"What do YOU know about motherhood?"
"I happen to have typed the script to STELLA DALLAS."
From its widescreen and color version of the RKO Radio Pictures logo to the delightful credit sequence consisting of stitched silk pink pillows, this technicolor comedy is like candy for cinephiles. I actually had to pause the movie at the beginning to snap a picture of that lovely RKO logo (you know - for posterity). And what better director to helm a movie like this than Frank Tashlin. While Tashlin has some weaker efforts at points, he still one of the best comedy directors of the 1950s. His sensibility is playful and feisty and has some cartoonish touches in terms of the humor and design of the movie. Tashlin actually worked on cartoons for a brief stint at the beginning of his career (after he dropped out of school at thirteen years old). His films are indelibly imbued with the goofy cartoon spirit though at it makes them lively stuff. There's a certain self awareness that you feel from his comedies that reminds you of Bugs Bunny breaking the fourth wall in one of his smart ass epithets. In fact, SUSAN SLEPT HERE opens with a kind of court wall breaking (right after the "Patty Duke Show" theme song-esque title tune finishes). It's no ordinary addressing the audience though. It's Oscar himself (as in the golden Academy Award statuette" speaking and giving a brief personal history. It reminded me of the voice over narration at the beginnings of those old Disney Goofy cartoon shorts. It's funny and clever and sets the tone immediately for this tongue in cheek farce of a film.
The setup is that Debbie Reynolds plays an seventeen year old delinquent girl who ends up in the apartment of a seasoned and cynical Hollywood screenwriter (played by Dick Powell). The narration I described earlier is Dick Powell's Oscar (which he won for best screenplay), is describing his owner and his owner's life. It's a cute setup, and just charming enough to not be obnoxious. The whole feel of the thing is like Billy Wilder-ish, but more heightened and leaning harder into the comedy. The dialogue is sharp and both Powell and Reynolds are a lot of fun. It ends up being an enchanting little farce about two resolutely different characters teaching each other a thing or two. Dick Powell is a favorite of mine. He always takes a back seat to William Powell in a lot of ways, but he's still an excellent comic and dramatic actor. Watch MURDER, MY SWEET to see exactly what I mean. This was actually Powell's last theatrical feature and it's a nice swan song. Debbie Reynolds is obviously a vibrant natural talent. She's a tiny bit theatrical here as Susan, but that may be part of the Tashlin design for all I know. There are lots more movies about Hollywood from around this time that are far more obnoxious than this one. There's a plot point in here that plays a little racier now then it would have back when the movie came out. It would probably be problematic now, but it's an innocent enough story for 1954. Though it still plays a little bit creepy, I find it to be quite endearing.
Also, the movie has a pretty amazing dream sequence. Tashlin was prone to these from time to time and often seemed to take page out of Busby Berkely's playbook when he did put them in his movies. The one in SUSAN SLEPT HERE is worthy of SINGIN' IN THE RAIN and it is pretty fantastic.
It's a pretty adorable film though and is well worth putting on your radar. It's a Christmas movie you can add to your yearly revisits or watch any time really.
The new Warner Archive Blu-Ray looks quite nice and shows off the Technicolor palette nicely. Especially that dream sequence. That looks absolutely stunning.
You can buy the Blu-ray here:
You can buy the Blu-ray here: