Boys' Night Out.
Hanging out each Thursday night in New York City, four old friends, now all middle aged -- including Fred (James Garner), George (Tony Randall), Doug (Howard Duff) and Howard (Howard Morris) -- are in a bit of a mid-life rut. Somewhat jokingly they talk about renting a plush NYC apartment where they can bring their fictional mistresses to and escape from their everyday life. Well, Fred actually finds an apartment for a very low rent that the four can split for a reasonable rate, even finding a live-in girl, Cathy (Kim Novak), who will stick around for "companionship." The guys think they've got things made, except for Fred who starts to question what they're up to. None of them have any idea what Cathy has in mind for them.
Sounds kind of ominous, doesn't it? It wasn't intended that way. After all, it is a screwball sex comedy from 1962. Kim Novak isn't exactly going to murder and hack them up now, is she? Finally seeing Novak in more than just Hitchcock's Vertigo recently, I'm fast becoming a huge fan. Her gimmick here is of a sociology student student studying adolescent, sexual behavior in suburban men. When they assume she's some sort of hooker/escort, she takes the bait. None of them actually sleep with her, Novak's Cathy playing them like a fiddle. She gives them each what they want; George to talk, Doug to be a handyman around the house, and Howard to eat to his heart's desire. All problems at home that Cathy easily fixes. These scenes are subtle, underplayed comedy at its best, funny without trying too hard to be funny.
Through some rather major flaws, I'll still be giving this romantic comedy a positive review, most of that being chalked up to the casting. I'm used to Garner in more action-driven stories, but he easily handles the jump to some lighter fare. Working with the very beautiful Novak, he looks right at home in any romantic scenes. And working with Novak, I don't imagine those scenes were too difficult to film. Randall, Duff and Morris (later Ernest T. Bass on The Andy Griffith Show) round out the middle-aged quartet, all bringing different styles and backgrounds to their characters, the wives played by Janet Blair, Patti Page and Anne Jeffreys. Playing Fred's mother, Jessie Royce Landis is very funny in a small part, organizing the wives for some investigating. Oskar Homolka plays Dr. Prokosch, Cathy's professor, William Bendix makes a small but memorable cameo as Slattery, the wise bartender, and Jim Backus is a real estate agent trying to unload his tainted apartment.
Now that we've got all these pleasantries out of the way, let's move on. Not raunchy because 1960s censors wouldn't allow it, 'Boys' still manages to be pretty high up on the "Nasty Meter." First off, Garner's Fred is divorced and the only single one of the bunch. The other three never actually have sex, hook up, even touch Novak's Cathy which is important. Still, they believe that each of the other ones has, they're just too embarrassed to say they're not. Here's the nasty part, for me at least. It's 1962, and the story calls for George, Doug and Howard to "share" Novak, one getting Monday, the other Tuesday and so on. It doesn't bother them that they're passing this girl around? Sloppy seconds, thirds and fourths. Sounds kind of scandalous for a 1962 comedy. Granted, none of them actually do, but come on. They seem far too comfortable with the situation.
And because this is a screwball, romantic/sex comedy, we need an ending....a stupid one. Lots of miscommunication and misunderstanding basically has everyone meeting in Cathy's furnished apartment, fighting it out and screaming, Cathy just trying to explain herself. All the positive momentum (friends sexually sharing a woman aside) is nearly for naught. The last 15 minutes are nearly unbearable to watch. Painfully over the top theatrics, and all could be solved with one quick explanation. What's the fun in that though? We'd never get the awkwardness, Fred turning his back on Cathy even though he loves her. Oops, spoiler alert. My bad. Are you surprised though? The final scene has everyone happy and back together, the wives apparently choosing to forget that their husbands sought out affairs, even if they didn't go through with it. Oh, happy day, it's a 1960s comedy and everything is hunky-dory!
The positive of most of the movie is that for most of 90 minutes, Boys' Night Out is very good. It treads the fine line between stupid and funny, letting the cast have some fun with this screwy situation. This was Garner at the top of his game, Novak is sexy with that smoky voice and effortlessly funny, and the rest of the cast fills out the movie nicely. Yes, the resolution is bad, really bad, but getting there is fun. Too bad the movie couldn't end when Fred and Cathy end up together at a rained out Little League baseball game. Then it'd be a really good, worthwhile movie. As is now, it's still good.
Boys' Night Out <---TCM trailer (1962): ***/****