By the mid-Fifties the stage had been set for the sex comedies which were about to emerge and which would proliferate through much of the Sixties. Prior to the advent of the sex comedies, however, there were a few movies that could be considered predecessors of the form. Foremost among these may have been Howard Hawks' Monkey Business, released in 1952.
Howard Hawks' Monkey Business is not a sex comedy. The plot centres on Dr. Barnaby Fulton (Cary Grant), a chemist developing a "fountain of youth" pill for a pharmaceutical company. The pill would have the effect of restoring individuals to the vigour of their youth. Unfortunately, one of the chimpanzees upon whom they experiment gets loose and dumps a portion of the "fountain of youth" chemical in a water cooler at the lab. And, unfortunately, the chemical not only restores one to his or her youthful vigour, but to the mindset he or she had in his or her youth as well. The humour of the comedy emerges from individuals acting much younger than they actually are, and the "battle between the sexes," so central to the Sixties sex comedies, is nowhere to be found in the film. That having been said, the film does have some aspects of a sex comedy. After imbibing the chemical, Dr. Fulton goes out on the town with his boss's secretary, Miss Laurel (Marilyn Monroe). His wife, Edwina, also downs the chemical and mischievously calls her college beau, who then thinks she is unhappy in her marriage and wants a divorce. With various situations with a sexual component and humour stemming from misunderstandings that are sexual in nature, Monkey Business could be considered a forerunner of the sex comedies of the late Fifties and sixties.
Another predecessor of the Sixties sex comedies was Phffft, released in 1954. Phffft starred Jack Lemmon and Judy Holliday as a married couple who divorce. Robert (Jack Lemmon) joins his friend Charlie Nelson (Jack Carson), a womaniser, while Nina (Judy Holliday) cries on her mother's shoulder. The battle of the sexes does exist to some degree in the film, although not to the extend that it would the later sex comedies. That having said, Phffft lacks the element of deceit present in nearly every sex comedy, as well as the misunderstandings that often occur in sex comedies. Like Monkey Business, then, Phffft could be considered a forerunner of the sex comedies.
Another forerunner of the Sixties sex comedies was the classic The Seven Year Itch. The Seven Year Itch centres on Richard Sherman (Tom Ewell), who sends his wife and son to Maine for the summer. Unfortunately, Sherman soon finds himself extremely attracted to The Girl (Marilyn Monroe), a model renting the apartment upstairs for a short time. The rest of the movie centres upon Sherman's attempts to resist temptation as he and The Girl grow closer. The central theme of The Seven Year Itch is certainly sex. That having been said, there is no Battle of the Sexes in the movie, nor is deceit central to the plot (Sherman does not pretend to be someone else to get close to The Girl). With sex as a central theme, The Seven Year Itch is definitely a forerunner to the sex comedies, but not a sex comedy itself.
While it is easy to find predecessors to the sex comedies of the Sixties, it is a bit more difficult to determine what the first Sixties sex comedy was. To what extent must deceit and the battle of the sexes play a role in a film before it can be considered a sex comedy? This is not a question that is easily answered. One possible candidate is The Tender Trap from 1955. The Tender Trap stars Frank Sinatra as theatrical agent Charlie Y. Reader, who could easily qualify as the forerunner of the many playboys of the Sixties sex comedies. With many female admirers, Charlie meets actress Julie Gillis (Debbie Reynolds) at an audition. After a few dates Julie informs Charlie that they will not get married until he stops seeing other women. Naturally, as a result, Charlie falls in love with her. Unfortunately for Charlie, his friend Joe (David Wayne) pays a visit and Charlie soon finds himself falling for Joe's girlfriend Sylvia (Celeste Holm). Charlie proposes to Sylvia, but only after he has proposed to Julie as well. The Battle Between the Sexes exists between both Charlie and Julie, and Charlie and Sylvia in the The Tender Trap, even if it is not as prominent as it is some later sex comedies. And there is a certain amount of deceit involved on Charlie's part, as he gets engaged to both Sylvia and Julie. In fact, even though he does not have an extravagant bachelor pad, Charlie is a close cousin to the playboys of the later sex comedies. The Tender Trap could then be considered the first of the sex comedies so prevalent in the Sixties.
If The Tender Trap is not counted as the first sex comedy, then it seems quite possible that the very first was Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter starred Tony Randall as the title character, a writer for television commercials. Eager to advance at the agency where he works, Rock finds the perfect model for the new line of lipstick he is promoting, Rita Marlowe (Jayne Mansfield). Before Rita will promote the new line of lipstick, however, Rock must pretend to be her boyfriend in order to make her boy friend, Bobo Branigansky (Mickey Hargitay), the star of a jungle adventure show, jealous. Rock suddenly finds himself the idol of women and moves up the corporate ladder at work until he is the agency's president. Unfortunately, none of this makes his fiancee, Jenny Wells (Betsy Drake), happy. Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter has many of the elements central to the Sixties sex comedies. The movie centres to a large degree on sex and deceit is central to the plot. The Battle of the Sexes is not particularly prominent in Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, although it can be seen in Rock's relationship with Jenny and Rita's relationship with Bobo. With a plot centred on sex and featuring misunderstandings of a sexual nature, Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter could be counted as a sex comedy.
Kiss Them for Me, released in late 1957, is another candidate for the first sex comedy. It stars Cary Grant as Commander Crewson, a consummate womaniser who finds wine and women for the suite at a hotel they rent during leave. Into all of this comes Alice Kratzner (Jayne Mansfield), who starts out attracted to Crewson, but soon find herself attracted to another pilot, Lieutenant McCann (Ray Walston), who also happens to be married. Sex is one of the central themes of Kiss Them For Me, and Commander Crewson shares a lot with the later playboys of sex comedies. Like The Tender Trap and Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter, it is also a candidate for the first sex comedy.
Regardless of which movie one decides is the first Sixties sex comedy (even though they were all released in the Fifties), it was in 1958 that the cycle towards sex comedies emerged at last. That year three movies that are most definitely sex comedies were released. In fact, it can be argued that Teacher's Pet set the stage for nearly all sex comedies to come. Teacher's Pet starred Doris Day as Erica Stone, a journalism professor at a local university. The plot begins when Erica asks James Gannon (Clark Gable), a city editor of a large newspaper who never went beyond the 8th grade, to speak before her journalism class. Gannon refuses, but soon finds himself forced by his editor in chief to find Erica and apologise for the letter he sent rejecting her invitation. Before he can introduce him and make his apology, however, Erica reads his letter before her class and makes fun of him. Humiliated but attracted to Erica, Gannon poses as a wallpaper salesman and enrols in Erica's class. All of the elements of the sex comedy are present in Teacher's Pet: the Battle of Sexes, the deceit (even to the point that Gannon pretends to be someone he isn't), and the wild misunderstandings. If none of the previous candidates for the first sex comedy are counted, Teacher's Pet would definitely be the first sex comedy.
The female lead of Teacher's Pet, Doris Day, would go onto be the star of Sixties sex comedies. She would go onto star in what may be the quintessential Sixties sex comedy, Pillow Talk, released in 1959. Pillow Talk was a huge hit, not only spurring the sex comedy cycle, but insuring that Doris Day would make even more sex comedies. In 1959 alone she would also appear in It Happened to Jane, going onto appear in Lover Come Back, That Touch of Mink, The Thrill of It all, Move Over, Darling, Do Not Disturb, The Glass Bottom Boat, and Where Were You When the Lights Went Out. The popularity of the sex comedies and particularly the popularity of Doris Day's sex comedies would propel her to the top of the box office. Starting in 1959, Doris Day appeared in the exhibitor's poll of the top ten box office stars for eight straight years. In 1962 she topped the list for three straight years. She would not drop out of the top ten until 1968, the year after The Glass Bottom Boat was released.
The other two sex comedies released in 1958 also featured actors who would go onto feature prominently in the sex comedy cycle of the Sixties. The Perfect Furlough starred Tony Curtis as Corporal Paul Hodges, a playboy who is unfortunately stationed in the Arctic. When morale is running low, Army pscychologist Lieutenant Vicki Loren (Janet Leigh) devises the "perfect furlough" to raise morale--give three men three weeks on a furlough that would fulfil their deepest fantasies. Naturally, Corporal Hogan wants to go to Paris with his favourite movie star, Sandra Roca (Linda Cristal). Unfortunately for Corporal Hogan, Lieutenant Loren goes along as a chaperone. Like Doris Day, Tony Curtis would figure prominently in the sex comedy cycle. He would go onto star in what could be the best sex comedy of all time, Some Like It Hot, as well as Who Was That Lady and Boeing Boeing.
Of Tony Curtis's sex comedies, Boeing Boeing may be the best besides Some Like It Hot. Released in 1965, Boeing Boeing was based on the French farce of the same name by Marc Camoletti, first staged in 1960. The play was adapted as a French film in 1960. For the most part Boeing Boeing remained loyal to the original bedroom farce, although the protagonist and his roommate were made Americans. Curtis played journalist Bernard Lawrence, who created a system based on the airline schedules so he can see three different stewardesses. Lawrence's system begins to break down when an acquaintance Robert Reed (Jerry Lewis) moves in with him and the airline schedules abruptly change. Indeed, unfortunately for Lawrence Reed plots to take over not only Lawerence's apartment, but his job and his girlfriends as well.
Houseboat was the third sex comedy released in 1958. The movie centred on widower Tom Winters (Cary Grant) who hires Cinzia Zaccardi (Sophia Loren), whom he hires as a maid to him and his three children, even though she is actually the daughter of a famous Italian conductor. While Cary Grant would not make very many sex comedies, he would make one of the most influential. That Touch of Mink starred Doris Day as Cathy Timberlake, who encounters wealthy Philip Shayne (Cary Grant) when he splashes mud on her dress just as she is on the way to a job interview. While both are attracted to each other, the two find themselves in conflict as Philip simply wants to have an affair while Cathy would prefer marriage.
The sex comedy cycle continued in 1959 with what is considered by many to be the quintessential Sixties sex comedy. Pillow Talk was the first time that Rock Hudson and Doris Day were paired together. The two of them play playboy Brad Allen and interior decorator Jan Morrow, who find themselves constantly at odds over the use of a party line. When Brad finally sees Jan at a nightclub, he puts on the charade of being rich Texas rancher Tex Stetson to get close to her. Pillow Talk was exceedingly influential as far as the Sixties sex comedies go. It was perhaps the first to feature an extravagantly furnished bachelor's pad, complete with the most advanced technology. It took the premise of a character pretending to be someone else further than any film in the genre had before. It retained the Battle of the Sexes from Teacher's Pet, if anything intensifying it. Pillow Talk proved wildly successful. It was one of the top movies of 1959 and almost single handedly revitalised both the careers of Rock Hudson and Doris Day.
While many are under the impression that Rock Hudson and Doris Day co-starred frequently, in fact they would only make three films together. Lover Come Back was released in 1961. This time out Rock Hudson played womanising ad executive Jerry Webster and Doris Day his rival Carol Templeton. Like Pillow Talk, Love Come Back focused on the Battle of Sexes, making it even more intense. Like Pillow Talk it also proved successful. Send Me No Flowers, released in 1964, broke with the first two movies in that Rock Hudson and Doris Day played a married couple--George and Judy. George, a total hypochondriac, becomes convinced he is dying after hearing his physician talk about another patient. He then sets about trying to find Judy a husband for her after he is gone. Unfortunately, Judy takes his attempts to find a her a new husband as a sign he is having an affair. Although starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day and still centred on the Battle of the Sexes, Send Me No Flowers stands apart from the other two in that they play a married couple and George is not a deceitful womaniser, but merely an overly concerned doting husband. Rock Hudson would go onto make sex comedies without Doris Day. He starred in Come September, Man's Favourite Sport, Strange Bedfellows, and A Very Special Favour.
Tony Randall appeared in all three Doris Day and Rock Hudson vehicles, playing a different role in each. While he rarely played the lead, he has become as identified with sex comedies as either Rock Hudson or Doris Day. The reason for this was quite simple. He appeared in many of the sex comedies in the Sixtie. In fact, the same year he made Pillow Talk, Randall starred in The Mating Game. In The Mating Game Randall played tax collector Lorenzo Charlton, who visits country bumpkin Pop Larkin (Paul Douglas) to find out why he has not paid his back taxes, only to fall in love with Paul's daughter Mariette (Debbie Reynolds). Randall would also go onto appear in Let's Make Love and Boy's Night Out. He would have a part (one of his last) in the pastiche of Sixties sex comedies Down With Love
What may be the best sex comedy ever made, Some Like It Hot, was also released in 1959. Some Like It Hot stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon as musicians Joe and Jerry who wind up posing as female musicians to join an all girl band--their only way out of town after witnessing a gangland massacre in the Twenties. Unfortunately, both fall in love with Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), the band's singer. To court Sugar Joe creates another alter ego, that of the millionaire "Junior." While Some Like It Hot is a period piece, it fits in quite well with other sex comedies of the era, making the most of the charade that plays such a big role in many of them. It was also one of the films that would challenge the Production Code, thus weakening it even further and paving the way for other risque sex comedies. The film was almost condemned by the Legion of Decency, the national Roman Catholic organisation responsible for fighting what it saw as objectionable material in movies (if a movie was rated "C" or condemned by the Legion, it would be a mortal sin for any Catholic to watch it). Upon its initial release it was banned by the state of Kansas. Regardless, Some Like It Hot would prove incredibly successful, coming in second for the year at the box office to only Ben Hur.
Just as Tony Curtis would go onto make more sex comedies so too would Jack Lemmon. It is debatable whether The Apartment can be considered a sex comedy (the Battle of the Sexes is present, but not between the two protagonists), although it is counted as such by some. It Happened to Jane most certainly is, with Lemmon playing opposite Doris Day. It most certainly includes the Battle of the Sexes, as lobster dealer Jane Osgood (Doris Day) takes on railroad executive Harry Foster Malone (Ernie Kovacs) after one of her shipments of lobsters goes bad due to the railroad's neglect. Lemmon would also star in Irma La Douce and Under the Yum Yum Tree. While Lemmon detested Under the Yum Yum Tree, it is notable for two things. Lemmon plays one of the smarmiest playboys on film, Hogan, who is the landlord of an apartment complex who takes an unhealthy interest in a co-end living in the complex (Carol Lynley), who just happens to be living with her platonic boyfriend (Dean Jones). Hogan has what may be one of the most outlandish bachelor pads in the history of sex comedies, complete with blood red walls, a fireplace activated by remote control, and automated violins. Lemmon would also star in How to Murder Your Wife. In that film he played cartoonist Stanley Ford, who wakes up after one of his many drunken sprees one morning to find himself married to a beautiful Italian (Virnia Lisi). Forced to drastically alter his life and even change his comic strip (a secret agent strip titled Bash Brannigan) into a generic, domestic comedy. To vent his frustrations, Lemmon plots to kill the wife in the comic strip off, only to have his plot interpreted as a plan to actually kill his wife. How to Murder Your Wife is one of the more notable sex comedies. It is well regarded by many and it was one of Lemmon's favourite films. That having been said, others tend to see the film as a bit misogynistic.
Between Pillow Talk and Some Like It Hot, the sex comedy cycle was well under way. Started in the Fifties, it would thrive in the Sixties. In fact, for several years in the Sixties it must have very difficult to find a theatre that was not showing several sex comedies in any given year.