Friday, December 18, 2009

Tonight's Movie: Susan Slept Here (1954)

It's Christmas Eve in Los Angeles, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell) unexpectedly finds himself housing a 17-year-old juvenile delinquent, Susan Landis (Debbie Reynolds), for the holiday. (It's a long story...just go with it.) Come Christmas Day, Mark's haughty but gorgeous girlfriend Isabella (Anne Francis) is horrified to phone Mark's apartment and hear a woman's voice confirming that SUSAN SLEPT HERE.

Before he knows what hit him, Mark finds himself spending Christmas whisking Susan off to Las Vegas for a quickie wedding in order to prevent her from going to jail. He intends it to be a temporary marriage in name only, but he hasn't counted on the determination of his besotted young bride.

The plot sounds hard to believe in this day and age, but the excellent cast carries it off. In the hands of these actors, a plot that could be distasteful is quite charming. (In that regard, the film made me think of THE MAJOR AND THE MINOR; the young girl falling for an older man also calls to mind ONCE MORE, MY DARLING.) It's fun to watch the wild Susan, who is already a talented cook, evolve into a well-dressed young homemaker determined to land her man. Powell has a couple really good, subtle moments where his face registers the change in his feelings for Susan. This was Powell's last starring film role.

One thing that would have made an enjoyable film better: the plot finds Powell and Reynolds having very limited interaction in the last third of the movie. I would have enjoyed it if the characters' relationship had grown while they were together, rather than apart.

Mark's apartment is simply one of the Best Sets Ever. Every inch of the design and decor is classic '50s, starting with the beautiful white artificial tree with the red balls. (It stirred memories for me of my grandparents' tree.) The kitchen radio, the stand mixer, the bar aquarium, the fish tiles on the patio, the porthole oven window, the "Noel" picture on the mantel...it's all real eye candy and frankly a major reason to enjoy the film.

Besides the lead actors, it's a pleasure to see Glenda Farrell as Mark's wisecracking secretary. Alvy Moore plays Mark's assistant, who was his former commanding officer in the navy. Rita Johnson has a marvelous scene as a psychiatrist; it's a shame she didn't have a larger role in the movie!

Les Tremayne plays Mark's attorney, pretty Maidie Norman is Mark's housekeeper, and Ellen Corby is a coffee shop waitress. Herb Vigran and Horace McMahon are Mark's buddies on the police force. There's an amusing cameo role near the end which I'll leave a mystery.

SUSAN SLEPT HERE was directed by Frank Tashlin. It was filmed in eye-popping, glorious Technicolor and runs 98 minutes. The lovely song which plays at key moments is "Hold My Hand," sung by Don Cornell. It's going into my iPod this weekend...

SUSAN SLEPT HERE has been released on video. It has not had a DVD release. It can be seen on Turner Classic Movies, where it next airs on Christmas Day; click here for a page to sign up for TCM to email a reminder. The trailer can be seen at TCM here.

John Nolte recently selected SUSAN SLEPT HERE as No. 21 on his list of 25 favorite Christmas movies. (He comments that Powell's apartment is the "Most Fifties Ever!") SUSAN SLEPT HERE is a fun film which also provides a nice change of pace for Christmastime viewing.

November 2010 Update: This film is now available on DVD-R in a remastered print from the Warner Archive.

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