Monday, 13 June 2016


“The American Dream may be slipping away. We have overcome such challenges before. To recover the Dream requires knowing where it came from, how it lasted so long and why it matters so much.” - Jon Meacham

Sunday matinee at the movies showed Delbert Mann’s 1962 romantic comedy “That Touch of Mink starring Cary Grant, Doris Day, Gig Young, Audrey Meadows and Alan Hewitt. The screenplay is by Stanley Shapiro and Nate Monaster with the plot as conventional as you can imagine for the 1960s. If nothing else, the film is a piece of social history outlining the “visible and desirable” mores of US society at that time. This is American society as it liked to be perceived by everyone, especially by people living outside its borders. This is the USA promoting itself as the land of opportunity, decency, success and as the place where the “American Dream” can be realised.

We had seen this movie some decades ago but it felt as though this was the first time we were watching it. The intervening years, our increased age (and experience), the changes in our society and the altered world we live in all contributed to this being seen as a historical document of another age, contributing to its peculiarity in our eyes. Sugar-coated this movie was, it still managed to exude an aura of “Camelot” and the “good old times” of the USA that the oldies still remember with a great deal of nostalgia. America was not a perfect place then, but certainly if one had been born in the right segment of society (and that may well have been the majority segment then) and if one played by the rules there were rewards… And by comparison with today’s society, perhaps the image projected by this movie (fairy-tale though it may be) was an echo of the golden times past.

The plot has as follows: Philip Shayne  (Grant) is a multi-millionaire whose Rolls Royce has damaged Cathy Timberlake’s (Day) clothing by splashing her with mud when the car goes over a puddle (this was a wonderfully symbolic scene where the spotless young virgin is besmirched by mud…). Shayne is decent enough to want to recompense for the damage and sends his man, financial advisor Roger (Young), to financially compensate Cathy for her ruined clothes. She takes umbrage at this and decides to go and upbraid Shayne herself, egged on by Roger, who sees her as a person who has the courage to stand up to his boss, something which he cannot accomplish successfully – which is why he is in therapy with Dr Gruber (Hewitt).

Cathy and Phillip discover there is instant chemistry between them and one thing leads to another (during a day of working together), finishing up with Phillip making Cathy an offer she seemingly can’t refuse: She will be his kept woman, while he will provide her with a life of luxury and ease. However, although Cathy is a NYC career woman, she is also a small town girl with solid morals, home-grown values and impeccable ethics. She is supported in this by her closest friend, Connie Emerson (Meadows). The film progresses into a comedy of errors, misapprehensions and the changing of minds where Phillip constantly tries to corrupt Cathy and Cathy tries desperately to get Phillip to propose to her…

The film has aged, not only because of the changed mores and social expectations and structure. The acting is old-fashioned and quite “theatrical” in quite a few scenes – no method acting in this film. The luscious technicolor, vistavision and amazing locations and costumes all exude old-time affluence and middle class prosperity as well as the riches of success. This was a time of optimism, financial triumph, hopeful views of the future and a society where everyone could dream and expect to make those dreams reality. Boy, have we come down with several thuds since then!

There is chemistry between Grant and Day. His suave and sophisticated millionaire is perfect foil to her sweet, young, innocent and virginal career girl. Gig Young plays a great supporting role satirising wonderfully America’s love affair with psychoanalysis and the struggle between the crass capitalism of business and the ivory towers of academia. Gender roles in society are highlighted and the film asks the question is it OK for a woman to be independent even if it means if she risks losing her moral values? There is a running joke when Gig Young and Dr Gruber have a misunderstanding about Young’s supposed homosexual affair, which would have been quite risqué at the time. The lecherous advances of the unemployment department clerk Beasley (John Astin) on Cathy provides another aspect of life in the Big Apple, where no single girl is safe. However, if one has values and does not succumb to temptations, the dream can be realised!

We enjoyed seeing this film again and it was an interesting window into the past. Reality it was not, but as a social, political and psychological study of a civilisation in evolution (or should I say decadence?) it is a valuable document. You can even enjoy your study of the behaviour of Homo sapiens of the 1960s while watching this. Taken as superficially as you like, it is an enjoyable romp, even if quite not politically correct by today’s yardstick – or should it be meterstick?

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