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Monday, November 10, 2014

A Seeming Century Since This Comedy

Cary Grant/Doris Day Together in That Touch Of Mink (1962)

Dated as in woefully so, That Touch Of Mink revolves around effort of a character played by a thirty-eight year old actress to preserve her virginity in face of onslaught by Cary Grant, a figure to whom any woman would be presumed to happily surrender, whatever her up-to-then vow of chastity. Did all this happen but fifty-two years ago? In view of changed culture, you'd think it was ante-bellum set, or Jane Austen derived. By time That Touch Of Mink showed up for network television in 1968, the revolution had been fought and won, Mink morality already buried in a past, and yet NBC enjoyed smash ratings the ongoing preserve of Doris Day films when they tube- premiered. Was her stuff already being watched for camp, quaint irony, or wistful nostalgia for standards thrown since aside? Day got a much-quoted jibe from Oscar Levant, who said he knew her "before she was a virgin." DD was too popular a name for anyone to mock seriously, but had to know by late 1960's that it was time to chuck in a towel on features and stick to TV, where purity, if relative, was still norm. In fact, her late feature effort, Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?, acknowledged the Day jokes by poster-posing her with a book called "The Reluctant Virgin." By then she was past forty, so honestly, how could such a gag work on any level? It would be her next-to-last for theatres.

That Touch Of Mink was lurching engine driven by co-producing Day and Grant (him billed first). Neither were known for extravagance, especially him, so shortcuts are taken re Bermuda-set location (neither went, second unit only), similarly shot NYC sights that go to Universal backlot when G/D enter the scene. Still, Mink is handsome in that scope/color 60's way, and is absolute glossary on high living as enjoyed by those who had money and leisure enough at the time, Grant a tycoon even class warriors could love. If charm is rewarded by cash, which of course it often is, then Grant has come by his naturally. I wonder why he wasn't loaded in every film he made (in fact, by the mid-50's, his characters pretty much were). A man so magnetic just has to have gathered up all of what material reward life can give. Doris Day varies her part but slightly, no longer a career "girl" here, but a habituĂ© of unemployment lines, where she's preyed upon by sleazy gov't clerk John Astin (did state/federal offices complain over negative depiction?). Day has ethics further protected by braying roommate Audrey Meadows, who supplies a loud voice of conscience throughout, as does Gig Young, playing the Tony Randall part (they'd more-or-less alternate) as Grant's economist who'd rather be back among the noble poor. Gig has a psychiatrist, of course, which tags him right off as weak, food for latter-day thought is how desperately this actor needed such support in offscreen life, considering how his ended.

The shrink gets notion (mistaken) that Gig is gay, which convinces him the man is unbalanced --- imagine any flick pulling that routine today. The Pillow Talk cycle ran to misunderstandings that lasted a whole of run times, little sidebars that got explosive laughs because confusion was always based on some or other sexual outrage. The jokes still work because they get over quick and are spoof of values long since abandoned. When were unwed mothers last a basis for shock, then mirth? Grant is a wolf in millionaire's clothing who's presumed to keep a home for wayward girls handy as personal resource. Howl-arious, huh? They sure thought so in 1962. I can just hear gales at the Music Hall where most of Cary's opened (including this one). To be frank though, the cycle wasn't for him, and with Doris Day, CG was mismatched. He was by the 60's, and his own 60's, better paired with elegance that was Audrey Hepburn (so long as they had to sparkle young to his twilight), or ones that wouldn't pull excruciating drunk acts like Doris here. You wonder if notoriously picky Grant, debased in an outright sex comedy, didn't examine that moment and guess he'd made an error committing to That Touch Of Mink.

Just Reach In and Be Fed at the Automat

But there are compensations aplenty. What I remembered best from seeing That Touch Of Mink first on NBC was scenes set in an automat, a spot I requested we see when the family visited Gotham a couple years later. Yes, this was a magic place. You could stick your hand through a little slot and come out with chocolate pie. Could life get better? The setting for Mink, captured for real only in a NY establishing shot, was Horn and Hardart's Manhattan Automat, one of many such establishments swept off by fast food to come. Part of romance of retro is imagining we could still dine in such places. Closest there still is, at least where I live, is a K&W Cafeteria chain, but their dishes aren't viewed through mini-windows. What I don't recall, but wish I could: did Automat food taste good? It's easy to imagine comedy writers for radio and TV sitting middle-of-night at Horn and Hardart's and getting gag ideas set in such a place. There is something inherently funny about meals served through a wall with tiny portholes.

Commercial tie-ins are all over That Touch Of Mink. The thing is fairly infested with them. At this, movies took their cue from television, product placement no longer nixed for features. When disillusioned Doris boards a gleaming Greyhound bus for home that is Upper Sandusky (how could anyone be from Upper Sandusky?, the film asks), we get lingering look at exterior of this luxury land yacht, visual reminder that for next travel, it's best to Go Greyhound. Since buses won't traverse water, there is Pan-American to take off and land in glory of Panavision, another pointed suggest of how we might spend vacation. You can't fault a show so blatant in promotion of outside product, audiences by 1962 long used to selling that was more than suggestive. Consumerism surpasses sex as engine that drives That Touch Of Mink, the 60's a second go-go decade for spend of disposable income, a lifestyle for which Doris Day served as High Priestess. She's manor born to a private fashion show at Bergdorf-Goodman, even if playing at out-of-work and living by wits w/hard-luck Audrey Meadows. That Touch Of Mink stops dead for clothing ritual, latest styles a priority to suspend our focus on story and stars. This had happened in movies before, most memorably in 1939's The Women, and is as welcome an artifact in Mink's 1962 time capsule.

Topper to all this conspicuous consumption was cameos by bigger at the moment than movie stars Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Yogi Barra, who are seen not at bat, but doing brief comedy in the Yankee dugout with Grant and Day. This was a sort of spike that made husbands and boyfriends come willingly to a Doris Day romcom, more of strategy that put That Touch Of Mink among top trio of grossers for its year. The Day cycle of unbroke success wouldn't sustain long beyond this. A reunion with Rock Hudson, Send Me No Flowers, would miss magic of their first two pairings, bow to her maturity pushing DD toward marital farce from here on. She'd become as known for gauze and filters used to arrest age as increasingly labored comedy that fought on-come of changed times. Her image would take a coaster ride from irrelevance to rediscovery to for-keeps appreciation, the latter a consensus as Day and fans celebrates 90 years. That Touch Of Mink's negative floated years with a handful of Cary Grants, seldom in a good print until now with Olive's Blu-Ray, as clear and wide as we've seen this show in half a century.


Blogger Mike Cline said...

It took the World's Fair to get me to NYC. That was 1964. I had wanted to visit ever since seeing KING KONG for the first time. That was 1957.

But, because of my seeing THAT TOUCH OF MINK a bit earlier, one of my "musts" was eating at the Automat. It was everything I had hoped, short of seeing Audrey Meadows at the other end of the food slots.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Bill O said...

Levant actually said "I knew her before before she was a virgin", having co-starred in her first film, her character then a lot less uptight. Aside from this being far inferior to the first two Doris/Rocks, the surprising factor is Cary's undisguised indifference to Doris. You can almost catch him daydreaming of Irene Dunne.

10:39 AM  
Blogger Kevin K. said...

I got to experience the Automat's dying days several times. And the food was about as good as you'd find in a frozen TV dinner or a fast-food joint. You went for a cheap, moderately-edible meal -- and, if you were like me, just to be able to say, "I ate at the Automat" when it became into history. The one meal I remember was spaghetti & peas, which gives you an idea of what it was like.

As for Doris Day... all I know of her movies were the previews. And even as a youngster, I never got what her sex appeal was supposed to be. Cary Grant's supposed to be crazy for her? Only for the box office receipts.

11:03 AM  
Blogger Dave K said...

THAT TOUCH OF MINK is the movie everyone thinks Day made with Rock Hudson. In the actual trio she made with RH, and even older items like TEACHER'S PET or PAJAMA GAME, the lady's virginity is never a given.

1:11 PM  
Blogger Randy Jepsen said...

The automat scenes are what I remember from this film from the network showings. I, too, wanted to be able to go and eat there.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Kevin Deany said...

EASY LIVING (1937) with Jean Arthur and Ray Milland, has a great food fight scene set in an Automat. Preston Sturges wrote the screenplay.

11:09 AM  
Blogger Jerry Kovar said...

I'm surprised RKO didn't pair it with a western for the male audience. They had hooked me into seeing Pillow Talk (with Four Fast Guns) and Lover Come Back (Six Black Horses), Send Me No Flowers (Taggart).

12:12 PM  
Blogger Michael said...

"When were unwed mothers last a basis for shock, then mirth?"

I can believe that was thought once, the one that floors me is Blessed Event's underlying premise, that merely reporting that a married couple is expecting was shocking. You start to wonder how the species perpetuated itself...

5:12 PM  
Blogger John McElwee said...

Craig Reardon considers Cary Grant and Doris Day contributions to "That Touch Of Mink":

Not much to say about "That Touch of Mink" other than to offer that I was certainly alive and ambulatory at the time and remember seeing the posters in the glass cases, typical of the day, advertising the film. I've read that Cary Grant actually LOVED this movie, and why? Because it was SO successful. He had the heart of a businessman in many ways, though not only, as anyone seeing his work could not be persuaded he took no interest in acting, at least as a professional. However, it's been pointed out many, many times that he turned down many movies he was offered that turned out to be beloved classics, often in deference to ones which were and remain wet firecrackers. He very nearly turned down both "North by Northwest" AND "Charade", interestingly-similar and also both highly entertaining and stylish movies. I'm sure nobody was going to tell Cary Grant what to do, EVER, and perhaps that's a bit of a shame! But, one I can think of he turned down actually turned out better for it---in my opinion, anyway---that being Billy Wilder's "Sabrina", where Humphrey Bogart replaced Grant in the role he was intended to play (the memorably-named Linus Larrabee, though that name as well as most of the story and perhaps dialog too were the creation of Samuel Taylor, it bears saying.) As for Doris Day, I've always been rather intrigued by the fact, and again 'fact' ought to be modulated back into 'my opinion', that when she's acting peeved or perplexed, her face looks quite plain; but, when she smiles, she's almost beautiful as any other movie star! (But then again, we've both agreed that even someone like Agnes Moorehead fits this description!) I listen frequently to a program on Sirius Radio called 'Sirius-ly Sinatra', featuring not only the immortal Frankie, but many of his great contemporaries, men and women both. And unfortunately, in my opinion, the station NEVER identifies the vocalists, only the song titles. This makes for no annoying voice-interruptions, but often I'd love to be reminded who I'm listening to! I can't always tell, you see. BUT, some singers simply need no identification. I'll skip the males, because my point here is that whenever Day is featured, there is NO DOUBT, EVER, that it is she. Here utterly distinctive and superbly-controlled voice is absolutely unmistakable. What's more, I have to say that her renditions of standards one hears sung by virtually all the other singers featured on this station (I notice that they play Frank Sinatra ever 3rd tune) are of as high a quality in terms of interpretation and sheer vocal beauty as when they're also sung by such immortals as Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Peggy Lee, Edie Gorme, Barbra Streisand, and only a few others. Happy 90th birthday to Doris Day, indeed.

2:10 PM  

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