated as a period piece. [TCM]

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