Two years after debuting a sparkling chemistry in 1959’s Pillow Talk, Doris Day and Rock Hudson re-teamed for another romantic comedy, Lover Come Back. Again, they were joined by Tony Randall and a slew of amusing bit players for an appealing, candy-coated concoction of wit, sex, and broad humor. Over the years, I’ve read several critical reviews of the Day-Hudson filmography that label Lover the best of the lot. While I disagree with that assessment (to me, nothing beats their initial pairing in Talk), the film definitely has some of the same immense charms.
Lover Come Back features Day and Hudson as Carol Templeton and Jerry Webster, advertising executives at rival firms in New York City. While Carol works long hours perfecting pitches to secure clients, Jerry wines, dines, and schmoozes potential clients, pandering to their egos, wallets, and libidos. When Jerry succeeds in snatching yet another client out from under Carol’s nose, she reports him to the Advertising Council for his unethical and untenable behavior. To head off Carol’s attempt to jettison his career, Jerry convinces a showgirl, Rebel Davis (Edie Adams), to vouch for him, promising her a prominent role as the spokesgirl for a new product, VIP. The only problem? VIP hasn’t exactly been invented yet. And as Carol catches wind of the new, hot “account” and grows determined to win it for herself, Jerry plays the role of Linus, VIP’s “inventor,” determined all the while to seduce her and divert her attention from her campaign.
Sound familiar? It should–the plot of Lover Come Back borrows heavily from its predecessor. Again, we have Hudson role-playing in an attempt to fool Day’s busy, devoted career woman. And Randall, as Peter Ramsey, the typically-absent president of Jerry’s advertising firm, again functions as the wealthy best friend figure, miserable despite his good fortune and envious of Jerry’s from-the-bootstraps rise to success. But does the similarity between the two films ultimately detract from one or the another? Happily, the answer to that question is a resounding “no.” Despite the shared themes and character arcs, Lover is just as enjoyable as Pillow Talk, with moments of sheer comic brilliance that are all its own.
Interestingly, the movie does allow for a small change in the perception of Day’s sexuality, which creates a slightly more daring atmosphere (at least, for 1961). In Pillow Talk, Day’s Jan Morrow is the one being pursued by Hudson’s knowing, highly-sexed Brad, only allowing herself to give in after an aggressive campaign on his part. But in Lover, Day’s Carol becomes more the sexual aggressor, at least initially, and it’s fun to watch. “Linus,” as portrayed by Jerry, is an innocent, unsure of how to interact with women and ignorant of the delicate sexual relationship between the sexes. Yes, it is a carefully calculated ploy on Jerry’s part to elicit sympathy (and, by extension, sympathy love-making), and Carol falls for it hook, line, and sinker, taking it upon herself to “school” the brilliant but hapless inventor on the ways of love. She even allows herself to be manipulated into taking “Linus” to a strip club, much to Jerry’s delight (the two actors’ facial expressions as the off-screen stripper throws bits of her costume at Linus/Jerry are utterly priceless, as indicated in the screenshot above).
As in Pillow Talk, the ensemble of supporting characters are a hilarious addition to the film. As Rebel, the gorgeous Adams is particularly effective, especially in her performance in front of the Ad Council, in which she declares Jerry to be beyond reproach as she leans over the table to give each man on the panel a better look at Jerry’s (faux) “good conduct” medal, nestled benignly in her impressive cleavage. Jack Albertson and Charles Watts play a pair of friends who always manage to run across Jerry as he’s wooing yet another pretty girl–their running commentary on Jerry’s remarkable stamina is laugh-out-loud funny. And Ann B. Davis (The Brady Bunch’s Alice) brings her prototypical snark to a small but ultimately pivotal role as Carol’s secretary, Millie, who arranges a (very) last-minute reconciliation for her boss and Jerry at the end of the film.
Part of the enjoyment of the movie comes from its satirical look at American big business in the early 1960s–particularly the advertising game. It’s interesting to compare this film to the current television show Mad Men, which takes a more serious (and perhaps bleaker) look at the field during roughly the same time period. True, the similarities between the two are surface-level at best. Still, there are hints of Jerry in Mad Men’s Don Draper: both are womanizing cads; both are determined to do what it takes to land an account; neither man is overly concerned by questions of ethics or morality. And there are tendrils of Carol Templeton in Men’s Peggy Olson: both are women in a predominantly male-driven field, trying to succeed despite the obstacles in their respective paths.
Filled with witty one-liners, some simply stunning costumes for Day, and several great slapstick moments (of particular note is the scene in which Jerry and Peter go hunting only to inadvertently attract the amorous attentions of a moose), Lover Come Back is nothing less than an enjoyable romp, courtesy of the dynamic duo of Hudson and Day.