Holiday Classics: “Susan Slept Here” (1954)

Glenda Farrell in “Susan Slept Here”

It’s a minor miracle that “Susan Slept Here” is as charming as it is. Consider the plot: thirty-five year old Hollywood screenwriter Mark Christopher (Dick Powell, who was more like fifty when this film was made) is suffering writer’s block as he tries to make the transition from writing comedy to drama. On Christmas Eve, police sergeant Sam Hanlon (Herb Vigran) brings seventeen-year-old Susan Landis (Debbie Reynolds) to Mark’s apartment. Susan is a juvenile delinquent, about to be arrested for vagrancy, but Sam doesn’t want her to spend the holidays in jail, and knows that Mark could use her for research on a script he wants to do about juvenile delinquents. Mark is initially reluctant, but finally decides to let her stay over. Things get out of hand quickly when Susan falls for Mark and Mark’s girlfriend Isabella (Anne Francis) finds out about her. Mark’s best friend Virgil (Alvy Moore), his secretary Maude (Glenda Farrell), and his lawyer Harvey (Les Tremayne) try to help contain the situation when Mark marries Susan to keep her out of jail.

Debbie Reynolds in “Susan Slept Here”

So yeah, the story hasn’t aged well. Fortunately, director Frank Tashlin keeps the pace moving fast, allowing lots of time for comedy and little time for contemplating what’s actually going on—and what is going on comes off as more innocent than creepy. Reynolds—a talented performer whose career was just getting started—and Powell—a movie musical veteran appearing in his last feature film—actually have great chemistry, and Reynolds later stated she admired Powell greatly. Reynolds’ energy is contagious and contrasts well with the dour Powell. Mark’s circle of friends also add a lot of humor to the story, particularly Tremayne’s preoccupied lawyer, Farrell’s tough but helpful secretary, and Francis’ uppity Isabella. The story is tied together in a unique way: it is narrated by Mark’s Oscar statue, allowing for some topical Hollywood puns.

Somehow, “Susan Slept Here” made it past the censors, although it was banned by the Catholic Legion of Decency, who objected to the film’s title. Still, “Susan Slept Here” was a hit at the box office, and even made enough money to save RKO studios from bankruptcy.

“Susan Slept Here” is available to rent, and is airing on Turner Classics Movies on the following dates:

Saturday, December 19th at 2 PM EST

Friday, December 25th at 12:15 PM EST

Runtime: 98 minutes

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