Susan Slept Here (1954)

FRANK TASHLIN

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5.   

USA, 1954.   Screenplay by , based on the play by , Alex Gottlieb.  Cinematography by Produced by Music by Production Design by , Costume Design by Film Editing by Academy Awards 1954.

The openly gleeful acceptance of a middle-aged man statutory-raping a teenager has to be among the strangest things you’ll find in a major studio release in the fifties.  Dick Powell plays a Hollywood screenwriter who has trouble scrounging up inspiration for good copy, resorting to such tactics as asking his cop friends to bring around juvenile delinquents for a script he wants to write set in their milieu. When the police haul in a rebellious teenager who has been playing truant (Debbie Reynolds, because only in Hollywood can she be the face of juvenile delinquency) he takes pity on her and offers to let her stay at his apartment rather than go home to her abusive mother. His girlfriend (an underused ) doesn’t like the situation one bit and there are a few slammed doors and bedroom-farce confusions, while Powell still finds he’s having trouble with his script. Then trouble really comes to call when the police return to collect Reynolds and our stalwart hero (thank God for him) offers to marry her in order to keep her out of jail (despite being reminded more than once that she’s only seventeen and it’s illegal). Where it goes from there is something that needs to be seen to be believed in a film that is, at times, witty but mostly odd, narrated from the point of view of Powell’s mantle-occupying Oscar (a conceit which does not work). Powell, here appearing in his last film, seems worn out, while Reynolds gives the role a lot of intelligent energy even if she can’t for a millisecond bring any credibility to her class status, but the trainwreck of a plotline (if it’s 1954 and your friends even back then are warning you about dating someone that young, you definitely shouldn’t) couldn’t possibly go down smoothly nowadays. Produced by Harriet Frank, daughter of famed gossip columnist Louella Parsons (whose voice makes a cameo here).

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