Phffft (1954)

“I’m no longer interested in beds.”

Phffft Poster

Synopsis:
A recently divorced husband (Jack Lemmon) and wife (Judy Holliday) navigate the tricky world of dating while gradually recognizing that they’re still in love with one another.

Genres:

Review:
Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon are perfectly paired in this sprightly romantic comedy (directed by Mark Robson, and scripted by George Axelrod) about a recently divorced couple who are clearly meant to end up right back in one another’s arms; with this understanding fully in mind, one watches the couple’s quibbling and travails with a sense of bemusement rather than discomfort. The film isn’t entirely successful, with some scenes working better than others: for instance, Holliday’s first post-divorce date — with the narcissistic star (Donald Curtis) of her hit radio show — is played much too broadly; but her scenes with the inimitable Jack Carson (as Lemmon’s playboy roommate) go in unexpected directions, and Lemmon’s dalliance with a sexy young student (Kim Novak, having fun channeling Marilyn Monroe) is an interesting foreshadowing of his scenes as traumatized Oscar Madison interacting with the Pigeon sisters in The Odd Couple (1968).

My favorite scenario, however, is a wordless one in which Holliday and Lemmon meet each other unexpectedly on the dance floor, flaunting their new moves (they’ve both taken dance lessons) while doing the mambo; one wonders how long it took them to coordinate their physical timing, and to learn to dance so perfectly awkwardly. (All of this is made doubly impressive knowing that Holliday was sick as a dog throughout most of the shooting, and reported feeling like she was sleep-walking through many of her scenes.) Another fun scene has mustachoied Lemmon — cautiously exercising his newly single muscles while driving a sporty car — attempting to flirt with a sexy woman on the sidewalk, only to have her turn around and reveal she’s Holliday. Silly? Yes. Unrealistic? Sure. But Holliday and Lemmon are such gifted comedians that we can’t help enjoying their work together throughout this light-hearted romp. If only all divorces were so easily remedied.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Judy Holliday as Nina
    Phffft Holliday
  • Jack Carson as Charlie
    Phffft Carson
  • Lemmon and Holliday’s hilarious dancing scene
    Phffft Dance

Must See?
No, though it’s definitely recommended simply for the performances.

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One Response to “Phffft (1954)”

  1. First viewing.

    A once-must, for Axelrod’s clever script and for Holliday’s performance.

    For me, it’s safe to say that FFs should not miss any of Holliday’s screen performances. She made too few films and watching her is like witnessing consistent master classes in comedic subtext. She remains one of cinema’s most engaging comics, who is also a marvelous entertainer capable of deep pathos. A very rare actor. I don’t think it’s just that I’m personally partial to her – I believe she gives any film she’s in a genuine lift in overall quality.

    ‘Phffft’ may not have the best script ever but it has a genuinely witty one, and Holliday clearly takes it to another level. She’s remarkably nuanced. Of course, all actors need good scripts to work from but Axelrod affords Holliday a strong base, from which she blossoms through her own ethereal know-how. Witness her deftness in her delivery with a line like, “I’ve never been to another man’s apartment…except for my husband’s. But I lived there too, so it was ok.”

    You just can’t control your urge to hug her.

    I think this film is very pleasing and satisfying and I can’t find any major fault with it. I don’t think the film has real ups and downs – it’s just not all that ambitious: it’s a mild story, with a simple aim, and it’s served up by all involved with delightful results. The cast performs admirably, but this is vintage Holliday all the way.

    …And she was sick all through shooting the picture? You’d never know it for a nanosecond.

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