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The Perfect Furlough

Tony Curtis and Janet Leigh were married in 1951 and quickly became Hollywood's hot couple of the decade, the "Brangelina" ("To-net"?) of their time. By the time they starred together in this comedy, they had already made three films together (four if you count a little-seen 1949 short directed by Jerry Lewis). This was their first comedy and penultimate joint appearance; if you don't count their cameos as themselves in Pepe (1960), their last vehicle was the comedy Who Was That Lady? (1960), two years before their divorce.

Leigh isn't the only object of Curtis's affections here, or even the primary one at first. He plays an army corporal at an isolated base in the Arctic who wins a lottery designed to raise the morale of all the troops stationed there. The prize is a furlough in Paris with a glamorous movie star, a publicity stunt for her studio. Linda Cristal is the starlet whose producer sends press agent Elaine Stritch and a host of others to chaperone the outing. The Army, for its part, sends along a beautiful military psychologist to keep tabs on him, which of course, leads to romantic complications and--a bit risqué for its time--real and rumored pregnancies.

Although Leigh's previous roles varied between dramas, romances, period pieces, and comedies, this was Curtis's first major comic lead. He had made a relatively overlooked comedy, No Room for the Groom in 1952, directed by melodrama king Douglas Sirk, of all people, and a small role (still billed as "Anthony Curtis") in Francis (1950), of talking mule fame, but this was really the first in which his comic skills and timing made an impression on critics and audiences alike. Daily Variety said, "He has a particular knack for underplaying or throwing away a reaction line that often tops the laugh or matches it." The following year, he appeared with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe in what is considered one of the greatest American comedies of all time, Some Like It Hot (1959). A number of humorous roles dot his long career after that.

The production was in the works for at least a couple of years before its fall 1958 release. According to a December 17, 1956, article in the Los Angeles Times, Stanley Shapiro's original story for The Perfect Furlough presented his character as a stodgy scientist uninterested in the Parisian trip he has won. The same article suggested Jayne Mansfield or Mamie Van Doren for the role of the Hollywood starlet. In March 1957, the same paper reported that Robert Stack was being considered to play Paul and Dorothy Malone to play Lt. Vicki Loren, the psychiatrist role played by Leigh but described in the article as "a public relations representative in the French capital." At that time, Stack and Malone had appeared together in back-to-back dramas directed by Douglas Sirk, Written on the Wind (1956) and The Tarnished Angels (1957).

According to a January 10, 1958, Hollywood Reporter article, producer Carl Krueger filed a $4 million breach of contract suit against Linda Cristal and Universal, stating that Cristal had signed an exclusive contract with him in 1955, and requested that she be prevented from working on this production. On January 24, 1958, the paper reported that a federal judge denied the injunction.

Other items in the industry press at the time of production noted that the studio planned to add a title song to the film, to be written by novelist and poet Robert W. Service, "the poet laureate of the Yukon." No such song was included in the viewed film, nor has it ever been discovered. Quite likely it was not written, as Service died in September 1958 just prior to the film's premiere. The same article stated that, in honor of Alaska's impending statehood (officially proclaimed January 3, 1959), the film's world premiere would be held there. There is no indication that ever took place, and most sources list the initial release date as October 1958. General audiences likely didn't get to see the film until a few months later. The Hollywood Reporter reported in November 1958 that Universal would hold back the film's release until January 1959 to avoid the box office competition of the holiday releases. Since the New York Times review by Bosley Crowther is dated January 22, 1959, that decision was apparently carried through.

This was the fifth feature film directed by Blake Edwards. After two minor pictures intended to make an unlikely movie star out of popular recording artist Frankie Laine, Edwards cast Curtis in the title role of the drama Mister Cory (1957). Edwards' career continued to rise after The Perfect Furlough, following up with such hits as Operation Petticoat (1959), again with Curtis, opposite Cary Grant, and Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961). He is perhaps best known for his films in the Pink Panther series he created as well as 10 (1979), S.O.B. (1981), and Victor Victoria (1982), all starring his wife, Julie Andrews.

The Perfect Furlough was nominated for a Golden Globe Award as Best Motion Picture Comedy.

Look for an early appearance by teen heartthrob Troy Donahue as Sgt. Nickles and former Dead End Kid Frankie Darro as the hapless patient with the broken leg in the base hospital.

Director: Blake Edwards
Producer: Robert Arthur
Screenplay: Stanley Shapiro
Cinematography: Philip Lathrop
Editing: Milton Carruth
Art Direction: Alexander Golitzen
Music: Frank Skinner
Cast: Tony Curtis (Cpl. Paul Hodges), Janet Leigh (Lt. Vicki Loren), Keenan Wynn (Harvey Franklin), Linda Cristal (Sandra Roca), Elaine Stritch (Liz Baker)

By Rob Nixon

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