It’s been delayed by a couple of weeks (apologies—it’s been a busy month!), but today we’re going to take a look at the final Doris Day-Rock Hudson pairing, 1964’s Send Me No Flowers.
In their third outing together, Day and Hudson are no longer sparring singletons, but a loving husband-and-wife duo, living out the mid-century American dream in the suburbs. George Kimball is a hypochondriac who insists that he suffers daily from various aches, pains, and undiagnosed illnesses, while Judy is his overly tolerant wife who secretly replaces her husband’s sleeping pills with sugar placebos. When George goes to doctor (and family friend) Ralph complaining of chest pains, Ralph tells George it’s nothing more than a case of indigestion. But when George catches the tail-end of a telephone conversation about another patient who is dying of a heart ailment, he believes he is the one slated for a visit from the Grim Reaper in only a few weeks’ time. With the help of best friend and neighbor Arnold (Tony Randall), George sets about trying to find a husband for Judy so that she will have someone to “take care of her” when he is gone.
The usual misunderstandings abound as Judy’s college boyfriend, Bert (Clint Walker), arrives in town and George begins to try to set up his wife with a ready-made second husband. Add in Judy’s growing suspicions that George is trying to cover up an affair with a recently-separated neighbor, and you have a series of screwball antics that nonetheless culminate in the prototypical happy ending.
I have to admit–this film is my least favorite of the Day-Hudson vehicles. The “war of the sexes” motif that makes their first two films so engaging is sorely lacking here. Even when their marriage dissolves into chaos, George and Judy are still not as fiery in battle as were Pillow Talk’s Jan and Brad or Lover Come Back’s Carol and Jerry—their conflict is tamer, somehow, lacking the sexual tension that served as the backbone for the film’s predecessors.
Indeed, throughout the movie, the sexuality is dampened—after all, the relationships between men and women are no longer fraught with passion when the battle is over and the war has been won … at least, that’s what films like this would have us believe. Still, there are hints of it in some scenes, but it’s used almost exclusively for comic effect; there are no flaming moments of sexual heat as in the “Possess Me” interlude in Pillow or the seaside kiss in Lover.
Take, for instance, the scene in which Judy discovers that George is not really dying, leading her to think that he concocted the entire “scheme” to hide his supposed affair. Fuming with suppressed rage, she sneaks into the bedroom where George is sleeping. Changing into a flowing, low-cut nightgown, she sits on the edge of the bed, staring down at her sleeping husband for a brief moment, and then proceeds to slap the ever-loving crap out of him, jerking him awake. As she soothes him out of his “bad dream,” Judy begins to remind him of a particularly amorous moment the two of them had once shared.
All of a sudden–heart ailment or no heart ailment–George is bounding with energy, leaping over the staircase banister and searching frantically through the kitchen for champagne and a couple of glasses. It’s the one moment of unbridled sexuality in the film—the mere promise of a night of good old-fashioned lovemaking has George forgetting his “condition” in a heartbeat—and it ends with a literal “cold shower” as Judy locks him out of the house, hurls the voluminous contents of his medicine cabinet at him from the second-story window, and douses him with the remains of his hot-water bottle.
The scene is reminiscent of a similar scene in Lover Come Back, when Carol tricks Jerry into taking a midnight drive to the beach and, once he’s divested himself of his clothing, peals out and leaves her naked would-be lover stranded. Indeed, there are quite a few moments in this film that will ring familiar to fans of the three films—just as Lover borrowed quite heavily from Pillow, so, too, does Flowers borrow from both of them.
Randall once again plays the second banana to Hudson, and he steals the show with a hilariously drunken turn as George’s confidant and would-be eulogist. The scene in which Arnold tries to read his heartfelt eulogy to a frustrated George, who has just been kicked out of his own home, is one of the best moments in the movie. As George moans and complains and snaps at him, Arnold begins to cross out the more laudatory sections of his speech in retaliation for George’s behavior, all while downing George’s bottle of champagne. The ever-effusive Paul Lynde also lights up the film in his scenes as the overly enthusiastic salesman who sells George a trio of cemetery plots (one for George, one for Judy, and one for Judy’s future second husband) and, ultimately, puts the couple back on the path to reconciliation.
The movie has moments of enjoyable, lighthearted comedy (despite the supposed looming specter of death in George’s personal rearview mirror). But one of the things that has always bothered me about this movie is the blatant sexism underlying George’s quest to find Judy a new mate. George wants to find someone to care for Judy because he thinks she cannot competently live on her own—as evidence, he points to her lack of knowledge about mortgages, her inability to recall how much she spent on ham at the grocer’s, and a mistake in writing out a check to pay a bill. He believes that Judy will “fall apart” when he is gone and be completely unable to provide for herself. And while Judy has moments of seeming ineptitude in the movie (the scene with the out-of-control golf cart, for instance, when she needs to be rescued by a strapping Bert on horseback), she proves herself quite capable of keeping a somewhat steady head in the face of George’s devastating news (her behavior in the latter half of the movie, as she flies off the handle at George regarding her suspicions, notwithstanding). It’s a little bothersome to watch George’s condescending attitude toward his wife throughout the movie, at least from a modern perspective.
Still, while far from the best film in either actor’s repertoire, Send Me No Flowers is not without its charms. The genuine love and respect that Day and Hudson share for one another once again comes through in their performances, and the talented, riotous supporting cast makes this one even more enjoyable.
In preparing for these Hudson-Day posts, I re-watched all three films (yeah, like it’s such an unpleasant task) courtesy of my Doris Day and Rock Hudson Comedy Collection. I purchased this two-disc set soon after its release in 2007, and I can’t tell you how many times these discs have made a run through the DVD player—it has truly been one of the best additions to my personal movie collection. The Comedy Collection unfortunately does not include extras beyond the theatrical trailers for each film, but the transfers are clean, bright, and beautiful, and I highly recommend the set if you don’t already own these films. It generally goes for less than $20 on Amazon (in fact, it’s less than $15 right now!), so make sure to add it to your personal collection today!