It was with a certain amount of curiosity that I set the record button on the DVR when I noticed last Tuesday THE MOON IS BLUE was coming up on Turner Classics later in the day. If you’re a M*A*S*H-phile like myself, you’ll remember this was the movie they built an eleventh season episode around where Hawkeye and B. J. were making all kind of trade-offs and deals to get it sent to the 4077th. They’d read in a newspaper that it had been banned in Boston for “salacious” content and just had to get this work of art for viewing. Charles tried to warn them that Boston banned a lot of things pretty tame. They were outraged at how clean the movie was when they finally got it, though Father Mulcahy did point out one of the characters said the word virgin.
A romantic comedy produced and directed by Otto Preminger, It was based on a 1951 play, also directed by Preminger, by F. Hugh Herbert who also did the screenplay. It was indeed condemned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, hanging a “C” on it despite giving the play the milder “B” as unobjectionable for adults. The Breen office advised Preminger that his screenplay violated the Motion Picture Production Code for its “light and gay treatment of illicit sex and seduction.” Changes were made and they still objected with Preminger informing them he would film it as it was, no more changes.
William Holden is thirty year old architect Donald Gresham who meets a young woman, Patty O’Neill(Maggie McNamara in her first screen role), on the observation deck of the Empire State building. She’s twenty-two and he’d spotted her in the lobby, following her up after seeing her look at a tube of lipstick and put it down. He purchases it and manages an introduction where he gives it to her. He learns he’d been watched also, wondering at his purchases, pumice stone and rubber bands.
A loose button on his suit jacket comes off and she offers to sew it back on, having a needle and thread in her purse. Gresham manages to lose the needle and thread, tucked them under a lapel, while she’s working on the broken threads, then gets her to come down to his office, in the Empire State Building, where his secretary is sure to have a needle and thread. After hours of course and he can’t find any, finding a framed picture of an attractive young woman stashed in a desk drawer that he seems reticent about explaining, so he asks her out to dinner. Naturally he has to stop off at his apartment to repair the jacket.
Unmentioned so far is Patty is a chatterbox, rarely shutting up, asking all sorts of questions, generally nosing around the subject of sex. When Gresham calls her on it, she says, “isn’t it better to be pre-occupied with sex than occupied.”
At his apartment building, the elevator door opens and there is the woman in the picture, who angrily closes the doors and goes back up. In his apartment, there sits another framed picture like the one in his office and the word stinker in lipstick on a mirror. The story comes out then. Cynthia Slater(Dawn Adams) is his now ex-fiancee following an argument last night. She lives upstairs with her father David(David Niven). The blowup apparently was caused after he dropped er off after dinner and a show, she comes downstairs after finding her father entertaining a young woman and is offended that he sleeps on the couch while she takes his bed.
When Niven arrives while Gresham is out to buy food so that Patty could cook their dinner, it had started to rain quite heavily, she takes to him quite easily and he’s taken with her as well, being somewhat more of a playboy than Holden’s character. She invites him to stay for dinner, much to Gresham’s displeasure when he returns with enough groceries for an army.
They talk while she prepares dinner, the fastest meal on Earth. In about five minutes screen time, she brings in three steaks, coffee, and salad.
From this point on, we’re subjected to a series of incidents reminiscent of the finest sitcom(but since it was this early in the TV era, possibly they all took cues from this movie. Niven slings ketchup on Patty’s dress, the ex-fiancee comes down the fire escape in pouring rain to see her taking her dress off in Gresham’s bedroom, she returning to her room for a hot bath, then calling Gresham threatening suicide(not really, just to get him out of the apartment), then managing to leave the spigot on the tub running when she leaves to meet Gresham. David and Patty left in the apartment when they see water dripping from the ceiling. There he ends up proposing to her, gives her money, no strings attached, then Gresham shows up looking for them just i time to catch her kissing Niven.
It goes on and on like that, people getting offended, then calming down until Patty is ready to leave, going back to Gresham’s apartment to retrieve her dress, cleaned now and needing ironing, where they argue again, then she storms into the bedroom to put on her dress just as the doorbell rings. A big. bluff man in a trench coat storms in. You guessed, it Patty’s father, Michael(Tom Tully) who opens the bedroom door just in time to find his daughter with her dress just over her head. He’d found her by questioning her roommate she’d called earlier. He slugs Gresham and takes his daughter out.
Of course, as in all romantic comedies, things work out in the end.
A few observations:
A different time I assume. Such a naive young woman getting into these predicaments might not happen today, who knows. Like as not she would end up dead being so friendly so quickly and going up in just a few minutes of knowing a man.
The word virgin was thrown around quite a lot in the film, in one instance Patty was called a “professional virgin” by the ex-fiancee. When asked why Gresham explained “that a girl who advertises it as much as she did had something to sell.”
The movie was rather talky, not straying far from it’s stage roots. Wasn’t bad, but now that I’ve seen it, no desire to again.
For more overlooked movies, go check out Todd over at Sweet Freedom.