Poor Doris Day. She seems to have more latent talent in one smile than she’s allowed to express in any of the feckless scripts she gets tossed. Her roles amount to dancing tiptoe just long enough so her name gets on the marquee. It worked—she remains one of the biggest box office performers of all time. But if the script was too full-bodied it went to Grace Kelly or Kim Novak. Too sexy and it went to Mansfield or Monroe, the kind of performers for whom plot is as unnecessary as a first name. Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much was Day’s proof of concept, which based on her further career everyone seemed to ignore. That Touch of Mink, a film that makes Cary Grant look like he’s not an actor, is just the kind of spineless jaunt that I hate to associate her with.
Cathy Timberlake (Day) gets splashed by a limo on her way to an interview. She clucks with Connie about it (Audrey Meadows of The Honeymooners), before being invited to the offices of the magnate Phillip Shayne (Grant) for an apology. She plans to sock it to him. But he’s just too dreamy.
He invites her to New York, playing the field like he’s never been told he can’t. Day gets rowdy at a Red Socks game (where Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, and Roger Maris show up to sit beside her) and it may be the best scene. Shayne invites her to go to Bermuda with him. She’s not as taken by the weight of his personality as he might have hoped (maybe she hasn’t realized he’s Cary Grant? I don’t blame her: I’ve never seen him so laconic). She refutes his constant offers, as though playing hard to get is a matter of pride, not taste. What I mean is that she waits for him to call so she can tell him no, because she wishes she had pride. He calls her, and she says yes, because she doesn’t have any taste either.
Back and forth from Bermuda, not through various misadventures but the exact same one several times, the two fall in love. I’m sure that’s what they call it. Director Delbert Mann handles the romance at work in That Touch of Mink with the delicacy of a girl clacking two dolls together and making kissing sounds. Roger (Gig Young), Shayne’s assistant, sums it up pretty well. Roger is a sell-out, and Shayne makes it hard for him to feel bad about it by being nice to him. “If you don’t leave now, I’ll raise your salary,” Shayne says. “You’re sadistic enough to do that,” Roger replies. I think they were aiming for charm. But once Roger embarks on a subplot of homosexual innuendo, he becomes loud and unsavory. Old films should not feel this old. The leads have as little chemistry as two rag dolls propping up double office doors, yet somehow Mann finds time for bottomless character arcs and same-sex zingers. He’s a discredit to screwballs, which can survive without anything but a clear direction and a snappy script. The best thing about That Touch of Mink is that it makes the scripts in Howard Hawks movies seem so much more sparkling. Like the stars of yesteryear, this film never stops sagging.
Grant phones it in, playing Shayne with as little verve as I’ve ever seen from him, in a film that begs for the kind of zany antics he displayed in Bringing Up Baby, which not only seems old by comparison but it makes age seem like an advantage. When Grant kisses Day on the shoulder they both seem like distant wage-earners, like children told to act like they're adults in love, whatever that means (at least in Monkey Business there was a magic potion that made this literally true). With the setup you may think that along the lines of Donen’s Indiscreet (starring Grant and Ingrid Bergman) Day would have to work her small-town charm on mister big shot mogul, or convince him to settle down, or in some way address the differences between them. Mann devotes no time to it; like most of Day’s directors eager to get the ol’ girl wasted, he acts like she’s good for a laugh but isn’t pretty enough to cash it in. She could have written off most of her career as an exemption, poor thing.
Meadows is the smartest of the bunch, playing Connie like the meddling roommate seen countless times in Desilu sitcoms and buddy movies with that chilly sarcasm that made her a hit on television. Grant donates the most to the film’s appeal not with his own performance but with Meadows', getting her cast at a word from him into her only notable film role. Is this why such an unlikable brute defaults into being loved in this movie? It must be as the Women’s Humane Foundation reps say when they see Cathy in tatters, storming indelicately from Shayne’s office: “When a man donates $200,000 to a foundation, he’s entitled to use the facilities.” But in the case of That Touch of Mink, casting Meadows was his only contribution. Day is not his prize to win, if she was ever anyone's.
For most of the film, Connie resents, suspects, and foils Shayne. About two thirds in, without any relevant inciting event, she’s completely supportive. Mann’s whole gutless romp plays out like this, with characters doing or saying as they’re preordained to by the forces of movie-making, by the hands of an impudent girl fisting the love dolls around, or perhaps by Grant himself. It makes little difference, when it seems both character and director have washed their hands of the whole affair. “Que Sera, Sera,” I hear them say. And so it was.
Image is a screenshot from the film.