Sunday in New York (1963)
Sunday in New York is one of those artificial little comedies based on what I call “a matinee play” that ran for a few months on Broadway. I saw the original production (Yes, at a Sunday matinee) and thought it a slightly amusing way to spend an afternoon. At the time I was, theatrically speaking, an unsophisticated 22 year old and I can honestly say that it didn’t make much of an impression. As I remember it wasn’t an engrossing experience but it wasn’t a total waste of time or money either. It was just sort of so-so.
New York on Sunday, big city taking a nap.
Slow down it’s Sunday, life’s a ball just let it all right in your lap.
About two years later the movie came out proceeded by a pleasant title song written by pianist/ composer Peter Nero (who briefly appears in the film) and Carroll Coates (whose lyrics are quoted throughout this post) and sung by Mel Torme. The song got a fair amount of airplay on the radio and I credit it as the reason why I went to see the film.
If you’ve got troubles just take them out for a walk
They’ll burst like bubbles in the fun of a Sunday in New York.
The story was like the play of course. But surprise, surprise the film was way, way better. Mostly because, in terms of structure, it seemed better suited to the screen than on the stage where they were constantly interrupting the action with clunky set changes. And also because the sense of place was wonderfully realized by the direction and the cinematography…I mean it is called “Sunday in New York”, so we needed to get a sense of the city in all its (in Hollywood romantic comedy terms) hustle/bustle glamour. Again, this wasn’t possible on the stage but director Peter Tewksbury and his cinematographer Leo Tover make the city seem a realistically magical place right from the opening sequence.
You can spend time without spending a dime-watching people watch people pass
Later you’ll pause and in one of those stores there’s that face next to yours in the glass.
The plot, adapted by Norman Krasna from his play is a silly thing about a young woman Eileen (played by Jane Fonda) finding out that her older brother Adam (Cliff Robertson) an airline pilot has lied to her about pre-marital sex. He told her that nice young women didn’t do that sort of thing. They waited until they were married. But on a weekend trip to the city she discovers that brother Adam doesn’t practice what he preaches. The question is important to her because she is betrothed to Russ (Robert Culp) a wealthy young man who keeps bringing the subject up whenever they’re together and her resistance has put a strain on the relationship. But when she discovers the truth behind Adam’s fraudulent advice she becomes angry and decides to got out and sleep with the first reasonably attractive man she encounters. This leads to all kinds of misunderstandings and complications when the guy she meets turns out to be Mike Mitchell (Rod Taylor), a melancholy sort who’s just visiting the city to escape his own romantic entanglement…The whole thing is so completely ridiculous that it requires a suspension of disbelief and a willingness to just go with the flow. Because the main dramatic question about the young woman and pre-marital sex was dated even then…But what makes the film work is the director’s breezy approach to the material… But even more so is the power and strength of the cast. Jane Fonda at 22 was attractive and full of a kind of coltish charm that was thoroughly disarming. Rod Taylor, who prior to this film had played either secondary characters or tough guys, is surprisingly deft in his handling of both the romantic and broad comedic antics the role required. Cliff Robertson, another dramatic actor not known for comedy is wonderfully sly and amusingly slippery in the role of the brother, while Robert Culp plays her fiancée as a perfect but sympathetic ass. Jim Backus and Jo Morrow give acceptably broad performances as harried innocent by-standers caught up in all the absurdity.
This is a film that due to its social anachronisms and clunky plot structure shouldn’t work at all. But it does. And it works so well that you forgive it all of its gaucheries and bask in the romantic glow that it casts…Of course there’s never been a Sunday like this in New York. But after seeing this film, with these players, somehow you wish there could be.
Two hearts stop beating, you’re both too breathless to speak
Love sends her greeting, then the dream that has seen you through the week
Comes true on sunday, you met on sunday.
So make it Sunday in New York.
Note: I included the lyrics to the song because I think they perfectly capture the mood and tone of the film.