Jerry Webster (Rock Hudson) and Carol Templeton (Doris Day) both work on Madison Avenue in the advertising industry there, but they have very different methods of securing the right clients. Carol prefers to do her research into the ideal way to sell the product to the public, creating prospective campaigns to put across her bright ideas, while Jerry is more interested in selling his agency to the client, as he does today when he hears the lucrative J. Paxton Miller (Jack Oakie) account is up for grabs. One wild night of partying and patronising later and Jerry has it in the bag - much to the chagrin of Carol...
It seems as though these days that the light romantic comedies Rock Hudson made with Doris Day will be his most visible legacy, mainly because people like the hypocrisy of the closeted gay star appearing as a heterosexual leading man, lusting after women when he'd probably have preferred to go off for a nice weekend with Tony Randall, who here plays his boss and confidante Peter Ramsey. Even more amusing is that the campy, twittery Randall (as he plays it here) was straight, which goes to show that you cannot judge by appearances. Yet another reason why Hudson is best recalled for these frothy comedies is that he was so good in them.
It might have been intriguing to see Rock play the man's man who happened to be homosexual, but society was not ready for that in 1961, which is when he filmed Lover Come Back. The target here is the advertising industry, as although it seems secondary once the main plotline gets underway, we can see the whole business of commercial promotion has done terrible things to Jerry's mind. In fact, we are shown that it has turned him into a compulsive liar, who will make up any old rubbish on the spot to ensure he gets the client, or worse, gets the girl. Not that he really has Carol in his sights, it just so happens that it works out that way.
In a truly convoluted narrative, Carol is so put out that Jerry has beaten her to the Miller account that she telephones him to let him know her opinion of him, only to have this thrown back in her face when he bats away her protests with insults, underlining that she is a woman in a man's world and that she is going to prove that she is up to the job of surviving in the male-dominated environment. Jerry has made a mistake, though, and Carol starts an investigation with the board of advertisers that eventually forces Jerry to invent a campaign for a product, Vip, that does not exist, thereby saving his skin. But when the buzz around Vip grows ever stronger, he ends posing as a scientist to keep Carol off the trail - the same scientist who is hastily inventing the real Vip.
Lover Come Back may look pretty staid on the surface, but it's actually very saucy for its day, with jokes about marijuana, homosexuality and unmarried sex, each time getting around potential censorship with quick wits and good humour. Carol, believing Jerry to be this naive scientist, falls in love with him, illustrating that advertising is all about pulling the wool over your target's eyes, but he is simply leading her on for his own satisfaction. Naturally, his comeuppance is right around the corner, but the film spends quite a bit of time on the subterfuge, milking the deception for all its comedic worth and generating high levels of amusement - it might not be roll around on the floor funny, but it is indulgently enjoyable for its better qualities and its kidding attitude. All this and Tony Randall being followed by an amorous moose after unwise overuse of his horn, yes it's ridiculous, but there are those who love this kind of thing, and Lover Come Back was a fine example of it. Music by Frank De Vol.