Lover Come Back: Mad Men Meets Today’s Most Popular Romcom Trope

A while back I saw a comment on a screenwriters message board that you couldn’t remake a Doris Day/Rock Hudson romantic comedy today.

I beg to differ. It seems to me that the bulk of romcoms today are retreads of these movies, using the same “she’s an uptight career woman/he’s a man-child” trope. While style and some attitudes are quite different now from then, this trope still persists to this day. (One may find that mildly depressing, and ask why 50 years later career women are still often portrayed as uptight and men are still often portrayed as immature.)

While it may be an over-used trope, it can still result in fun and entertaining movies. My favorites still remain the originals from the late 1950s and early 1960s, and Doris Day was the queen of such movies.

Day and Hudson’s most famous pairing was in Pillow Talk, but I prefer Lover Come Back. The latter movie has an almost identical premise as the former–the hero and heroine know of and resent each other. The hero presents himself as someone else as a ruse to seduce her. She finds out and seeks revenge.

Usually, when a movie tries to duplicate the success of a previous movie, the result is a total disaster, but Lover Come Back is, in my opinion, superior to Pillow Talk. Besides being a witty romantic comedy, it’s also a brutal take-down of the advertising industry, which still resonates today. Especially now that people are so fascinated by the advertising industry of the early 1960s because of the success of the TV show Mad Men.

Day plays Carol Templeton, a successful advertising executive. Her rival is Jerry Webster. They’ve never met, but she knows he is constantly winning clients away from her. When she finds out he acquired an account by entertaining the clients with strippers, she complains to the advertising board. To get one of the strippers to testify in his favor, Jerry promises her he will make her the “Vip Girl” when he starts an advertising campaign for the product Vip.

The problem is, there’s no such product as Vip. When the commercials for Vip, which were never meant to be broadcast, hit the airwaves Jerry has to scramble to create a product called Vip. He hires a scientist to come up with a product he can sell as Vip.

Carol thinks Jerry is up to something and investigates the scientist. She mistakes Jerry for the scientist and he doesn’t correct her assumption. Pretending to be sexually naive, he gains Carol’s sympathy and plots to seduce her.

Carol’s revenge on Jerry when she finds out his real identity and what happens when the real scientist’s version of “Vip” is presented to the advertising board are hilarious. It’s also amusing to see from a present-day perspective some of the ways movies back then had to dance around sexual issues because of the Hayes Office (who enforced the film industry’s production code). It’s also fascinating to see the attitudes towards the advertising industry when it was in the midst of its golden age.

The supporting players are wonderful, particularly Tony Randall as Jerry’s epically neurotic boss, Edie Adams as the stripper/model and Ann B. Davis (Alice from The Brady Bunch) as Carol’s secretary.

Sure, there are some un-PC moments and you’ll probably wince a little at the ending, but this was typical for romcoms of the 50s and 60s. My guess is the ending was tacked on to lull the Hayes Office into approving the movie.

Today’s romcoms are far more frank sexually, but it’s fun to go back and watch the older movies, which have a sparkle and wit I think most today are missing. Lover Come Back is one of the best of its kind.

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