Susan Slept Here (1954):

Blocked screenwriter Dick Powell finds himself cuffed to teenage spunkster Debbie Reynolds on Christmas Eve after the reformatory bobcat gets dragged in by a cop pal trying to help Powell get ideas for his upcoming juvenile delinquent opus. This being a '50s comedy, there is no shortage of did-they-or-didn't-they innuendo inundating the other characters -- most notably socialite fiancée Anne Francis and attorney Les Tremayne, who's got Freudian knots of his own. This being a Frank Tashlin comedy, however, the leering is continually compounded by an obsession with the pitfalls of all-American success and a culture that, if pushed all the way, could lead to Weekend dismantling. Powell's soured-ingénue middle-age, just a step away from the cynical alcoholism of secretary and fellow aged '30s gold digger Glenda Farrell, gets a lift from Reynolds' corruptible/corrupting jailbait bounce, herself as much of a commodity as the fiancée he's forever avoiding. (As if to underscore the intertwined lines, Reynolds apes footage of Francis in cowgirl fringes just as Francis pops up in Reynolds' introductory tomboy wear -- how often in Tashlin's view success both in and out of the office hinges upon pretense and self-repression.) Less garish and savage than Tashlin's later satires, the film doesn't lack for self-reflexibility: an Oscar statuette narrates the plot, while the suggestive lines that run throughout the picture tangle up in a marvelous dream sequence, with Powell playing sailor-hoofer to Reynolds' caged parakeet and Francis' spidery vamp. With Alvy Moore, Horace MacMahon, and a wordless bit by Red Skelton.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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