#1 – Phffft! (1954)
Judy Holliday, Jack Lemmon, and Jack Carson
Director: Mark Robson, Producer: Fred Kohlmar, Production Company: Columbia Pictures
After eight years of marriage, a lawyer and a successful television authoress decide to get a divorce. After they “phffft,” the husband’s playboy playwright friend tries to fix him up with ditsy girls, and the wife’s mother encourages her to find herself an attractive man, but they still find themselves drawn toward each other.
You may be surprised to see a 1954 film listed as my first un-Code film for #AMonthWithoutTheCode2020. This film was released on November 10, 1954, almost a month after Joseph Breen retired as head of the PCA, so it technically is a Shurlock Era film. I decided to start with this late 1954 film because it is a wonderful example of how quickly films started to move away from Breen Era standards. In the months before his retirement, Mr. Breen spent less and less time in the office, leaving self-regulation to his incompetent associates, who would soon let the whole film industry’s morals slide. This film is blatantly Shurlockian. It opens with husband Robert Tracey (Jack Lemmon) panting over a racy book which we hear him reading in overdubbed dialogue. Marriage and divorce are flippantly treated as subject matter for comedic dialogue. There is excessive focus on and discussion of beds, particularly an automatic bed which comes out of the wall in Nina’s (Judy Holliday) apartment; later, her mother (Luella Gear) wants her to have a round bed. Lecherous playwright Charlie Nelson (Jack Carson) talks to and about women in very suggestive ways, particularly in his dissertation on the theory of laughers and criers. Janis (Kim Novak) is a dumb blonde tramp who wears low necklines and shamelessly finishes dressing in front of male escorts. A kissing scene between Janis and Robert on a tiger skin rug is uncomfortably excessive. In short, this is a very funny movie with great acting and some enjoyable moments, but it is actually embarrassing at times, at least to sensitive Code girls like me. It was only released ten months after Jack Lemmon’s first film, It Should Happen to You, but the difference between Phffft! and his only real Breen Era film are like night and day. Do you miss the Code yet? I do.
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