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Doris Day, Rock Hudson, and Tony Randall had made two enormously successful sex comedies, Pillow Talk (1959) and Lover Come Back (1961). In both, Hudson plays a sexy charmer who tries to maneuver prim virgin Day into bed, and ends up being maneuvered into matrimony instead, as bemused and befuddled pal Randall looks on. The formula varied only in the details of wardrobe, decor, and occupations.
In the final teaming of the trio, Send Me No Flowers (1964), the formula changed in one important aspect. Randall is still bemused and befuddled, but Day and Hudson are now happily married with Day playing understanding wife to hypochondriac Hudson. Instead of the mistaken-identity plot contrivances of their previous films, the storyline this time turns on other kinds of misunderstandings. Hudson overhears his doctor's conversation about a terminally ill man, and believes he's the one who's dying. Day witnesses an innocent embrace, and believes her husband is lying about having a terminal condition to cover up an adulterous affair.
What hasn't changed is the extraordinary chemistry among the three leads. As Day wrote in her autobiography, "Tony, Rock and I were made for each other and it was hard to tell sometimes where life left off and make believe began." The three loved working together, were attuned to each other, and it shows onscreen. For Send Me No Flowers, the emphasis was on the comedy, not sexual tension since the two leads were playing suburbanites, not hip, urban singles.
Hudson, who had not done comedy prior to Pillow Talk, was becoming increasingly comfortable with it, and he plays his illness-obsessed character adroitly. Both Day and Randall, who were seasoned comedy pros, have delightful slapstick turns in Send Me No Flowers: Day in a scene where she locks herself out of the house when she goes to get the newspaper and milk, and Randall in his ever-escalating drunk scenes. Adding to the comedy is Paul Lynde, as an aggressive cemetery salesman. But predictably, the critics missed the sexual innuendo, even though they had praise for the skillful work of the stars. "Send Me No Flowers doesn't carry the same voltage, either in laughs or originality, as Doris Day and Rock Hudson's two previous entries," Variety lamented. Maybe not, but the film still did very well at the box office.
For the next twenty years, Day and Hudson tried to find another film to do together. At one point, they discussed doing a television movie, but nothing came of it. Hudson remarked, "We couldn't come up with a story that would have the same sexual innuendos that had made those comedies fun - in a way that would be valid in modern terms."
But Rock and Doris did work together one more time. Hudson's last public appearance before the revelation that he had AIDS was as a guest on Day's cable show, and ill as he was, the old chemistry was still strong. Near the end of his life, Hudson mused about what made his partnership with Day work so well. "First of all, the two people have to truly like each other, as Doris and I did, for that shines through. Then, too, both parties have to be strong personalities - very important to comedy -- so that there's a tug-of-war over who's going to put it over on the other, who's going to get the last word, a fencing match between two adroit opponents of the opposite sex who in the end are going to fall into bed together."
Director: Norman Jewison
Producer: Harry Keller
Screenplay: Julius J. Epstein, based on the play by Norman Barasch & Carroll Moore
Editor: J. Terry Williams
Cinematography: Daniel Fapp
Costume Design: Jean Louis
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen, Robert Clatworthy
Music: Frank DeVol
Principal Cast: Rock Hudson (George Kimball), Doris Day (Judy Kimball), Tony Randall (Arnold Nash), Paul Lynde (Mr. Akins), Hal March (Winston Burr), Edward Andrews (Dr. Ralph Morrissey), Patricia Barry (Linda Bullard).
C-100m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Margarita Landazuri