Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Sunday in New York

Another favorite movie during this crisp Autumn time is Sunday in New York. This 1963 sex comedy stars Jane Fonda as Eileen, who has taken a leave of absence from work to visit her brother in New York after being thrown over by boyfriend, Russ. The crux of the break up was Eileen's resistance to premarital relations and Russ isn't the first beau she's lost to her old-fashioned ideals. Eileen is convinced she's the last 22-year old virgin on Earth. Eileen's brother Adam, a philandering airline pilot, swears he himself is as virtuous and that her suppositions of commonplace immorality are all wrong. In the course of her first Sunday visiting, Eileen meet-cutes Mike (Rod Taylor) on a 5th Avenue bus. They spend the afternoon together and, after getting caught in a downpour, make a run back to brother Adam's apartment to dry off and have some hot drinks. It is during their afternoon's conversation that Eileen finds the negligee of one of Adam's girlfriends in the closet and she realizes his lie to her. Fired up by her brother's betrayal and tried of being protected, Eileen makes a pass at Mike, which he gladly accepts, until he realizes this is her first rod-eo (cowboy). Cut to the pair in bathrobes, Eileen on the couch crying and Mike stalking around the apartment, smoking like a chimney. A girl has to start somewhere but it's not going to be with him. While recovering from their failed seduction and Mike waxing eloquent that Eileen's a nice girl and should stay that way, Russ (boyfriend) appears and eagerly proposes to his berobed love, before turning to Mike and greeting him as Adam, presuming him to be Eileen's brother. Well, the ruse would work just fine, but, of course, actual-Adam now appears and has to be played off as a friend to fake-Adam-Mike. Actual-Adam is quick to pick up on the situation and none too happy at the idea of his sister alone in the apartment with a strange man. Farce ensues as the trio struggles with how to tell Russ about the mistaken identities without losing the marriage proposal.

The 1960s is my favorite time period for sex comedies, one, because I love vintage and two, because I feel for this time period of sexual repression and exploration. This is before the sexual revolution and women's liberation, when sex was just beginning to be something you could talk about. The tug between sexual freedom and accepted moral standards is just here beginning. In this film, the most that's ever accomplished is some kissing, though there is presumed getting undressed (off-screen), which is halted when Mike finds out Eileen is a virgin. It is this double standard that is the whole point of the movie and, sadly, one that still exists. A man is meant to sleep around before marriage, with women who know the score, but he ought to respect and marry a virgin.
Eileen: "You mean, if I call you next week and explain there've been others, it'll be alright."
Mike: "....Yes!"
Eileen: "Call me next week!"
To this day, a man is a stud if he can claim a heavily notched bedpost but a woman is still a slut for similar behavior. Don't get me wrong, I'm not hoping for a world where men and woman can proudly claim sexual conquests and are congratulated on their boudoir prowess. Instead, I'm hoping for a world where the beauty, grace, and respect due to sex are appreciated by both genders. Sex should be openly discussed and regarded, not something we're ashamed of but a subject dealt with dignity and maturity - not the cold, unflinching gaze of anatomy nor the sophomoric eye of lewdness. Too much to hope for?

During their post-seduction conversation Mike and Eileen share this bit of wisdom:
Mike: "Next generation is going to have it easier, be all clear cut by then, either yes or no. And, my hunch is, it's going to be no. Pendulum always swings back, always has....I don't believe morality ever really changes, not basically. People always have to start from scratch.....Palms perspired in the year 1800 and they'll perspire in the year 2000. Nature is constant. Beginner's will always be pure in heart..."
Eileen: "You ought to write a book. Everyone else thinks we're going to hell."
My first impression is the derisive laughter of one past the year 2000 but, after that, I find this an interesting point because I do and do not agree with it. I don't think any generation will have it easier because it will always be new on a personal level and "beginner's will always be pure in heart." But, I do not feel that the pendulum has swung back, if anything, I feel it's still swinging out from the '60s (Have you heard Tonight by Enrique Iglesias?). If we take morality as the social perception of an act then I do believe the pendulum is ever swinging but, if that's the case, then morality is changing. But is that morality? Is morality the perception of the act or is there some attribute inherent to the act that makes up its morality? But then again, in defense of "morality never really changes", premarital sex is not a new vice and, for much (all) of its existence, it has been considered just that, a vice. A common act that everyone (relatively speaking) engages in but everyone (relatively speaking) denounces as wrong. Was there a time (in conjunction with the institution of marriage) that premarital sex was morally acceptable? Are we heading toward such a time?

Anyway, other fun 1960s sex comedies, Sex and the Single Girl, Pillow Talk, and Down with Love (1960s-style, actually just a mash of up the former two). In all cases, love and marriage triumphs. Realistic or no?

P.S. Rod Taylor is one of my favorite romantic comedy leading men, though he did not do many. Look for him in The Glass Bottom Boat with Doris Day. He has a particular and wonderful laugh where he throws back his head and crows loudly. I don't know if this is his acting laugh or was true of himself but I love it.


  1. Another great yet scandalous era for sexual films is the pre-code Hollywood era.

    It was before censorship was enforced (hence the Pre-Code) and therefore the films of this era featured heavily sexualized images and themes. Interesting stuff to look at, for sure! It's like a slice of impurity in the 1920-1960 virginal cinema.

  2. That is one movie time period that I have always wanted to explore at greater depth. I've known it's there but, until the advent of Netflix, have not had much access. Definitely looking forward to seeing more.