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By the time Ida Lupino starred in the pleasant little wartime comedy Pillow to Post (1945), she had appeared in dozens of films over more than a decade. A Warner Brothers contract player, Lupino was mostly typecast as tough or tragic women. She joked that she was the poor man's Bette Davis, but she rarely got a chance to crack jokes onscreen. Pillow to Post stands as one of her few comic roles.
Lupino plays the daughter of the owner of an oil-drilling equipment company. With all the men off to war, she's forced to go on the road as a saleswoman for the company. Stranded in an army-base town, she learns that the only available housing is for military families, so she latches on to a handsome lieutenant and convinces him to pose as her husband. The expected complications ensue. Most critics dismissed the film - Newsweek called it "shopworn" - but Time magazine's resident intellectual, James Agee, proved to have a soft spot for Lupino, if not for the plot, which he dismissed as "corn." But, he added, "corn is edible, and the serious thinkers (Miss Lupino, for that matter, started in comedy) turn out to have a nice knack for foolishness."
Pillow to Post was the third and final film starring Lupino and directed by Vincent Sherman. Their first, The Hard Way (1943), was one of Lupino's best, and earned her a best actress award from the New York Film Critics. The second, In Our Time (1944), was a wartime drama with Lupino playing an Englishwoman married to a Polish freedom fighter.
Lupino's Pillow to Post co-star William Prince, a recent arrival to Hollywood, was also used to weightier roles. He had been a New York stage actor since the late 1930s, and would return to the theater when his film career failed to ignite. His best film role was as Christian in Cyrano de Bergerac (1950), which featured Jose Ferrer's Oscar®-winning performance in the title role. Prince had a long career in theater, in works by distinguished playwrights like Edward Albee and Eugene O'Neill, but was best known for his work in soap operas, from Young Doctor Malone and As the World Turns in the 1950s, to Dallas in the 1980s.
Pillow to Post is notable for a delightful musical number, "Whatcha Say," performed by Louis Armstrong and a young Dorothy Dandridge, almost a decade before she burst into stardom in Carmen Jones (1954). This was the second film in which Dandridge had performed with Armstrong, whom she had known since she was a child performer. According to Donald Bogle's biography of Dandridge, in their earlier film appearance together, Atlantic City (1944), Dandridge's singing "served mainly as a prelude for the arrival of Armstrong.... In Pillow to Post, however...Armstrong just about turns over the sequence to Dorothy, almost as if handing her the gift of prime exposure." Dandridge had more or less abandoned her career when she married dancer Harold Nicholas, of the Nicholas Brothers, in 1942. Although she had recently given birth to a daughter, the marriage was shaky, and the attention she received for Pillow to Post gave Dandridge the impetus to begin working on a nightclub act. After her divorce, Dandridge became a headliner in clubs across the country, and revived her film career. But in spite of her undeniable talent, and an Academy Award nomination for Carmen Jones, film roles for black leading ladies were few and far between. Plagued by personal, professional, and financial setbacks, Dandridge died of an overdose of barbiturates in 1965, at the age of 41.
Director: Vincent Sherman
Producer: Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay: Charles Hoffman, based on the play Pillar to Post by Rose Simon Kohn
Cinematography: Wesley Anderson
Editor: Alan Crosland, Jr.
Costume Design: Milo Anderson
Art Direction: Leo Kuter
Music: Frederick Hollander
Principal Cast: Ida Lupino (Jean Howard), Sydney Greenstreet (Col. Michael Otley), William Prince (Lt. Don Mallory), Stuart Erwin (Capt. Jack Ross), Johnny Mitchell (Slim Clark), Ruth Donnelly (Mrs. Wingate), Dorothy Dandridge, Louis Armstrong (Themselves).
by Margarita Landazuri