Thursday, March 01, 2018

play → film: "Send Me No Flowers" (1964)

~directed by Norman Jewison from a screenplay by Julius Epstein, based on a play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore~
Even almost 60 years later, Doris Day and Rock Hudson remain the definitive dream team for film comedy, as well as top star attractions at New York's one-time premiere movie palace, Radio City Music Hall.

Ah, yes, Radio City Music Hall. When it closed for renovations in 1979, eliminating regular movie showings, it was truly the end of an era.

Anyway, "Pillow Talk" (1959) and "Lover Come Back" (1961) - the first two films to team Day and Hudson (and third banana Tony Randall) - were monster hits. But it's their third and final film - "Send Me No Flowers" (1964) - that remains their most original and wittiest collaboration.

"Send Me No Flowers" somewhat disengaged itself from the team's two previous films and their
proven narrative(s) in which Hudson plays a womanizer and Day is his coy prey. Here, they are a married (but childless) couple, and Hudson isn't a preening, virile stud but a whining, needy suburban husband suffering from a severe bout of hypochondria.

The "dual" opening sequence is one of the most alert in screen comedy. It's morning but Hudson's George Kimball is still asleep in bed, dreaming about all the commercials for medications that can cure his imagined medical problems: Nipsarin for pulsating headaches, Nauseadrine for clogged nasal passages and the "wonder-working" Garbagine for those unpleasant stomach problems.

Veteran scenarist Julius Epstein ("Casablanca," "No Time for Comedy," "Arsenic and Old Lace," "Fanny," "Tall Story" and too many more to mention), who adapted the play on which the film is based, was downright prescient, somehow anticipating the current ubiquity of drug commercials.

And the voices in the hilarious commercials that he invented for the film are highly recognizable. Character actor Herb Vigran (uncredited) describes the results of using Nipsarin and Nauseadrine; Garbagine, meanwhile, is hawked by no less than Herschel Bernardi (also uncredited).

Garbagine - what an apt name for an indigestion drug. Brilliant.

The second opening is even more brilliant. Day - as George's wife, Judy - is up and awake and as spry as only Doris Day can be. She's in her nightgown and bathrobe when she comes out of the house to collect the morning newspaper and the day's deliveries - "milk, yogurt, carrot juice, cottage cheese, organic honey (non-fat) and eggs (fertile)" - from the gossipy milkman (Dave Willock). Trying to balance all of this in her arms, Judy reaches to open the door but it closes and locks - on her robe. She's trapped. As she tries to get out of her bathrobe, each item drops one by one - the milk, carrot juice and the eggs, on which she promptly steps. In her fluffy slippers.

Director Norman Jewison stages this sequence as if it were vintage '50s animation. Day is a Looney Tunes character here - Bugs Bunny, if you will. At one point, she even tries to hide behind a porch post, à la Bugs. And composer (Frank) DeVol underlines the cartoonishness of the sequence with some playful music, orchestrated with "bo-ings!," "pops" and "crackles" by the great Joseph Gershenson (with a bow to Warner Bros.).

Tony Randall plays the Kimballs' neighbor and George's best friend, Arthur, who spends most of the film in a drunken stupor as he tries to write a eulogy when George becomes convinced that he is dying...
  • "When they made George Kimball, they threw away the mold." 
  • "They needed a good sport in heaven, so they sent for George Kimball - yes, George Pommerton Kimball."
...and then hilariously downgrading it in scene after scene, scratching out "unfailing good humor" and "faithful and devoted husband," as George morphs into the terminal patient's version of a bridezilla.

Randall is indispensable as always, but the star supporting player here is Edward Andrews who plays George's physician, Dr. Morrissey, who has an on-going, envy-based rant, a veritable comedy routine, about what other doctors, entitled specialists, are charging patients:
  • "Those lucky allergists. They keep hours just like a banker and make the same kind of money, too. I know one of them - built a $100,000 house on ragweed alone. When the pollen count goes up, it's just like the stock market!"
  • "A friend of mine, a gastroenterologist. He'd look at anything but gall bladders. He is absolutely cleaning up!"
  • "Dr. Peterson. Busy man. Biggest cardiologist in the city. Got a regular goldmine there!"
  • "I'm not a psychiatrist but, boy, they make a fortune!"
The aforementioned opening scenes of "Send Me No Flowers" were the work of Julius Epstein, but most of the film's clever dialogue, such as Dr. Morrissey's, comes directly from the 1960 play by Norman Barasch and Carroll Moore. One memorable one-liner follows another:

When George tells Arthur that he has some bad news, meaning his impending demise, Arthur asks, "It's nothing that's going to affect property values, is it?" The second half of the film has George intent on finding a second husband for Judy, although he rejects - and resents - the obvious choice, Judy's college sweetheart, Bert (Clint Walker). "Are you mad?," George says to Arthur, "Judy marry that cornball. Why I'd live first!"

George then records a farewell message: "My dearest Judy, by the time your hear this tape, I will be dead. Yes, my hypochondria has finally paid off..."  And when Judy suspects his strange behavior may have something to do with infidelity, George reassures her: "Judy, my time is up. That's right. Time for another pill.  I'm serious. I'm dying. The old ticker. Isn't that better than having another woman?" Hudson's deadpan delivery is perfect throughout.

The play "Send Me No Flowers" opened in New York on December 5th, 1960 at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, starring David Wayne and Nancy Olson as George and Judy Kimball. Frank Merlin played Dr. Morrissey, Peter Turgeon had the role of Arnold and Richard McMuarry played Bert. James Dyas directed. The reviews were mixed and the show had a short run, very short - 40 performances in all, closing on January 7th, 1961.

But executives at Universal liked what they saw and thought it had greater potential as a film. Epstein expanded the play - which took place entirely on one set, in the Kimballs' living room during a holiday weekend - and Jewison, a young Canadian filmmaker who directed Day (and Edward Andrews) with great success in "The Thrill of It All" a year earlier, in 1963, reunited with her for this occasion.

Jewison worked largely in television prior to becoming a Universal house director, making his debut in 1962 with Tony Curtis' comedy, "40 Pounds of Trouble." Next came the two Day films and then "The Art of Love," with James Garner and Dick Van Dyke, in 1965. He broke loose - and broke out - later that year with Steve McQueen's "The Cincinnati Kid," followed by "The Russians Are Coming!, The Russians Are Coming!," In the Heat of the Night," "The Thomas Crown Affair," "Gaily, Gaily," "Fiddler on the Roof" and "Jesus Christ, Superstar."

Click on photo to enlarge:
"Send Me No Flowers" premiered in New York at Radio City Music Hall on Thursday, November 12th, 1964. Turner Classic Movies will screen it @ 2 p.m. (est) on Sunday, March 4th, with Alicia Malone, host of FilmStruck, Turner's streaming service, providing pre- and post-screening commentary. Malone, who has recently been added as a full-time TCM host, refers to "Send Me No Flowers" as her favorite Doris Day-Rock Hudson pairing.

Notes in Passing: The very small uncredited role of Arthur's wife - seen briefly in a kitchen scene with Doris Day - is played by Patricia Crowley who, at the time, was about to start production on the TV version of "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," in the role that Day played in the 1960 film.

The fantasy dance sequence with Day and Clive Clerk was choreographed by David Winters who played A-Rab, a member of the Jets, in both the stage and film versions of "West Side Story."

And Hal March, who appears here as the neighborhood cad who sets his sight on Day, played the lead in Neil Simon's "Come Blow Your Horn" during the same 1960 Broadway season as "Send Me No Flowers." The Simon play made March, long a character actor in movies, a star. But Frank Sinatra inherited his role in the 1963 film version  of "Come Blow Your Horn." So "Send Me No Flowers" marked March's return to films.

At one time, there were rumors that Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan, best known for the 1998 Jennifer Love Hewitt vehicle, "Can't Hardly Wait," were talking with Universal about a possible remake. Never happened. But Universal might want to consider a new version with Jennifer Aniston and Jason Bateman in the Day-Hudson roles.  With Nancy Meyers directing?

Could work.

And, finally, the title song for "Send Me No Flowers," sung over the main titles by Day, was written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach. Curiously, the play also had a title song, penned by George Weiss and Will Lorin.

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* * * * *
(from top)

~Rock Hudson in the first opening scene of "Send Me No Flowers"
 ~photography: Universal 1964©

~Poster art for the 1964 film of "Send Me No Flowers"

~Hudson in "Send Me No Flowers"
~photography: Universal 1964©

~Doris Day in the second opening scene of "Send Me No Flowers"
~photography: Universal 1964©

~Edward Arnold as Dr. Morrissey in "Send Me No Flowers"
~photography: Universal 1964©

~Day and Hudson as Judy and George Kimball in "Send Me No Flowers"
~photography: Universal 1964©

~Playbill and poster art for the 1960 play of "Send Me No Flowers"

~The Radio City Music Hall Program for "Send Me No Flowers"

~TCM host Alicia Malone
-photography: Turner Classic Movies 2017©

~Day and Clive Clerk dancing in "Send Me No Flowers"
~photography: Universal 1964©

~Day as Judy Kimball in "Send Me No Flowers"
~photography: Universal 1964©


Mike Schlesinger said...

Saw this film when it first came out and loved it; it's still my favorite of the trilogy.

But a big harrumph, harrumph to you for not mentioning Paul Lynde, in one of his best movie roles as the cheerfully pushy mortuary salesman.

Small correction: The full title is "The Thrill Of It All."

Kevin Barry said...

Great article, as usual, with delicious background information, which is why I always smile when I see that you have posted a new entry. You kindled fond memories of seeing this film at the Music Hall. Doris Day is still egregiously underrated. I saw The Pajama Game again recently and she is splendid in it. Her number with John Raitt (There Once Was a Man) is beautifully timed and performed. Any idea why this huge movie star, who was also a top-selling vocalist, has been overlooked for an honorary Oscar?

joe baltake said...

Mike Schlesinger- Ouch! Thanks for the catch. Yes, "The Thrill of It All. Corrected. Blame it on my hasty fingers. And, yes, Paul Lynde’s first scene as the gleeful manager of the cemetary – “A sort of Levittown of the hereafter,” as Hudson puts it. Witty performance.

Kevin Barry- Thanks. Great post. BTW, re “The Pajama Game,” Day sang all her songs in it "live." As for the Oscars, I’ve read numerous times that she’s been approached but made it clear that, while she was flattered, she wouldn’t come in person to accept it. She’d rather not attend. So the Academy passed. I can’t blame her, given the reaction that Kim Novak received when she appeared as a presenter with Matthew McConaughey a few years ago. Social media was terribly rough on her. Novak is in her 80s – so, no, she doesn’t look the way she did in "Vertigo." Still, show or no show, the Academy should honor Day. (A few years ago, Glenn Ford’s son lobbied on his father’s behalf and was ignored by the Academy. Not good.)


Dee said...

love, love, love this movie. Those 2 are perfection. And I love how Tony Randall's character keeps using "George"'s name in every line. Hilarious.

Mike Schlesinger said...

Well, you can't force someone to accept an award. If she doesn't want it, then her wishes should be respected, much as it may disappoint the rest of us.

Sheila said...

I agree with Mike - that if Doris declined, then it's a "no." On the other hand, I don't know why her appearance has to be mandatory. They should respect her decision but also find a way to honor her.

joe baltake said...

Great compromise, Sheila!

Peter Warner said...

Why can't the Academy people work with Day and do a carefully controlled taping of her saying thank you from her home? It would be nifty if was surrounded by some of her animal companions. She could use it to promote her Doris Day Animal Foundation.

Sisse D. said...

Hey! Doris Day will be 96. She is overdue not only for an Honorary Oscar but a serious evaluation. As Kevin Barry said, she's outstanding in "The Pajama Game," but also in "Love Me or Leave Me," "Pillow Talk," "It Happened to Jane," that "other Jane" (as in Calamity), "Julie," "Young at Heart" and "Midnight Lace." Her two films with Norman Jewison are my particular favorites.

Vanessa said...

Thanks for the thorough analysis of a great little comedy with an especially nimble performance by Doris Day. She was always great. They don't build stars like her anymore.

wwolfe said...

My wife and I watched this on TCM this past weekend. While its her favorite of the Day/Hudson movies, it was the first time I'd seen it. I was pleased by how much I enjoyed it, and by how funny the script was. (In general the 1960s was not a high point for American film comedy, in my opinion.) One small example: Day, Hudson, and Randall are at a country club dance, where Clint Walker is flirting with Day. Walker, who is so enormous he makes the sizable Hudson look tiny, has one leg resting casually on the knee of the other, with his foot dangling close to Randall's face. Randall does a nice double-take as he first notices the enormity of Walker's foot and then grasps what that size signifies about Walker's other assets. It's a moment that would not have been out of place in an early 1930s Lubitsch comedy.