Pillow talk, a contemporary film of the year of its release; 1959 has feminist themes and counters the idea of patriarchy. The film Down with Love, which was released in 2003, depicts the year 1962 and has many elements indicative of Second Wave Feminism. Pillow Talk has copious examples of Feminist themes within its storyline, but the film that plays homage to it; Down with Love raises the bar, with a push by its female characters for equality in the American workplace.
Pillow Talk provides a Feminist Perspective because its lead female; Jan Morrow counters what is the norm by the way she lives her life and her actions in the plot of the story (Sellnow). The idea of Patriarchy where a man is the authority figure of a household and responsible for his family is also challenged in the film (Sellnow).
In Pillow Talk, Jan Morrow is an independent woman who works as an interior decorator, and lives alone in an upscale apartment in New York City. The other characters in the film don’t believe Morrow when she says that she enjoys living alone. Morrow’s living situation is an example of feminism because it counters the norm of the late 1950’s since Morrow gives the impression that she doesn’t need a man. These facts suggest that in American culture, it was out of the ordinary for a woman to live alone in the late 1950’s and that it was considered a bad thing. In today’s American culture, it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to be single and live alone, but her friends and peers may still not believe that she is truly happy about it.
Being an interior decorator, Jan Morrow doesn’t have to rely on anyone else for financial support. When her rich friend Jonathan Forbes tries to convince her to marry him because he is rich, young, and handsome, Morrow declines on the grounds that she isn’t in love with him. While the 1950’s wasn’t a time in American culture that practiced arranged marriages or an extreme suppression of women, women still often relied on their husbands to be the “bread winners” of the family while they stayed home and assumed the role of Housewife. The fact that Morrow is self reliant for financial stability gives her the luxury to choose who she will marry based on love. American culture today has many more women who have financial independence than in the 1950’s, but many women are still pressured into marrying partially for financial stability.
A major part of the plot of Pillow Talk is Morrow’s frustration with the manly playboy, Brad Allen whom she shares a phone party line with. Allen is always monopolizing up the phone line, when Morrow needs to make important calls. Allen spends his time on the phone wooing his many girlfriends and singing the same love song to them with the only lyric changed being the girl’s name. Over the phone, Morrow is irate towards Allen and very aggressive and demanding. It is clear that she thinks Allen’s playboy habits are disgusting. This fact has not changed much in American culture today. Men are still labeled as “dogs” if they romance many women at the same time; they are looked down on by women. But, the morality in America has declined since the 1950’s and playboys are often glorified in American Pop Culture. In the 1950’s most American’s would frown upon a Playboy with many conquests. Scandalous activity was often swept under the rug.
Another female character in Pillow Talk is Alma, Morrow’s maid. Alma is notoriously hung over when she comes to work. In one scene towards the end of the film, Alma drinks Brad Allen under the table. This scene with Alma is unconventional and therefore comical. A female character with an alcohol problem would be less funny in a movie in American culture today than it was in the 1950’s. Today, we know that there are many alcoholic American women and it is taken more seriously and seen more as a problem rather than a point of comic relief.
Since Down with Love was released in 2003, it is a look back at 1962’s American Culture. This is probably why its feminist themes are more extreme than Pillow Talk’s which was set in a period of time just before the onset of Second Wave Feminism. Down with Love is set in a time that is considered to be the start of Second Wave Feminism, which is thought to have taken place from the 1960’s until the 1970’s (Sellnow). The plot of Down with Love consists of author Barbara Novak writing a book which becomes a best seller. Novak’s book strives to teach women how to have “a la carte” sexual encounters with men so that they can gain equality with men in the workplace without the distraction of love, marriage, and family. The theme of women pushing for equality in the workplace is present in many scenes of the film.
Liberal Feminist Perspective, which focuses primarily on providing opportunities for the inclusion of women in traditionally male dominated areas occurs in scenes within Down with Love. Marxist Feminist Perspective, which seeks to ensure economic equality for women and equal work for equal pay is also included in Down with Love’s plotline (Sellnow). In the years between 1962 and 2003, much had changed in the American workplace for women. However, the reason that Down with Love resonated with an American audience is because women still face discrimination in their personal and professional lives.
In the montage sequence of the film, Novak’s book is becoming a worldwide sensation and its effect on Americans is shown. An American wife and mother is first shown serving dinner to her rowdy and unappreciative family but in the next scene she is shown reclining while reading Novak’s book as her husband serves dinner to the kids. A group of three American women pass by three men having their shoes shined. The men shake their heads and laugh as the women reading Novak’s book pass by them, but in the next scene, the three women are having their shoes shined as the men look on. Another American wife and mother sits in front of the TV enjoying a TV dinner with her family and in the next scene, she is lying in bed reading her copy of Novak’s book and smacks her husband on the head with it when he tries initiate intimacy. Novak’s book is liberating the women of America and making them demand equality from the men in their lives.
In another scene when Novak goes to pick up her clothes at the Dry Cleaners, which is run by a husband and wife, there is a copy of Novak’s book on the counter and it is clear that the wife has read it. When Novak enters, the wife shoos her husband away from the front counter and tells him to go in the back and iron while she deals with the customers stating that they are “equal now”. Similarly Barbara’s editor, Vikki Hiller, demands equality in the workplace and quits her job in the publishing industry when she isn’t treated the way she wants. Also, one of playboy Catcher Block’s girlfriends; Gwendolyn who is a flight attendant decides to try for her pilot’s license after reading Novak’s book. These scenes are indicative of Second Wave Feminism which focuses on the goals of equal rights and opportunities for both women and men (Sellnow).
Since Down with Love is playing homage to Pillow Talk the main characters are very similar. Jan Morrow and Barbara Novak start out very strong, independent women who claim that they don’t need a man to be happy. Both Brad Allen and Catcher Block are playboy’s who are able to assume an alias to trick Morrow and Novak since they have only had phone conversations with them. During the time that Allen and Block are in disguise they fall in love with Morrow and Novak. Jan Morrow does fall in love with Brad Allen’s fake identity “Rex Stetson” and she is oblivious that he is the same man she argued with over the phone for dominating her party line. However, Barbara Novak appears to have fallen in love “Major Zip Martin,” Catcher Block’s alias, but her identity is also a pseudonym for her real name Nancy Brown. So, the female protagonist of Pillow Talk; Jan Morrow is swindled by Brad Allen because the movie was set before the empowerment of women that came with Second Wave Feminism. Nancy Brown (Barbra Novak), on the other hand, was deceiving Catcher Block all along and knew his true identity. Brown is more empowered than Morrow since her character was written from a modern day perspective after Second Wave Feminism had taken place. Since in today’s American culture, women are more empowered, it is appropriate to have Novak out smart Block in Down with Love.
Pillow Talk, which was filmed and released in 1959, just before Second Wave Feminism, countered the idea of Patriarchy in America. The plot of Down with Love, which was set in 1962, but released in 2003, comes from a more modern perspective and has themes of equality in the American workplace. Since Down with Love is a film that is playing homage to Pillow talk, the four main characters have similar personalities. Jan Morrow and Barbara Novak and Brad Allen and Catcher Block go through many of the same motions within the plots of the films. Novak however, is a more empowered woman than Morrow since she is influencing other women in America to fight for equality.
Gordon, Michael. Pillow Talk. Universal International Pictures. 1959. Film.
Reed, Peyton. Down with Love. Fox 20th Century Pictures. 2003. Film.
Sellnow, Deanna D. The Rhetorical Power of Popular Culture Considering Mediated Texts. Ed. Todd R. Armstrong. California: Sage Publications. 2010. Print.