Happy Endings and Other Differences: A Comparison of Pillow Talk and Annie Hall
Pillow Talk (1959), starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson, and Annie Hall (1977), starring Woody Allen and Diane Keaton, are two very different films that both belong to the genre of romantic comedy. Both films received five Oscar nominations. Pillow Talk was nominated for best actress, best supporting actress, musical score, art direction, and the one which it won, best story and screenplay written directly for the screen (Kimmel, 2008, p. 124). Annie Hall was nominated for best picture, best director, best original screenplay, best actor, and best actress. It was the first time, since Orson Wells in 1941, that the same person, Woody Allen, was nominated for writing, directing, and starring in a film (Kimmel, 2008, p.171). It won four of the five Oscars, only losing out on best actor. Pillow Talk is a film that provides a dated, silly interpretation of the development of a romantic relationship, especially because of its formulaic approach to the subject, whereas Annie Hall provides a more timeless, realistic view of romantic relationships, possibly because its time period provided a much more radical formula for this genre. A comparison of the two films analyzing their historical contexts, settings, visual characteristics, music, and the different ways that they achieve their “happy endings” will show why Pillow Talk only works in 1959 but Annie Hall is a romantic comedy that is still enjoyable today. The historical contexts of Pillow Talk (1959) and Annie Hall (1977) are important in understanding and analyzing these two romantic comedies. Tamar Jeffers McDonald, in her book Romantic Comedy-Boy Meets Girl Genre (2007) identifies Pillow Talk as belonging to a sub-genre of romantic comedies known as a sex comedy, and she cites three key historical developments as instrumental in bringing about this particular sub-genre (p.40). First, in August of 1953, Alfred Kinsey’s report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female was published and revealed that just over 50% of the 5,940 unmarried white single women interviewed for the study were not virgins (McDonald, 2007, p. 41). Also, the magazine Playboy was first published in November/December 1953, and launched the model of the modern playboy, who now, thanks to the magazine, understood the importance of the various consumables he would find necessary for enjoying sex and attracting girls: “the stereo, records, alcohol, the bachelor pad” (McDonald, 2007, p. 42). The third development was the successful 1953 release of the film The Moon is Blue, a film which was denied a seal of approval from the Production Code Administration: Due to the success of the film (The Moon is Blue) and audience members’ evident willingness not to be protected in their viewing by the Production Code Administration, the power of this body began to be regularly challenged by filmmakers and thereafter rapidly declined. By 1956 it had been revised into a format which lifted all remaining taboos except nudity, sexual perversion and venereal disease and lasted in this weakened form until 1966 (McDonald, 2007, p. 42). Thus, the romantic comedies of the mid-1950’s, or the new “sex comedies,” often had a new type of female protagonist, one who could be interested in sex and possibly was not a virgin. Invariably they included a new setting as imagined by Playboy and its advertisers, the bachelor pad, as well as the playboy bachelor personae for the leading man. And, they were allowed more freedom in language and topics shown and discussed onscreen, thanks to the decline of PCA power over the film industry.
The film Pillow Talk, and most of the other romantic comedies of the mid-fifties and early sixties, are particularly dated because of the sexual mores of this time period. Even though the women of this time are no longer portrayed as uninterested in sex, the “real opposition (in sex comedies) lies in when the sex is to...
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