(1961)3.5Bruce EderAll in a Night's Work is an entertaining and highly underrated sex comedy, and one that still pushes some interesting buttons in the viewer over four decades since its release date. It's also a fascinating study in contradictions, starting with the fact that it is a comedy about sex, and sexual morals, and the double-standard to which men and women were held in the supposedly morally clear Eisenhower era (bumping up against the early Kennedy era), made during a period when it wasn't acceptable to talk about sex, or sexuality, or sexual morals, and when the double-standard was barely perceived, much less understood. Seen today, it feels like a 94-minute cinematic tightrope walk as characters allude to and dance around the central subjects without ever mentioning them outright. In a way, the movie is a bit like those comedies of the same period starring Doris Day, but a lot more sophisticated -- and one can also find parallels with earlier, better movies, going back at least to Mitchell Leisen's Easy Living (1937) and perhaps all the way to Clarence G. Badger's It (1927), starring Jean Arthur and Clara Bow, respectively. In comparison to the Day comedies, Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine make a far more interesting pairing onscreen than Doris Day and anybody. Martin was an underrated actor for most of his career, and he's surprisingly good playing a mix of comic straight man and shameless Lothario, his character reveling in his own sexual conquests even as he's perturbed by MacLaine's character's apparent sophistication in those areas. And MacLaine makes a very good, convincing ingenue, genuinely funny as a "nice girl" trying to protect not only her virtue but her reputation, and running headlong into that double standard that makes Martin's lusty ne'er-do-well prime boardroom material while her perceived gold-digger is seen as little more than disposable bedroom flotsam. There are moments where she does, indeed, seem to directly recall Jean Arthur from Easy Living, with its surprisingly similar comedy of errors plot (courtesy of screenwriter Preston Sturges) about a poor, honorable working girl, an expensive coat, and a series of mistaken assumptions that just seem to pile high on her out of all innocence. MacLaine manages to be funny, affecting, endearing, feisty, and spirited all at once, and also very appealing in what had to be a difficult part to play. In the process, the movie pokes savage, vicious fun at the social conventions of the day, including those Doris Day comedies. The veteran supporting cast, including Gale Gordon and Jerome Cowan, adds considerable entertainment value, though Cliff Robertson is wasted as MacLaine's veterinarian fiancé.
Tony Ryder (Dean Martin) thinks that Katie Robbins (Shirley MacLaine) was the mistress of a recently deceased millionaire. On this fragile plot peg hangs the rest of All in a Night's Work. The millionaire died with a smile on his face, and Tony, who stands to inherit the dead man's publishing business, suspects that Katie, who has been left a fortune, administered the "favors" that pushed the old coot into the great beyond. Katie, wholly innocent, resents Tony's implications and gives him the brush-off. All turns out for the good when Tony realizes that he loves Katie for herself and not for her legacy. It took three writers (five, if you count the authors of the play upon which this film is based) to cook up the tickle-and-tease souffle that we've come to know as All in a Night's Work.