Pillow Talk Parent Guide
A classic comedy about romance and deceit that hasn't aged well.
Parent Movie Review
One of the challenges in reviewing classic films is avoiding the trap of “presentism” – judging a movie based on current cultural norms and not on the values of the time. This is particularly challenging with Pillow Talk. A runaway hit in 1959, this story has not aged well and will likely make many 21st century viewers highly uncomfortable.
Pillow Talk introduces us to Jan Morrow (Doris Day), who is living the career woman’s dream in New York City. A successful interior decorator, Jan lives in a comfortable apartment, has a full-time cleaning lady, a wardrobe to die for, and a persistent millionaire suitor (Tony Randall as Jonathan Forbes). But there is one cloud in Jan’s otherwise clear blue sky – her phone. The phone company can’t keep up with explosive population growth and the resulting demand for phone lines. Some clients – like Jan – are forced to use party lines – a line shared with one or more people. To make matters worse, the other party on Jan’s line is Brad Allen (Rock Hudson), a songwriter and lothario who spends hours every day on his phone, wooing his latest conquests. In a world without cellphones or computers, Jan’s landline is the only way she can reach clients. Angry and frustrated, she is sometimes driven to interrupt Brad’s romantic conversations with a request that he get off the phone. Furious about what he sees as Jan’s officiousness, Brad snaps back. The two continue to stew until Brad bumps into Jan at a nightclub. Then everything changes.
Attracted by the sophisticated blonde, Brad embarks on the planned seduction of his party line partner. Knowing Jan will shun him if she knows who he really is, Brad assumes a false identity (and cheesy accent to go with it) – Rex Stetson, visiting Texan businessman. But Jan’s wannabe suitor has figured out what is going on and is determined to bring Brad’s charade to a halt.
The plot isn’t going to cause any anxiety on the part of the audience, although it might produce a fair bit of cringing. The deception at the root of the relationship and the ease with which Jan is duped is unsettling. Sexist assumptions about the neediness of women will also make modern viewers squirm. Frequent smoking and excessive drinking are also problematic – especially when a main character gets very drunk and a secondary character’s alcoholism and hangovers are treated as comic fodder. Most disturbing is the sexual innuendo – Brad’s apartment is set up for seduction, which is supposed to be amusing. And an episode where Jan has to beat off a young man who is trying to force himself on her is treated in a matter of fact fashion. There is also a bitterly ironic moment where Brad makes mildly homophobic comments. Given Rock Hudson’s 1985 death from AIDS, this feels particularly sad.
It’s difficult to come up with any pluses for a movie which teaches that deceit will be rewarded and that women can’t be happy without a man. Frankly, I only hung in until the end to admire Doris Day’s wardrobe. Her mid-century fashions are a delight for anyone who loves clothes. If the rest of the film had the classic elegance of her wardrobe, it would stand the test of time.Directed by Michael Gordon. Starring Doris Day, Rock Hudson. Running time: 102 minutes. Theatrical release October 7, 1959. Updated February 17, 2019
Watch the trailer for Pillow Talk
Rating & Content Info
Violence: A man slaps a hysterical woman. A man punches another man – this is supposed to be funny. A woman fights off a man who is trying to force a kiss. A man breaks into a woman’s apartment. A man drags a woman out of her apartment and carries her to his apartment without her consent.
Sexual Content: Men and women seen embracing on many occasions. A man’s promiscuity is portrayed in a positive and comedic light. A woman fights off a young man who is trying to force kisses on her in a car. This is played for laughs. A woman is seen sitting in bed in a negligee. A man tries to get a woman drunk so he can take advantage of her. A split screen shows a man and woman in separate bubble baths. A main character makes vaguely homophobic comments.
Profanity: No profanity. Lots of sexual innuendo. Reference to “bedroom problems” and a “sex maniac”.
Alcohol / Drug Use: Smoking is frequent on the part of most characters. There is abundant social drinking. A main character gets so drunk he can’t hold his head up. A secondary character’s alcoholism and hangovers are treated as a joke. A minor character gets so drunk he passes out.
Page last updated February 17, 2019
Pillow Talk Parents' Guide
Brad claims to be a changed man who wants to marry Jan. Do you believe him? How can you tell if someone has really changed? Do you think it’s possible to rebuild trust in a relationship where one party has practiced systematic deceit? Do you think Jan should marry him?
Loved this movie? Try these books…
The classic tale of romance and mistaken identity is the 1900 work, Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand.
Her throne and intended fiancé stolen by a usurping maid, Princess Anilee Taliana Isilee goes into hiding in Shannon Hale’s novel The Goose Girl. But even a new identity can’t get in the way of true love.
Fleeing a forced marriage, Princess Lia, heir to the throne, reinvents herself in a rustic village. Mary E Pearson’s The Kiss of Deception is the first in this trilogy for teens.
Related home video titles:
Disney’s Aladdin is the story of a young man who tries to get the girl by pretending to be someone he’s not. In this case – a handsome prince. Suitable for children.
Barbra Streisand stars in Yentl as a young woman who dresses up as a boy so she can attend a Jewish religious school. But then she falls in love with one of her fellow scholars…
Danish Prince Edvard is tired of being in the spotlight. Pretending to be an ordinary student he heads off to college in the USA where he meets an ambitious young pre-med student. Their romance unfolds in The Prince & Me.