Monday, August 15, 2011

Boys' Night Out


While the 1962 "bedroom farce" comedy Boys' Night Out was not a critical or financial success, if you're a fan of films like the classic romantic comedy Pillow Talk, this is a film not to be missed. Both of these films were helmed by director Michael Gordon, who made sure that Boys' Night Out displayed the same glossy, sophisticated style as its more famous predecessor, a classic of the genre. This was also the first and only picture Kim Novak made under the auspices of her own production label - and though it didn't do well enough to warrant subsequent projects, it's one of my favorite Novak films. She positively sparkles in this comedy, and personality-wise reveals a vivacity and spunk largely absent from many of her earlier roles that required her to be little more than a pretty face (i.e. Vertigo). Arguably Novak's romantic lead, James Garner, benefited the most from this film - prior to this film, his most notable credit was the TV show Maverick, after Boys' Night Out, his big-screen leading man status exploded with appearances in The Great Escape, The Thrill of It All, and Move Over, Darling.

Bachelor Fred (Garner) is one of four friends - George (Tony Randall), Doug (Howard Duff), and Howard (Howard Morris) - who have a weekly "boys' night out" scheduled, where they usually go out for drinks and talk about doing something, like going bowling. In short, they're in a rut. During one of their less than satisfying "nights of freedom," the guys witness Fred's boss out on the town with his latest girlfriend. Seeing the very married boss by all appearances successfully keeping a "love nest" apartment in the city away from the prying eyes of his wife gets the three frustrated married men to thinking. If they split expenses, perhaps they could swing their own "love nest" getaway in the city - 1 apartment, 1 girl, 4 guys = enterprising thinking, right? *rolls eyes*

The three married guys and the issues they have with their respective home lives are FLIPPIN' HILARIOUS. Doug loves home repair, but his wife Toni (Anne Jeffreys) is too status-conscious to let him work on any project around the house ("what would the neighbors think?" "that we're living within our means!"), squashing every opportunity he gets to "be a man" and shop at hardware stores. Howard is green with envy over the food his three boys get to eat - since his wife Joanne (Patti Page - she also provided the film's theme song) is on a strict diet, he has to starve in order to support her. George - *sob* - only wants to finish a flipping sentence, a luxury his wife Marge (Janet Blair) never allows.

Tony Randall as George is by far my favorite supporting character in this film. The territory of bumbling sidekick or wannabe lothario is familiar and comfortable territory for Randall, as he's played similar roles with equally memorable and hilarious results in films like Pillow Talk, The Mating Game, and Send Me No Flowers. I just ADORE Tony Randall, and in this film (as is the case in many of his other comedies from this period) he's apt to steal the screen every time he appears with his facial expressions and line delivery. During the commuting scenes, Randall gets the best moments as he always starts an off-color story, the bulk of his narrative getting drowned out by passing trains - but Randall sells the moment with his gestures. *wink*  

Ironically, Fred the single guy is the only one with any reservations about this "love nest" scheme. Sure he'll never be able to find an apartment in the necessary (and CHEAP) price range, he agrees to look and stumbles upon an unexpected jackpot. Real estate agent Peter Bowers (Jim Backus of Gilligan's Island fame!) agrees to rent him a posh apartment for a ridiculously low amount, because the previous tenant had the dubious distinction of being the murder victim in a recently sensationalized case. Before you can say "boys' night out," Cathy (Novak) appears, interested in a rental advertisement, but conveniently the living, breathing, embodiment of the boys' "perfect girl" advertisement for their love nest shenanigans. Cathy however, has an ulterior motive - she's a sociology graduate student, seeking real-world examples for her thesis on "adolescent fantasies of adult suburban males" (PLENTY of fodder for her thesis in this group, HA).

With Cathy firmly ensconced in the apartment, the "games," if you will, begin - and this little comedy sparkles as talk and innuendo fly, while nothing ever actually happens. Boys' Night Out only hints at anything immoral, and in the end comes out squarely in favor of marriage and commitment. The married "boys" in question don't really want a mistress, as Cathy posits to her thesis advisor, they've just been sold on the idea that they "should" want one, as her strictly platonic evenings with them confirm. Cathy is a listening ear, and ironically once they've talked to her the guys become better husbands (which in turn is what raises the suspicions of their ever-lovin' wives).

As the only male properly eligible to fall for Cathy, Garner is just adorably sincere as the smitten suitor who longs to "rescue" Cathy from her road-to-nowhere life of SIN and DISSIPATION. His jealousy over the time Cathy spends with his three friends is all the funnier because we know nothing untoward is happening - and it all culminates in a nightmare that takes the form of a silent movie spoof, where Randall is cast as the evil lothario and Garner is Novak's white knight. It's easy to see from this film the early big-screen evidence of Garner's viability as a romantic leading man - he projects just the right blend of charisma, emotional vulnerability, and comedic chops that a thoroughly appealing leading man must have (at least in my world). :) All this and in Boys' Night Out, Garner lives with his mother - a delightfully snarky Jessie Royce Landis (a favorite of mine thanks to her turn as Cary Grant's mother in North by Northwest).

Sure, on the premise of Boys' Night Out is ridiculous. But if you're in the market for smartly scripted, fast-paced, glossy escapist entertainment, you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by this little 1962 gem. Chock-full of FABULOUS 1960s sets and clothes, with a swingin' fun score provided by Frank De Vol, for my money Boys' Night Out is a fun, sassy little romantic comedy that deserves to stand as a classic of its time.

7 comments:

Ella said...

Hey, I might not be a Kim Novak fan, but I do love a silly chick flick. I should add this to my list.

I have to agree, Tony Randall always steals the show =D

heidenkind said...

Totally random question: do you know if the people who wrote Down With Love were trying to reference Kim Novak with Barbara's name?

Ruth said...

@Ella - Isn't Tony Randall great? I love him. :) And you might be surprised by Kim Novak in this film, she seems to be having a lot of fun! ;)

@heidenkind - Oooohhh...I don't know for sure, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if that was the case! Good catch!

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

I've seen this. It's pretty funny. Kim Novack rocks.

Ruth said...

@Juju - Agreed (and yay for another Kim fan!)! :)

Roving Reader said...

sounds fun! I've actually never seen anything with Kim Novak so this might have to be my first!

Ruth said...

@Roving Reader - Keep an eye out for TCM airings, it's really cute. I really like Novak in this film and Bell, Book, and Candle.