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  Susan Slept Here The Spirit Of Christmas Presents
Year: 1954
Director: Frank Tashlin
Stars: Dick Powell, Debbie Reynolds, Anne Francis, Glenda Farrell, Alvy Moore, Horace McMahon, Herb Vigran, Les Tremayne, Mara Lane, Rita Johnson, Maidie Norman, Red Skelton
Genre: Comedy, RomanceBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Here is one of those Oscar statuettes to guide us through the story of the remarkable thing that happened to the man who won him, awarded for screenwriting (the Oscar would have preferred to be given to a Best Supporting Actress, but no such luck). He sat on the shelf of the man's apartment, where he had a pretty good view of all his comings and goings, such as when he was writing, though lately he was feeling as if his talent was deserting him as he was struggling with his most recent piece. This man was Mark Christopher (Dick Powell), and he thought he had his life all planned out, he had a secretary, Maud (Glenda Farrell) who was not shy about critiquing his work, his loyal gofer Virgil (Alvy Moore), an ex-Navy buddy, and a fiancée, Isabella (Anne Francis)...

But what if Mark didn't marry his fiancée? What if he married someone else? Who could that be? How about a seventeen-year-old girl? Married to a thirty-five-year-old man? Who was played by Powell as he fast approached fifty? Are you having trouble envisaging this as anything other than creepy? Weirdly, and this was a film that could only have been made in its decade but even at the time seemed odd, this was considered a sweet romantic comedy, though it did meet with some controversy - not so much about the subject matter for after all Mark does make a good woman of the teenage girl, more about the title which suggested S-E-X, though it did not do much harm to its box office.

Indeed, for the ailing RKO studio, one of the great Golden Age production companies that was effectively run into the ground after it was bought up by millionaire madman Howard Hughes, it proved something of a success which should have bolstered its fortunes, but its new owner was just too set in his ways to do anything but mess with its output and, be it deliberately or simply ineptly, sabotage any chance of it lasting as a going concern. This was to be as lavishly mounted as they could make it, even considering a 3-D release (as if it was not bizarre enough), but Technicolor of the most eye-straining quality was all they could settle on, even if the entire effort remained as setbound as it possibly could be.

It was based on a play, so that would explain why it stayed resolutely on a small handful of sets as a theatre work would be, therefore one supposes they were counting on the near the knuckle subject matter to bring the punters in as was often the case with Hughes productions (it's no accident here that his shocking at the time The Outlaw was mentioned in the dialogue). That almost underage love interest was the titular Susan, a juvenile delinquent played by Debbie Reynolds still in her teenage phase at the age of twenty-one, and through a contrivance that set the tone for the rest of the story, she was brought to Mark's home for him to look after since the cop who was arresting her couldn't bear to have her stay behind bars over Christmas. The festive season was important here, not just because of set decoration, but also because our overage hero is thinking of goodwill which leads to a marriage he wants to use to keep Susan out of jail, then get it annulled. What a nice guy, right?

He initially acts reluctant, because obviously if he thought this marriage was a great idea for his own benefit then the audience would question his motives, right? Well, you ain't seen nuthin' yet, as director Frank Tashlin, the man who taught Jerry Lewis all he knew about filmmaking, was patently sending up the hypocrisy of America's attitude to sexuality as was his wont. If you ever thought that an older man who denies any interest in a younger girl was basically bullshitting because all men whatever the age would jump at the chance to be with such a partner, then you would get where Tashlin was coming from, yet he couldn't have Mark or the other characters state that blatantly so he had to frame it within the confines of a wholesome romantic comedy. Only Susan Slept Here was anything but wholesome: you could just about accept the teenager being attracted to Mark if she had daddy issues, that was because he looked and acted like her dad, rendering the romance when it arrived quite a bit more unsavoury. The impression was that the sleaze not quite hidden in the comedy went further than anyone intended, and with its wordless musical sequence spelling it all out you didn't buy that the film was a bit of harmless froth for one minute. Music by Leigh Harline.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Frank Tashlin  (1913 - 1972)

American director whose films were heavily influenced by his years spent working in cartoons. In his 20s and 30s, Tashlin worked at both Disney and Warner Brothers in their animation studios, before moving into comedy scriptwriting in the late 1940s, on films like Bob Hope's The Paleface. Tashlin moved into directing popular live-action comedies soon after, with Hope in Son of Paleface, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis in Artists and Models and Hollywood or Bust, and most notably Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can't Help It and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? These films were full of inventive, sometimes surreal touches, and used many of the techniques Tashlin had learnt as an animator. Continued to work during the sixties, but without the success of the previous decade.

 
Review Comments (2)
Posted by:
Andrew Pragasam
Date:
16 Dec 2016
  I first saw this when I was thirteen and most of its unsavory aspects passed me by, for some reason. One of those films that hits you like a snowball in the face as you realize how far attitudes have shifted since the Fifties. Like Billy Wilder's The Major and the Minor viewed through the modern eyes the sleaziness of the premise is indeed troublesome. Yet taken as an artifact of its time this has wit and charm. As a kid I never quite grasped the appeal of Dick Powell as the lead but it is a thrill to see future grand dame of musical theater Debbie Reynolds looking so darn sexy. Susan more or less takes charge come the finale which slightly (very slightly) lessons the dodgier aspects of the romance. As guilty as I feel I still kind of love this movie.
       
Posted by:
Graeme Clark
Date:
16 Dec 2016
  I think the whole sense that they're getting away with something makes for "interesting" viewing, it has some smart lines and the presentation sparkles but, let's face it, it's like watching Debbie marrying her own dad!

Also, I don't know why it should be but it's weird to see Dick Powell in colour, this was the only film he made not in b&w; when you see his bright blue eyes you wonder why they didn't capitalise on them before.
       


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