On February 13, Kim Novak turned 90! I love Kim, I am happy that she was able to celebrate this milestone birthday. She also lives in Oregon, like me, so I feel a kinship with her. When this blogathon was announced, I thought I would cover one of her films that you don’t hear mentioned as often. Boys’ Night Out is a film very much of its time (1962) and may contain some ideas that definitely wouldn’t fly today (they didn’t even fly in 1962), but it is entertaining and Kim is wonderful in her role.
Boys’ Night Out tells the story of a group of men who all commute from Greenwich, CT to New York City together on the same train. They often have drinks together at a bar prior to getting on the train. One evening while partaking in their daily bar ritual, the men spot Fred Williams’ (James Garner) boss carrying on with his mistress (Zsa Zsa Gabor). The men decide that Fred’s boss is living the dream and fantasize about setting up a love nest in the city so each man can have his own mistress in the city. These men definitely sound like sleazeballs (and in some ways they are), but an insight into their respective lives at home demonstrates why they might feel inclined to have an extra-martial affair.
George Drayton (Tony Randall) feels ignored and steamrolled by his wife, Marge (Janet Blair), who constantly cuts him off and finishes his sentences. Doug Jackson (Howard Duff) wants to just fix things around his own house, but his wife Toni (Anne Jeffreys) doesn’t trust him as a handyman and keeps hiring other people. Then there’s Howard McIllenny (Howard Morris) whose wife, Joanne (Patti Page), is always dieting and keeps her husband on a diet as well. Joanne also makes sure to make it known that she’s been permanently dieting for Howard’s sake, not hers. Fred is the only un-attached man who isn’t experiencing martial issues. His mother, Ethel (Jessie Royce Landis) is there to make it known that she wishes she had grandchildren and wants Fred to marry.
One afternoon, the men are discussing their fantasy to establish a love nest in New York. They hypothetically divvy out the days of the week where each man can use the love nest for his respective mistress. Thinking that this is merely just fantasy, they give Fred the joke assignment to find a cheap apartment and a blonde to go with it. Fred, however doesn’t realize that his friends aren’t serious and starts looking for an apartment.
He ends up finding a ridiculously cheap luxury apartment in New York. The realtor, Peter Bowers (Jim Backus), is desperate to rent out the apartment and prices it to sell. It seems that the apartment was the location of a highly publicized murder. Unsurprisingly, nobody wants to live there. At the same time, a young woman, Cathy (Kim Novak), arrives wanting to look at the apartment. Mr. Bowers explains that it has been rented. Fred, sensing an opportunity to set up the “young blonde” in the apartment, tells her that while he is the one who rented the apartment, he is looking for a young housekeeper. He also tells her that he and his friends are the ones renting the apartment. Cathy accepts the position. After Fred tells the men that he’s gotten the apartment and the blonde, they come up with the same story to tell their wives. They will each be attending “The New School for Social Research” which requires them to spend the evening in New York.
What Fred and his friends don’t realize is that Cathy is not just simply a young woman looking for an apartment. She is a sociology graduate student whose thesis is about “the adolescent fantasies of the adult suburban male.” While the men are meeting with Cathy on their assigned evening, they think that they are carrying on an affair, when in reality, Cathy is using them for research. Each man also makes the other think that he’s carrying on a sexual affair with Cathy. Eventually, as all these films go, the relationship between the men starts to go awry and the wives catch wind of the real reason their husbands are spending one night a week in New York. There’s a very funny scene where the wives go out to lunch to commiserate about their husbands’ infidelity and end up getting schnockered.
Boys’ Night Out is very much of its time and feels very 1960s. This film could only exist in the 1960s. This is the era when wives stayed at home in their suburban homes while their husbands traveled into the city for work. The 1960s also feels like the only time that a sociology student would be studying sex and would take advantage of a situation for research purposes. The three married men are all hilarious and henpecked. James Garner, being the only single man, is the only one who is presented as someone who would be moderately interesting to Kim Novak. Perhaps because the studio system is still in effect, or perhaps because Garner and Novak are the stars of the film, they are the characters who are depicted as needing to be together. If this film were made today, or even in the 1980s or 1990s, it is possible that Novak’s character would fall in love with one of the married men and break up his marriage.
While the idea that a husband could set up a love nest for weekly rendezvouses is very dated today, it is a common plot point in 1960s films. Perhaps that is due to the shift in American life where more families lived in the suburbs while the jobs remained in the city. The husband traveled into the city daily for work, while their wives stayed at home. It’d be relatively simple to carry on an affair without the wife being the wiser. In the film, Any Wednesday, Jason Robards is a businessman who has been lying to his wife about traveling out of town each Wednesday of the week. Despite telling his wife that he was out of town, in reality, he’s hooking up with Jane Fonda, his mistress. Both Boys’ Night Out and Any Wednesday seem horrible now, but it would be interesting to know how many suburban men had mistresses in the city.
Regardless, I would recommend Boys’ Night Out to anyone who is a fan of the cast and/or fans of 1960s sex comedies. It is very entertaining and has a stellar cast.