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17 February 2021

That Touch of Mink (1962)

Directed by: Delbert Mann
Starring: Cary Grant, Doris Day,
Audrey Meadows, Gig Young,
John Astin, Alan Hewitt

What is a girl to do when all she wants is to say, ‘I do’ and all the guy wants is sex? The girl in question is Cathy Timberlake (Doris Day), and the playboy-millionaire is Philip Shane (Cary Grant – still dishy). At the crux of a wafer-thin plot is an indecent proposal. Made honestly.

Rewind to the beginning.

Philip Shane is the sort of man who hires the best talent, pays them exceedingly well, and gets what he wants. Cathy Timberlake is a pretty girl from Upper Sandusky, who’s currently unemployed, and fending off unwanted advances from Everett Beazley (John Astin), a lecherous clerk at the unemployment office.
On her way out, waiting to cross the road, she’s splashed with muddy water by a passing limousine. Poor Cathy. She has an interview later that afternoon, and she’s soaked! What’s more, the driver didn’t even stop to apologize.

Meanwhile, Philip – that’s who was in the car that splashed Cathy – is remorseful. He’d had his driver drive around the block but by the time they got back to the original place where the accident occurred, she was nowhere to be seen. Philip’s financial advisor, Roger (Gig Young) is amazed, he says, at this hint of humanity in his boss. 

Roger is an Economics professor from Princeton who had been tempted by Philip to leave academia and enter the corporate world. However, the lure of big money and shiny perks has dulled, leaving Roger neurotic and in a love-hate relationship with his boss. Philip is remarkably good-humoured about the latter’s tiny temper tantrums, knowing that all he has to do to squelch Roger is to tell him he’s raising his salary. ‘And you would be sadistic enough to do it too,’ quips a defeated Roger.

But that’s later. For now, while they are talking, Philip notices Cathy going into an automat opposite his office. Quick, he tells Roger. Go down there and apologise to her on his behalf. And take this money so she can get her dress cleaned.

Initially reluctant, Roger goes down (he always does as he’s told) to the automat to meet Cathy. But as he notices her indignation, he has a brilliant idea. She should meet Philip face-to-face and tell him off. Why, she should fling the money back in Philip’s face! Cathy, indignant, is all for it, but she doesn’t bargain for Roger almost manhandling her out the door in his eagerness to see Cathy do what he doesn’t have the guts to do himself.

Unfortunately, Cathy takes one look at Philip and is instantly charmed by his suave, sophisticated demeanour. Despite Roger’s remonstrations and cues, she melts into a gooey-eyed puddle who acquiesces with everything Philip says. Not so Connie who, after listening to Cathy gush about Philip, quips to a co-worker: “Sent it out to have it cleaned? I have heard of sneaky ways to undress a girl but...

By the time Cathy has inadvertently given Philip an idea of how to persuade a man to sell his business to him, lunched in Philadelphia ‘where you get the best fettuccini’, been flown to the UN to hear Philip speak at the economic forum, been to see Philip’s apartment (which is not at all what she expected it to be), she’s fallen head over heels in love with him.

And now Philip invites her to come to Bermuda, and then go on to Paris (“where you can get some marvellous French food”), Monte Carlo, a cruise around the Greek islands, and then around the world. By the time they get back, the apartment will be ready, and if she doesn’t like it, she can have one of the others.

“Did you just ask me to marry you,” asks a wide-eyed Cathy.

“No.” The response is quick, blunt and honest.

But he leaves the decision to her, apprising her that a man’s conscience and his best interests are usually in conflict. Cathy spends the night agonising about what to tell him and is very disappointed when he doesn’t call her in the morning as he said he would.

I’ve been wrestling with my conscience all morning,” confesses Philip, when Roger enquires whether he’s called Cathy or not. “And I lost.”

That’s an upset,” responds Roger. “I’ve built this image of a man, cold ruthless predatory, now you go and do a decent thing like this to destroy that image. You’ve set me years back in my analysis.

But Cathy, sure she wouldn’t go with him if he asked her to, is now bent on proving to him that women from Upper Sandusky are as sophisticated as any city lass. So off they go to Bermuda, but not before Cathy has had a makeover – with a brand-new wardrobe from Bergdoff Goodman.

She’s awestruck by the luxury that surrounds her but knowing glances (or what she thinks are knowing glances) from people she meets in the hotel make her nervous. By the time she enters the room, and spots the four-poster bed, she’s breaking out in a rash.

Does ‘The World’s Oldest Professional Virgin’ (as Day was dubbed) succumb to the lure of Philip’s charm?

That Touch of Mink is not the best Cary Grant comedy I’ve watched, and the premise – of a man’s pursuit of a woman for sex, while she holds out for marriage – is dated. Cathy’s handwringing over whether she should be Philip’s mistress is annoying after a while. And Philip’s change of heart doesn’t seem very convincing either.

What got me through the film were Cary Grant, Audrey Meadows and Gig Young, and some humorous lines of dialogue, though nothing approached the brilliance of the repartee in other Grant comedies like The Philadelphia Story, The Awful Truth or The Talk of the Town.

Incidentally, in one scene, Roger is trying to persuade Cathy that Philip loves her.Cathy: Look, he doesn’t love me. He just feels sorry for me.

Roger: Doesn’t love you? He’s compared you to the plague!

And follows it up with a list of prospective husbands for Cathy that Philip has turned down, including Rock Hudson. Rock Hudson was initially slated to play Philip Shayne, but the director wanted Grant. (Personally? I’m glad.)

Grant may not have been in his prime when he did this movie, but he was as handsome, as elegant and as charming as ever. He brought the world weariness of a wealthy man-about-town into his demeanour and carried himself ever so lightly. Grant does deadpan humour beautifully, and this film is no different. When showing Cathy Pirates’ Cove in Barbados, he mentions that this is the only place in the world where you could see pink sand. And that pirates used to anchor in that cove. “Only pirates from the best families, obviously. The others couldn’t afford it.”
His scenes with Young were the highlight of the movie, both men fencing ever so delicately, and with such élan. In fact, that much vaunted ‘chemistry’ was more visible between these two than between Grant and Day.  In one scene, when Cathy has agreed to go to Barbados to prove she’s not an unsophisticated rustic, Philip tells Roger to make arrangements for new clothes for her. “No,” says Roger, “I will not dress the victim for sacrifice.” “Bergdorf Goodman have a new line of sacrificial evening gowns,” says Philip, with a straight face.
I’m not a great fan of Doris Day, her artless ingénue act palling. I can usually sit through her movies however, but here, she just made me want to tell her to shut up, grow up, and stop behaving like a ditz. In her memoirs (Doris Day - Her Own Story) , Day wrote that Grant was very professional and exacting with details, even decorating the library set with his own books. "Cary even got involved in helping to choose the kind of mink I was slated to wear in the film." But he was also very private, very reserved and very distant.
Audrey Meadows, on the other hand, cracked me up every single time she came on screen. She had chutzpah, some of the best one-liners (of Beazley, she says, “He’s so low, when they bury him, they’re gonna have to dig up.”), and her acerbity lent the right soupçon of zing when it was acutely needed. In fact, she’s the friend everyone should have. When Cathy informs her that she’s going back to Barbados because she has to prove to Philip that she’s a woman, “There are easier ways to prove it; send him your birth certificate,” quips Connie, sarcastically.
M
eadows, who came into the film on Grant’s recommendation (he had liked her work in The Honeymooners, said she had become friends with Grant after That Touch of Mink, but that “any woman’s initial meeting with Cary is right up there with the big moments of her world history.”
Young as the neurotic academic-turned-corporate-finance-advisor also got some great lines and chewed them up with relish. Knocked down two flights of stairs and attacked by a dog in a cab, Roger comes to see Philip. “
This has been the most satisfying day of my life,” he tells Philip. “Before I go to the hospital, I wanted you to know see what people think of you. And you deserved everything I’ve got.”
Verdict: Cary Grant apparently hated the film. I wouldn’t go that far; it’s not a great movie, but passable for an evening’s entertainment when you don’t want to think too deeply about sexism, misogyny, feminism or anything else. I'd to keep reminding myself that these 'sex comedies' were known to be parodies even back in the 60s, not a reflection of reality. But do ogle the beautiful clothes, and swoon over Cary Grant.

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