Unforgivable movie (old, obscure, you don't care)

I have a secret: I am a Doris Day fan. I know, I know: gay gay gay gay gay. Still. She’s one of the greatest voices of the century (k.d. lang would probably sound different without Day’s influence). And there’s a vague Marilyn Monroe, Greta Garbo vibe: she retired in her prime, and has steadfastly refused all offers for a comeback. Plus, there’s the subversive feminism of some of her biggest movies. Sure, she was the “professional virgin,” who created the mythos of the “delayed fuck.” Her trademark movie role has her rebuffing the advances of a throbby bachelor until just before the credits roll, when she gives in and gives it up. Marriage, that is. But what’s subversive about this stuff is that, in all those movies, Doris Day always had the upper hand. She was not a bimbo who was eventually manipulated into marriage just for the sake of sex. She’s doing the manipulating. She’s the one who finally succeeds in playing the poor fish skillfully enough that HE comes around, in the end, and puts out with the house, the kids, the security. He never makes her HIS prisoner; he finally offers himself up to her, in unconditional surrender.

Anyway, except for this one time? I just watched The Tunnel of Love, 1958, on TCM. A “comedy” starring Day and Richard Widmark, who I’ll confirm was NOT cut out for comedies. In this not very funny movie directed by Gene (???) Kelly, Day and Widmark are a childless couple living in the wilds of Connecticut, in one of those sprawling Connecticut houses with exposed timbers, half doors, and flagstoned patios. (Remember when Lucy and Ricky moved to Connecticut? Remember when Cary Grant and Baby went to Connecticut to go gay all of a sudden? One of those houses.) First off, the frankness with which the issue of childishness becomes the central plot device is a bit weirding for a Doris Day, Production-Code-Era movie. The plot sets up that the “young” couple has applied to an adoption agency—oh, spoilers coming, if you care—but they’re also working closely with their doctor in their continuing attempts to have a child “of their own.” There are a few eye popping exchanges on that subject: Richard comes home from an exhausting summer commute from The City, and remarks to his neighbor buddy Gig Young that all he wants to do is “take a cold shower and go to bed.” Doris dashes in from shopping and runs upstairs to take her temperature. She dashes back down the stairs, calls the doctor’s office to tell them to expect her within a half hour, and excitedly tells Richard that “it’s up,” while holding the thermometer at a very suggestive angle. Richard, as dictated by the plot if not by believability, says, “Honey, all I want to do is take a cold shower and go to—all I want to do is take a cold shower.” He strenuously argues that he can’t expect to be “on tap” (!!!) any old time, and she calls the doctor and cancels. Then, she apologizes to her husband! I mean, !!!, right? He’s being an asshole. From a modern perspective, I’d say he’s acting out some kind of passive-aggressive need to exert some macho control over the situation, as well as possibly some fear of actually being a father when it comes down to it. But is any of this explored, or even acknowledged? No! We’re clearly expected to be on his side here!

Next item on the plot agenda. They’ve been told to expect an investigator from the adoption agency. Guess what happens? Richard, still on his way to the shower, is wearing a button down shirt and boxers, and carrying a towel. He sees a mouse. He swats at the mouse all over the room with the towel. The doorbell rings. Richard sarongs the towel and answers, to see . . . a beautiful woman with a French accent. (Seriously, I couldn’t make this stuff up.) He invites her in, assuming from her cryptic screenwriter’s hints that she’s collecting for charity. He offers her a drink, then whips of the towel to go tearing around after the mouse some more. Meanwhile, he’s had a couple drinks. She asks him pointed questions. “They say that people drink to escape. What are you trying to escape, Mr. Widmark? [or whatever]” He twinkles, “The ravages of alcohol.” She asks him what ages of a child’s life are the most important, developmentally. “Five to seven,” he says, “because that’s the cocktail hour!” Seriously. Then right on cue, Gig comes in. Richard steps out, I forget why, at which point Gig, who’s been put down as the prospective parents’ character reference, tries to pick up the smokin’ French dame. The wives come in, the deception is revealed, the French dame leaves, tears and anger and feigned innocence all around. The wives retreat to next door, the husbands commiserate. Gig convinces Richard that he needs to relax: that if he weren’t so uptight these kinds of things wouldn’t happen. If he chased tail like Gig did, then he’d probably even be relaxed enough to finally get his wife pregnant! Seriously, !!! So Gig leaves, leaving behind a gift of tranquilizer tablets—“You need em more than I do!” Richard has another drink, and the doorbell rings again.

Still not making this up.

You know who’s at the door, right? Oui. Coming back to apologize for her hasty judgment. Offering to reconsider if they find another character reference. And then she goes, “I’ll take that drink now.” !!! Do I even have to go on?

Richard takes Gig’s advice and, long story not quite so long, wakes up in a motel with no memory of the previous evening, and a note thanking him for a lovely evening, written in a French accent. (Could that have been a veiled reference to a “French letter”? Nah.)

Cut to. A while later, Richard comes to Gig with a problem. The French broad has written him, needing his help. She’s pregnant. !!! (This is still being played for laughs, by the way, which is a source of great cognitive dissonance to me.) Richard borrows $1,000 from Gig to pay off the pregnant French chick; he’s to meet her at a church that afternoon. Cut to the backyard, a barbecue going on. Everyone’s there but Richard, who’s still at the church, presumably. Enter the French chick. Doris is thrilled to see her, of course, imagining she’s there on adoption agency business. In fact, she says, she knows of a prospective baby! They should be patient, but she might have good news for them in about 5 months. Richard, who’s shown up in the meantime, does a little math with his eyes, then goes pale. French chick tells the others that she has some followup questions of a personal nature for Richard, and takes him aside (“You were supposed to meet me at the church!” “Zere ahr four shurshes in ze village!”) to collect the check. She promises to pay it back; he insists he doesn’t want it back.

Still a comedy.

Five months later, Doris has discovered the missing $1000, and knows that her husband is lying about it, but doesn’t know why. Now the baby arrives. Doris grows suspicious when everyone points out the remarkable resemblance between the baby and his adoptive father. Richard grows a mustache to cover his guilt. Doris gets a baby picture from Richard’s mother which confirms her fears, confronts him, and he caves. She packs to leave (still a comedy). He begs, he pleads, the doorbell rings. No, really. Frenchie comes in, hands over a check for $1000, and just as Doris is about to rip out her throat, explains that she and her baby daughter are finally able to go join her husband, and Sank you so vehry mush for ze loan. It wasn’t his baby after all! The resemblance really WAS a coincidence! Everybody laughs through the fade.

Now, on how many levels was this movie just so very, very wrong?

I know! I saw this movie on television one night about fifteen years ago and the next day at work my coworker wouldn’t believe me! What a crazy weird non-comedic comedy movie. Yikes.

Wow, that sounds appalling. Pretty risque for the time, and it’s called The Tunnel of Love? :eek:

Also, what’s a French letter?

Why is it gay to like Doris Day?

I’d throw the leg over given the chance.

Well, assuming she wasn’t dead and was still in her 20’s.

Hell, her version of Que Sera Sera has been chanted by redblooded Mancunian football fans for years.

And based on the Broadway play of the same title. I wonder how different the movie is from the play, if at all.

A “French letter” is a condom.

That does sound like an unpleasant flick. Sometimes Turner Classic Movies doesn’t live up to the “Classic” part.

Wait a minute – Did Richard Widmark do the French chick, or not? And is Doris Day still childless at the end? I wonder if the play made more sense.

French letter = condom

Sorry, haven’t a clue as to the source of the term.

Damn you, Baldwin. :slight_smile:

There’s a great outtake from L.A. Story. Harris (Steve Martin) has lost his job as a TV weatherman and has a meeting with high-powered agent Harry Zell (played by John Lithgow). Harris is waiting for him in an outdoor restaurant. Zell arrives by jetpack. He takes off his helmet and has the most perfect, dark, thick hair you’ve ever seen. He pitches some ideas to Harris.

(from memory)

HARRY ZELL: There’s a movie I’m working on; it’s a comedy, about a young woman who gets raped on her honeymoon…
HARRIS: …you said this was a comedy?..
HARRY ZELL: …anyway, long story short, happy ending; it was the husband who raped her.
HARRIS: …uh…
HARRY ZELL: That could be very big at Christmas.

I wonder if Steve Martin had The Tunnel of Love in mind when he wrote that.

I was channel surfing last night when I noticed this movie was on. I didn’t stop to watch it but, from what you’ve described, it seems to be a perfect example of what Roger Ebert would later call “The Idiot Plot” (scan down).

Explanation I have read, but for which I have no cite:

Originally, a condom was a tubular length of animal gut which was tied at the end with some kind of ribbon and sealed with wax. Letters - that is, messages written on parchment or paper - were usually tied with a length of ribbon and sealed with wax. And of course, anything “French” is sexy and naughty.

True? No idea.

Rock Hudson ruined her for the rest of us.

Or 30s. Or 40s.

Me, I like her mostly because she reminds me of TV lawyer-babe Lis Wiehl.

As to Dick Widmark, I’m a big fan (in fact he was a frequent visitor to my cousin’s country store in Connecticut). No one better to play that cold-war, alpha-asshole, cast-iron tool of the establishment. See The Bedford Incident. Or Take the High Ground. The thought of him opposite DD in anything with a title like Tunnel of Love makes me wanna yak.

Click here to experience the cool yet bubbly Nordic dishyness that is Lis Wiehl.

Thanks for the definitions, folks. :slight_smile:

Part of me wants to track down this movie on video and subject my friends to it on one of our Bad Movie Nights.

Doing a little halfhearted research–in the spirit of vaguely wondering who caused the horrible accident that I just drove past–I discover a couple of interesting things: [ul]
[li]I’d forgotten that Richard and Doris’s characters’ names were Augie and Isolde. I’m not making this up.[/li][li]Augie was played, on Broadwy, by Tom Ewell, the ugliest man this side of Garrison Keillor, who inexplicably became typecast as a romantic-comedy lead, playing opposite Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch, and Jayne Mansfield in The Girl Can’t Help It. He musta been hung like a gotdamm horse.[/li][li]The author of the *primary source, the novel, was an editor of the New Yorker (Peter De Vries). He wrote the novel in the first person, from the Gig Young character’s POV. He’s a magazine editor who’s describing the adoption/adultery adventures of his next door neighbors. In the movie as well, Augie is a failed cartoonist, who keeps submitting his cartoons to his next door neighbor and having them rejected. Sounds like the novel might have been slightly more interesting. Slightly. The characters were at least more pathetic, which can be slightly more interesting.[/li][li]Peter De Vries also wrote the source novels for Pete ‘n’ Tillie *and Reuben, Reuben. Uncategorizable? Or just frequently mis-adapted?[/li][/ul]

You know, that’s not a bad idea. Starting out, I figured I was gonna delete it when done. But as it progressed in weirdness, I wondered if maybe I should record it, in case I ever need to prove I didn’t make it up. It would be a perfect “bad movie night” movie because, well, with all the professionals involved, its production values are top of the line. It’s not unwatchable. And its weirdness are so culturally curious that it’s fodder for lots of discussion. Bemused, incredulous discussion, but discussion.

Ok, TCM says they’re showing it again April 3rd at 12 PM (presumably Eastern time). I’ll make sure the TiVo is all set for it.

Just proving that all Englishmen, even footballers, are gay gay gay.

All Americans now this instinctually. Just as all Englishman know Frenchmen are entirely too sexual hence “French letters” because they’re the ones who need condoms all the time. And as all Frenchmen know Englishmen can’t have sex till they’ve been thrashed…preferable with nettles. Or, possibly, been made to watch a Doris Day movie.

I gotta give Richard Widmark his due: he started his career by pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a staircase. If a young actor did that today, he’d only thereafter get parts that called for pushing old ladies in wheelchairs down staircases. But Richard Widmark went from psycho crook to tough crook to tough cop, ending his career playing a tough senator; a pretty nice transition for someone with limited acting skills.

“Who will history blame? the bees…or me?”

Until he dies, I’ll always hope he can come back for a fourth and last pairing with Sidney Poitier. perhaps involving a wheelchair and a staircase.