Film: Fuzzy Pink Nightgown, The (1957)

August 25, 2018 | By

Film: n/a

Transfer:  n/a

Extras: n/a

Label:  n/a

Region: n/a

Released:  n/a

Genre:  Comedy / Drama

Synopsis: On the eve of her film premiere, a demanding star is abducted by an ex-con and his pal for an ill-conceived ransom gig. Will her studio engage the cops, or will no one care?

Special Features:  n/a

 


 

Review:

This odd-titled comedy and poke at Hollywood fame represents Jane Russell’s attempt (with husband Robert Waterfield) at steering her career away from formal studio productions, and her last feature film for 7 years.

Although the couple had already produced two films under their Russ-Field Productions banner – Foxfire and Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes (both 1955) – Sylvia Tate’s novel forms the basis of this caper whose plot bears a slight resemblance to a classic 1980s comedy, but we’ll get there shortly. Russell is big screen star Laurel Stevens, a blonde bombshell well aware of her net worth for studio Grandeur, set to premiere her latest production, “The Kidnapped Bride!”

On the eve of the big premiere, instead of stepping into the studio-sent limo, she’s fooled by a pair’s scheme to whisk her away for the weekend to a cliffside house, wait for police reports of her no-show at the premiere, and start making demands for $50,000. The simple plan: earn some easy cash, the studio gets irony-tinged ‘cheap’ publicity, and Stevens maintains her position as a famous star.

The would-be kidnapping team is comprised of ex-con Mike Valla (Ralph Meeker) and longtime pal Dandy (Keenan Wynn) – both not quite bright, but not exactly stupid either. When a wary Stevens attempts a call to the police from the kitchen, Mike quips “There’s a lock on the phone.” Her reply of “Pretty smart, aren’t you?” is met with the film’s lone funny line “No… you’re just kinda dumb.”

Meeker reportedly replaced younger Ray Danton (I’ll Cry Tomorrow, TV’s The Alaskans), and although his tough guy persona’s tempered with a pipe, a few quick quips, and a tweedy living room decor, Meeker’s still too edgy for the role of an ex-con who has the slight potential for hard violence – unless that was the intention.

The film’s semi-comedic tone is offset by odd dramatic bursts, such as Mike smacking Stevens across the face in the limo to make it clear the kidnapping is 100% genuine, plus his background in being wrongly convicted for murder. That edge fuels Mike’s intention on getting easy cash without any violence, but it also allows the fearful / slightly ashamed cop whose testimony helped convict him (broad comedic actor Fred Clark) to turn a blind’s eye at a key moment before the whole plan unravels.

 

The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown: ‘It’s a Comedy!’

 

‘It’s a suspense drama with steamy sexxx!’

 

‘It’s a hard boiled thriller!’ Or maybe not, because at no time is Laurel Stevens kept fettered, and ‘lovin’ every manhandled minute.’

 

Tone and pacing are problematic in the film because neither Russell, director Norman Taurog (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Blue Hawaii, Dr. Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine), nor the script offer the right balance. Taurog’s background in comedy shorts ensures the choreography of gags and performance nuances among groups of characters has momentum – a running motif of head-conking is amusing – but the fast cutting in the opening scene soon settles into deadly static scenes at the house. That long period covers the weekend in which Stevens falls for Mike, but it’s an awkward romance, forced into being by time & booze. The only element that works is having both characters wanting to escape personas they don’t like; the former a genuinely likeable person trapped in the shallow persona of a movie star, and the latter an ex-con needing a reason to lose the ‘soreness’ of being wrongly convicted, and move on with his life.

Russell is okay as Stevens, but the character’s underwritten, and there’s too much reliance on the actress’ smoldering screen persona to make Stevens accessible, and get us through clunky scenes. Wynn steals the film whenever he’s onscreen, but Dandy’s restricted to being the good old pal, and his interest in Stevens becomes just plain foolish in the broad morning sunshine; Wynn still transcends Meeker, though, because he captures the genuine hurt after Dandy defers to Mike as Stevens’ only valid suitor.

The jabs at Hollywood are sometimes clever and meta: Stevens becomes the kidnapped heroine before the premiere of her kidnapping film; and she’s a cynical, buxom star who uses her thespian skills to sometimes manipulate her fairly relaxed captors and the police. You can also argue the blonde wig she uses for the silver screen is a poke at every studio’s need to have some kind of peroxide-drenched bombshell among their talent pool. Stevens isn’t a Marilyn Monroe cartoon (Russell co-starred with the actress in the classic 1953 musical Gentlemen Prefer Blondes) but represents the fabricated love goddess adored by fickle audiences. Moreover, when Russell turfs the wig, we’re treated to a bold statement by the actress herself, de-glamorizing her persona by revealing a very short haircut and dark colour, as seen in the flattering French poster below:

 

On the other hand, the French publicists came up with something more balanced and striking, using Russell’s charisma instead of cluttered ad copy.

 

The fact the kidnapping might kill her career is both a concern and a point of interest for the heroine – it might be the one act that liberates Stevens from boredom and her dislikeable egotism  – but there’s also the studio’s side of the dilemma. Bigwig Arthur Martin (Adolph Menjou) plays a classic money-loving caricature, as does her agent.

Everyone has something to lose if Stevens’ career falters: her agent is fearful he might have to back to his roots as a hack sax player; tabloid columnist Daisy Parker (Benay Venuta) would lose potential reportage of further sexy scandals; and Stevens’ live-in assistant Bertha (1930s star Una Merkel) would be unemployed, having lost her own major film career and substantive income when she stayed too long from movie work.

Perhaps the biggest irony is that Nightgown represents Russell’s own attempt to break from the rigid studio mold, but the film’s failure had her switching to TV before a slight film comeback with small roles during the 1960s. Nightgown’s virtual absence from home video for so long makes it a bit of a lost film, and it’s admittedly a production lacking big screen assets, such as widescreen and striking colour. Released by UA, the film’s probably still part of the MGM catalogue, but Joseph LaShelle’s cinematography isn’t flattered by decades-old transfers.

Billy May’s score is part jazzy and luxurious, but it also can’t smoothen the film’s tonal shifts… And yet Nightgown‘s oddness may have influenced (well, perhaps slightly) two more contemporary comedies with similar heroines forced to face their horrible selves: Jim Abrams’ Ruthless People (1986), in which a couple abduct the wife of a wealthy prick, and when he refuses to pay, like Stevens, we see the victim becoming a partner with her supposed oppressors; and John Waters’ Cecil B. Demented (2000), in which a kidnapped star is forced by a ‘demented’ director to appear in his gonzo indie production, and like Stevens, become a member of the team, refuting the wealth and egotism of her prior life.

 

Not even a trio of fuzzy pink nightingales raised the film’s profile.

 

After a flurry of work during the first half of the 1950s, Russell’s subsequent film appearances consist of a mere handful: Fate is the Hunter (1964), Johnny Reno and Waco (both 1966), The Born Losers (1967), Darker Than Amber and Cauliflower Cupids (1970).

Robert Waterfield’s productions include Gentlemen Prefer Brunettes (1955), Run for the Sun and The King and Four Queens (both 1956), and The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown (1957). Author Sylvia Tate’s other filmed work is the murder mystery Woman on the Run (1950), starring Ann Sheridan.

 

 

© 2018 Mark R. Hasan

 


 

 


 

External References:
Editor’s BlogIMDB  —  Soundtrack Album — Composer Filmography
 
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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