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REVIEW: Laurel Stevens (Jane Russell) has a new movie premiering called The Kidnapped Bride, a sexy new romantic thriller that is so hot the censors cut some of the scenes. Stevens wants it reinstated or she’s going to break her contract and not show up at the premiere. When her agent secures the deal, her limousine arrives to take her to the theater. Problem is, it is not from the studio. She quickly learns that she is being kidnapped, which seems preposterous since she’s supposedly on her way to a film that features just that. Surely it’s a publicity stunt, she muses, but a sharp smack from her kidnapper sets her straight. This is the real deal. But not to worry. It’s also a comedy.
They drive Stevens to a Malibu beach house and give her a . . . wait for it, fuzzy pink nightgown to wear and tell her they are going to ask for a $50,000 ransom. This is upsetting to Laurel. The nightgown and the ransom, not because she fears no one will pay, but that she’s worth ten times that amount. Meanwhile, the studio grows anxious when she doesn’t show up to the premiere, but to avoid a scandal, they decide not to report her missing to the police. They figure it’s some kind of stunt and believe audiences will turn on their biggest star if they are duped. They await some news.
Directed by Norman Taurog (Boys Town), and based on a novel by Sylvia Tate, this very light comedy has one selling point and runs with it from start to finish: Jane Russell. Fourteen years earlier, she’d made her Hollywood debut in The Outlaw, a film that took years to release due to the fervor over the size, shape, and prominence of Ms Russell’s chest. It made her a megastar and her buxom figure became her defining characteristic. Her sex appeal is what made her a star and she spent her career making sure that’s what brought people into theaters. With The Pink Fuzzy Nightgown, she doesn’t exactly break new ground as she portrays a movie star who makes sexy films, and while sensibilities have certainly changed in the past decades, a frilly, loose, foot to chin, buttoned-up fuzzy pink (which means little considering the film is entirely in black & white) nightgown doesn’t really exude the same sexiness as the skin-tight low-cut blouse that made her famous. Even still, the film makers tried their hardest to make it seem lustful, with soldering, sassy music and Russell forever twirling her hair and tilting her hips.
The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown was co-produced by Russell and her husband Robert Waterfield, and probably due to its enormous box office performance, was the last audiences would see of Russell on screen for nearly eight years. The film itself is about as innocuous as a movie can get, never taking itself seriously and fitting very comfortably into the style of the times but there’s no surprises here, and the mix of screwball comedy and light romance just falls flat throughout. Still, as a piece of nostalgia, there is some fun to be had, simply for the joy of watching how it was done in this era. By no means a good example of what she was capable of, Russell still sells herself as the sexpot, and since she embraces this right from the start, there’s a kind of silly glee in watching her shimmy and sway about the screen, breathlessly reading her lines with every ounce of slinky sensuality she can muster.
Scene Set-up: Laurel has been kidnapped and her kidnappers take her to their secret hideout along the beach. In a bungalow they’ve secured, they explain the situation and ask her to change from her shimmering evening gown (she was on her way to the premiere) into the eponymous attire. In a show of defiance, she quickly wrapped the gown around one of the kidnappers head’s and reaches for the gun in his pocket, which turns out to me a smoking pipe (and because this is comedy, she doesn’t realize it’s a pipe even though she holding it in her hand).
The two men are not pros at this. Dandy (Keenan Wynn), works for an airline but wasn’t to travel first class for once in his life, and wants a new start. Mike (Ralph Meeker) just got out from 98 days in the clink. Mike’s the hard-nosed one and Dandy (the name says it all) is the softy. Dandy is concerned with the rough stuff, but Mike says they gotta play it serious. “She’s all hooks,” he warns. “Don’t get hung up on one of them.” Dandy leaves to bring back the limousine to the airport while Mike stays for the first watch.
Meanwhile, Laurel is in the bathroom, supposedly changing into the nightgown, but she naturally tries to escape instead through a window but also naturally, stumbles and tumbles (off camera) into the tub so that when we do see her inside, she’s buried under the rod, the curtain, the clothes hamper and the stool she used to reach the window. The only thing missing is a whaw-whaaw sound effect.
Once in the gown, Laurel comes out of the bathroom and there is Mike, sitting on the sofa smoking his pipe and reading a magazine, apparently uninterested in the fact that he has a kidnapped Hollywood movie starlet in his house wearing a fuzzy pink nightgown. But she’s not giving up yet.
The Scene (Timestamp:00:18:58): Mike dismisses her attempts at getting attention. Her hair twirling and sashaying have little effect, or so it seems. When she steals away into the kitchen to make a sandwich, she notices a telephone and tries to sneak a call, but Mike, who nonchalantly tells her there is a lock on the phone, continues to read and smoke with no care in the world. They say this to each other:
It doesn’t phase Laurel. She comes back into the living room and tries a different approach, this time appealing to the warm side, which Mike professes he doesn’t have. She gets closer to him and begins her seduction, rubbing a finger on his shoulder, then moves behind him, resting her head on his back, teasing him about what makes a real gangster. He resists, so she then makes what seems like a financial offer, an installment plan she promises him if he takes her home right now, just the two of them. She thinks she sees right through him, telling him no gangster sits in front of a warm fire with a soft sweater drinking coffee. She says she knows real men. He looks her over and replies that she’s selling kinda hard, but she says she ain’t selling, she’s buying. She inches closer and she kisses him, which he doesn’t reciprocate at first, but then embraces her and kisses her deeply. At least deeply for a 1957 movie. The music swells and all the hints are there that she’s won him over. When they at last separate, she wears a soft satisfied smile, but he says, “No deal.”
Angrily, he moves to the sofa and verbally lets her have it. He’s no fool and her silly “performance” doesn’t work. He knows she acting and he’s much smarter than she takes him for. Cold and clearly cynical, Mike is hardened by a past we know little about, not that it matters. What’s important is that Mike sees the glamorous film star as property, something to be traded for money, and that’s all. Her charms, which are already melting away Dandy’s weaker side, are only making Mike more aggravated. The scene ends with her mocking him with a hardy-har-har-har and whip of her hips, which he responds to with a curled up magazine, tossing it at her as she runs into her bedroom.
There’s something about this whole moment that stands out from the rest of the movie, as from here, things get very predictable as she joins the men in their scheme, changing her hair color and hiding out, effectively setting up an ending that relieves the men of consequences. And of course, there’s love. Mike is oddly fatherly in this moment, reminiscent of many popular father figures in TV at the time, with his V-neck sweater, smoking pipe (which never has any smoke), and authoritative mannerisms. She, despite being 37 years old at the time, is like a tempestuous, insolent teen, and though the scene is meant to be sexy, it comes across a little uncomfortable instead. She knows nothing of these men, has been kidnapped and held against her will and while its not exactly like she’s hog-tied and thrown in a basement, she is a prisoner, but acts as if she’s playing house and just been grounded, even running off to her room when Mike rolls up the paper as if he’s going to spank her.
What it does effectively, is create the conflict they must overcome between each other, since we know full well that they are destined to be a couple. One will teach the other over the course of the film and we learn here very clearly a lot about their personalities and the obstacles each has that the other must jump. The kiss feels genuine and it sparks a passion that lays within each of them and burns ever hotter the longer they are together.
The film is ultimately very tame considering the star, and doesn’t deliver anything other than everything expected. Worthy only as a peak back at one of cinema’s most notoriously sexy actresses. There are other attempts at comedy that fall flat, not just with the leads. At one point, Laurel’s agent, Barney Strongheart, while trying to stop Bertha, a once famous movie star and now friend of Laurel, from calling the police, “accidentally” drops a phone her head and knocks her unconscious, then smirks at the camera (try to remember that phones in 1957 were bulky and heavy). This is the line that the film can’t seem to decide whether to cross or not as it doesn’t fully commit to that type of slapstick-edness nor does it try to keep too serious. But all that aside, there’s some fun to be had, simply by riding the nostalgia train.