Reviewed by DAVID VINEYARD:
SUSAN SLEPT HERE. RKO Radio Pictures, 1954. Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Glenda Farrell, Alvy Moore, Horace McMahon, Les Tremayne. Screenplay by Alex Gottlieb, based on his play with Steve Fisher Directed by Frank Tashlin.
“Any judge that starts handing out 17 year old girls to thirty five year old lawyers is going to be elected President next time.”
This surprisingly open sex farce squeaks by for inclusion on this blog because it stars a former Philip Marlowe, Honey West, and is based on a play co-written by Steve Fisher (I Wake Up Screaming) — and yes, it as about as tentative as a connection to this site as I could find, but I came up with one anyway. You don’t have to buy it, just accept it.
I don’t think you could sell this one today or make it, but somehow with Dick Powell and Debbie Reynolds and narrated by Powell’s screenwriter character’s Oscar, this one skates all over its premise, never quite going too far or letting you really consider what is going on here.
Powell is Mark Christopher, screenwriter and novelist, whose career is headed south for the pole in double time. On Christmas Eve his cop pal Horace MacMahon shows up on his doorstep with juvenile delinquent Susan Landis, Debbie Reynolds, in tow. Christopher once considered writing a movie about a JD, maybe if he spends the evening with her he’ll get some ideas.
Ideas he gets. Not for a screenplay, though.
Powell is none too happy, but he can’t throw her back in reform school on Christmas Eve, so after they calm her down a bit, he arranges for his secretary Maud, Glenda Farrell (keep an eye out for Red Skelton in a cameo as her long lost boyfriend Oswald — “You’ll get another Oscar, I get an Oswald”), to keep her, but Maud is on a bender, and his old Navy pal Virgil, Alvy Moore, who was his lieutenant in the war, leaves him in the lurch. His fiancee Isabella, Anne Francis, isn’t the forgiving sort either when Susan answers his phone.
Susan: She said she was going out with the assistant butler … What does an assistant butler do?
After a night that includes a long gin game, an uncomfortable couch and Susan sleeping with a rolling pen under her pillow in his bedroom, Powell calls in lawyer Les Tremayne with the bright idea of marrying Susan — she has a paper from her mother in Peru on her honeymoon allowing her to marry — to keep her out of reform school. Of course in name only. When she is 18 and safe in four months, they’ll get her an annulment, some money, and a job.
So it’s off to Vegas, and a honeymoon night spent on the dance floor, and the next morning Mark takes off to work in Sun Valley as Hurricane Isabella hits. Susan plans to leave, but Maud persuades her to take some motherly advice.
Virgil: You, a mother?
Maud: I typed the script for “Stella Dallas.”
So Susan stays and spider lady Isabella gets thrown out, though she’s not through.
Mark can’t get a divorce because they never consummated the marriage and Susan lets his lawyer know in no uncertain terms Mark can’t have an annulment, but he can a divorce. Then she very publicly lets everyone think she is pregnant and Mark assumes it was Virgil.
Then his lawyer’s analyst convinces him that he’s in love with Susan.
Mark: How can I love her, she’s a delinquent girl?
Doctor: You seem to be a delinquent husband.
Of course the age difference does come up, a determined Mark no match for an even more determined Susan.
Mark: When I’m 60 how old will you be?
Susan and Mark together: I’ll (You’ll) never be over 30.
As Virgil informs him: You accidentally married the right girl.
Of course Reynolds had a career at this point as the sexy wholesome outspoken but practical virgin (Tammy) and film makers of the era were experts at the tease, but this one teases hard with a difficult subject, and it could go so wrong so easily and doesn’t.
Other than Cary Grant, I can’t think of any actor by Powell who could bring this off half so well.
I suppose some one will find this offensive, but this is Hollywood and not the real world, a romantic comedy, and not a police blotter or a case for a social worker. Lighten up, recognize this has no connection to reality, and enjoy some fine players, finely playing their assigned rolls.
This was Powell’s last film, and ironically includes a musical fantasy sequence from Susan’s dream, though he doesn’t croon. Don Cornell does the only song in the film other than the brief title song (“So This is the Kingdom of Heaven”). It’s fitting Powell that should go back to his roots for his last screen outing. He even wears a sailor suit in the fantasy sequence.
To give this full credit, maybe no one in the world but Debbie Reynolds and Dick Powell could have pulled off how sexy this film is without offending anyone, and Frank Tashlin is one of the few directors who could have brought it off. (Tashlin had a great touch with humor and sex for someone who started out directing cartoons and made his live screen debut with Bob Hope and Trigger in Son of Paleface.)
Susan Slept Here is bright, funny, sexy, gorgeous to look at, and deftly done at all points. Reynolds and Francis are at their most attractive and it is always fun to see Francis get a shot at comedy, something she was quite adept at. There is a very funny and at the same time sexy scene when teen Susan compares herself to Francis’s sexy photo and tries to rearrange things to better recreate it. It’s a perfect showcase for what Reynolds did better than almost anyone else. It’s fine and funny final nod to the medium for Powell, and its nice to see Farrell still funny and sassy this late in the game.
It’s the kind of thing Rock Hudson and Doris Day would later do to great success, but lacking in the rather tasteless sniggering attitude to sex of those films.