Part 1—So did the liberal world: Yesterday, we made ourselves do it.
Blessed by the magic of ten-minute fast-forward skip, we forced ourselves to watch various chunks of the unwatchable 1954 film, Susan Slept Here.
(The film is in regular rotation on TCM. At present, it's available to us, for free, through our cable On Demand.)
Susan Slept Here starred Debbie Reynolds, age 22 in real life but playing 17 in the film. She was paired with Dick Powell, in his last film role. He was age 50 in real life but looked and seemed 100.
The Powell character's fiancee was played by Anne Francis. She was age 24 in real life. People, go figure!
The ridiculous plot of Susan Slept here is summarized by the leading authority on the film as shown below. This film, and several million others like it, helped establish a type of social ideal in the United States of the 1950s.
In a bit of a cultural sidelight, the film also may help explain why the Trump tax bill is about to pass into law! At any rate, in a summary by the leading authority, here's how its story begins:
Mark Christopher (Powell) is a successful thirty-five-year-old Hollywood screenwriter who has suffered from partial writer's block since winning an Academy Award and has been unable to produce a decent script. One Christmas Eve, he receives an unexpected and very unwanted surprise present.Powell's associates do their best "to keep the situation under control." Heh heh heh heh heh!
Vice Squad Sergeant Sam Hanlon brings seventeen-year-old Susan Landis (Reynolds) to Mark's luxurious apartment. Susan had been abandoned by her mother and was arrested for vagrancy and hitting a sailor over the head with a beer bottle. Not wanting to keep her in jail over the holidays and aware that Mark was interested in writing a script about juvenile delinquency, the kindhearted cop decides to bend the rules (much to the disapproval of his partner). Hanlon suggests that Susan stay with Mark until her arraignment the day after Christmas.
Mark is naturally appalled, but is eventually persuaded to take the girl in. This doesn't go over too well with his long-time fiancée, Isabella Alexander (Francis), the demanding daughter of a U.S. Senator. Isabella's jealousy grows when Susan develops a crush on Mark. Mark's secretary Maude Snodgrass, his best friend Virgil, and his lawyer Harvey Butterworth do their best to keep the situation under control.
When Harvey lets slip that Susan will likely stay in a juvenile detention facility till she is 18, Mark impulsively takes her to Las Vegas and marries her. The marriage, he explains to his friends, will last for just long enough to convince the judge that Susan has made good. To avoid consummating the marriage, he takes Susan out dancing till she collapses with fatigue, and brings her back to Hollywood.
At any rate, if you're familiar with Hollywood culture of this ridiculous, malecentric era, you know where this manifest bullshit pretty much had to be going.
Citizens, you read that summary correctly! Viewers of this ridiculous film were asked to believe that Powell—50 years old in real life, looking and seeming a million years older—was playing a fellow of 35.
Reynolds, age 22 in real life, was playing 17. Francis, age 24 is real life, was playing a standard role in films of this era—the shrewish, much younger fiancee, who gets bounced in the end for someone even younger.
You read other things right! As the film proceeds, Powell—50 years old but seeming older—"impulsively marries" the Reynolds character, who's explicitly 17. And heh heh heh heh heh! If you understand Hollywood culture of this era, you know what happens next:
Much of the rest of the film involves Reynolds' attempt to get Powell to "consummate" matters! Decades before Viagra!
Heh heh heh heh heh! Susan wants the Powell character to marry her the old-fashioned way. The 17-year-old Reynolds character wants to get the old codger in bed!
This was very much Tinseltown in the 1950s. Susan Slept Here helps define a rather standard cultural ideal:
He was a creaking 50 years old. She was 22, playing 17. Needless to say, she falls hard for the tired old coot. And sure enough! In the summary by the leading authority, the story ends like this:
(Continuing directly from above:) Mark then slips away to a cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains to work on his script with Maude. The marriage is reported in the newspapers. Enraged Isabella confronts Susan, but is hauled away by Hanlon and his partner.Heh heh heh heh heh! As the film ends, Powell's bride—she's still explicitly 17—is pulling her creaking old husband into his bedroom, where they can get it on.
Some weeks later, Isabella finds Mark in the cabin. She has calmed down, but Mark says he thinks they are not really suited to each other. Susan also arrives, determined to win Mark to a real marriage. She is encouraged and supported by Maude, who still regrets leaving her childhood love behind for an attempted acting career in Hollywood. Susan refuses to sign the annulment papers, while Mark still will not consummate the marriage.
When Susan is seen eating strawberries and pickles, Mark's friends assume the worst: that she is pregnant. Susan eventually confesses to Mark that she just likes that combination. Mark has his own confession: he is in love with Susan but is worried by their age difference. Susan tells him all the reasons that they should stay married and pulls him into the bedroom.
This ridiculous movie is full of standard jokes of the era—jokes involving milk as a cure for a gentleman's ulcers, jokes involving the meaning of a woman's desire to eat pickles.
At any rate, by the end of the film, the tired old Powell comes to see that he fallen in love with his underage bride. In that final scene, we get to see the happy ending which defines one crackpot ideal of the era.
This transparently ridiculous story involves a basic mental framework of this malecentric Hollywood era. All through the 1950s, a generation of aging male stars were romantically paired with a generation of much younger, emerging female stars.
Audiences were asked to believe that smokin' hot 20-year-old women dreamed of getting it on with extremely tired old men in the pre-Viagra era! Once again, here's the relevant lineup from this particular film:
Powell, the male protagonist: Age 50 in real life, perhaps maybe seeming olderIf we might borrow from Luca Brasi, this film seems to represent the cultural dream of a series of aging "masculine children" all through the 1950s.
Francis, his fiancee: Age 24 in real life
Reynolds, his bride: Age 22 in real life, playing 17 throughout
Fantasy-ridden male producers invented these cockeyed films. Aging male stars then rushed to grace them with their improbable presence.
In fairness, Susan Slept Here was supposed to be a comedy. All through the film, the assortment of baboons surrounding Powell warn him about the fact that it would be illegal for him to get it on with his 17-year-old charge.
Heh heh heh heh heh! Given the culture of the era, you knew how things had to end!
For Hollywood, the 1950s was the decade of the aging established male star. One year after the unwatchable Susan Slept Here, Leslie Caron was forced to fall for Fred Astaire, and fall quite hard, in the unwatchable Daddy Long Legs.
Heh heh heh heh heh heh heh! We'll share that plot line tomorrow!
During this ridiculous era, Hollywood produced a ton of films which established the genre of "codger love." These films help define the evolution of our nation's endlessly juvenile sexual culture.
These ridiculous films help define the Hollywood of this era. Given the ways of our own liberal tribe, they may also help explain why a certain unfortunate tax bill is about to pass into law, signed by one Donald J. Trump.
Susan slept in Powell's apartment. Have we been sound asleep too?
Tomorrow: Fred Astaire spots a schoolgirl—inevitably, over in France