Release Date(s)1964 (March 8, 2022)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Universal was known for a profitable series of romantic comedies from the late 1950s through the 1960s that offered attractive stars in light fluff tales of sexual attraction without straying beyond the boundaries of the period’s social standards. After Rock Hudson and Gina Lollobrigida struck sparks in Come September in 1961, Universal mined what they perceived as box office gold four years later with Strange Bedfellows, a sex comedy in which the main characters feel a strong mutual attraction but face obstacles of temperament, societal norms, and their own self-doubts. There is little doubt, however, that love will reign supreme by the final credits.
Hudson plays Carter Harrison, an American executive living in London. In a meet-cute scene in which he gets a kisser full of paint, Carter encounters artist and social activist Toni Vincente (Lollobrigida). Just 24 hours later, we find them in bed—with wedding bands on their fingers, of course. Despite their flaming chemistry, however, they are polar opposites in terms of temperament. She’s an outspoken bohemian with a fierce temper while he’s a buttoned-down conservative not given to emotional outbursts. They separate and don’t see each other for several years although they stay married.
When the boss wants to reward Carter with a big promotion, company PR man Richard Bramwell (Gig Young, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?) urges Carter to get back together with Toni to ensure his climb up the corporate ladder. But Toni is now engaged to fellow activist Harry (Edward Judd) and wants a divorce. Carter and Toni meet after years apart from each other in a divorce lawyer’s office and once again their mutual attraction is rekindled, drawing them together while their disparate personalities pull them apart.
Rock Hudson was already established as the go-to leading man in these comedies. Exceptionally handsome, and able to play both straight scenes and comedy with ease, he was right at home with this kind of film after having made a series of successful ones with Doris Day. Though the script for Strange Bedfellows often strains credibility, he immerses himself in the story and gets the laughs.
Lollobrigida’s best attribute is her looks, and she’s lovingly photographed by director of photography Lee Tover, costumed in colorful, high-fashion outfits by Jean Louis, and given star close-ups accentuating her natural beauty. It’s unlikely that a bohemian artist would wear haute couture but, after all, a star has to look glamorous. Lollobrigida’s acting, however, is never fully convincing. And maybe that’s part of the film’s charm. It’s a romantic fantasy, so we accept the weaknesses in order to watch Toni fling crockery at Carter, splash paint all over walls, and shriek G-rated insults. And we know that despite their evident incompatibility, these two are actually made for each other.
Strange Bedfellows also shows how films of the era flirted with still-taboo subject matter. In several scenes, for example, Hudson, is only partially dressed and at one point he finds himself in bed with Harry (though he thinks it’s Toni). These scenes are played for laughs, but suggest a gay subtext. One scene that definitely seems phony has Toni and Carter, in two different cabs, talking to each other through a taxi dispatcher. Too long, the scene runs out of comic steam well before it’s over but benefits from amusing performances by Dave King and Arthur Haynes as the titillated drivers.
It’s no film classic, and it’s mild by today’s standards, but Strange Bedfellows was pretty steamy at the time of its mid-60s release. Nudity, graphic dialogue, and certain sexual subject matter were still a few years away, but the script goes as far as possible to make perfectly clear that the bond between Toni and Carter is sex. In the scene in the law office, as the lawyer rambles on about the legal requirements for their impending divorce, Toni and Carter exchange glances that leave no doubt they’re reliving past bedroom pleasures.
Strange Bedfellows was shot by director of photography Lee Tover with spherical lenses on Technicolor 35 mm film, finished photochemically, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Clarity is excellent throughout, with lighting primarily high key. There are no distracting visual imperfections, such as scratches, dirt specks, or emulsion clouding. Picture stability is excellent. The opening titles blaze out in rich primary colors. The Technicolor palette is bright, with saturated yellows and reds dominating. Many of Gina Lollobrigida’s costumes are bold red and one features eye-popping chartreuse. Details are sharp, with men’s facial stubble, wood paneling in Bramwell’s office, an elaborate airport set, Toni’s Lady Godiva wig, and patterns in clothing nicely delineated. In cab close-ups, process photography shows moving scenery on film in the background to simulate a moving vehicle, a standard practice in Hollywood at the time.
The soundtrack is English 2.0 Mono DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is sharp and precise throughout. Gina Lollobrigida has a slight Italian accent but her enunciation is perfect. Leigh Harline’s music is light and upbeat and nicely complements the film’s mood. Dialogue and crowd noise are well balanced in an airport scene. When Toni has a fiery tantrum, she hurls assorted breakables at Carter and they shatter against the walls with a loud crash. English SDH subtitles are an available option.
Bonus materials on the Region A Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber Studio Classics include the following:
- Audio Commentary by Eddy Von Mueller
- Trailer (1:15)
- A Farewell to Arms Trailer (2:38)
- The Tarnished Angels Trailer (2:41)
- Come September Trailer (1:18)
- Man’s Favorite Sport? Trailer (1:59)
In the audio commentary, film historian Eddy Von Mueller discusses the change in attitudes toward sex as manifested in literature and movies. America was deeply ambivalent about sex but attitudes toward morality were changing fast. Carter Harrison is a stock character that shows up often in post-World War II films and on TV. The human behavior in the film lacks realism but generates comedy. Many subjects, such as homosexuality and adultery, were not dealt with until the 1960s. Strange Bedfellows reveals a Hollywood on the cusp of change, “striking insight into a pivotal moment of film history.”
Some films portray historical events, others deal with serious social issues, still others thrill and excite. Strange Bedfellows is none of these. It’s a light, frothy, dated comedy that offers humorous observations about the power of physical attraction to dominate lives. With plenty of eye candy along the way, it’s an example of a romantic comedy nudging boundaries.
- Dennis Seuling