It’s Mr. Hudson!
Doris Day and Rock Hudson are a perennially favorite screen team. They only made three movies together, but they’re all memorable and fun. The last of them was 1964’s Send Me No Flowers, a tale of hypochondria, hysteria, and hilarity.
George (Rock Hudson) has it tough. He may live in a perfect house with a perfect wife, but his sinuses hurt. His tummy gives him trouble. He’s got pains in his chest. His medicine cabinet looks like the storeroom at a Walgreen’s. While he’s in the shower taking his temperature, his wife, Judy (Doris Day) gets locked out of the house in her nightgown, giving the kid who delivers the dry-cleaning a long ogle. To add insult to injury, she’s dropped all the nice health foods the milkman just delivered and then stepped in them.
Dr. Morrissey (Edward Andrews) says George has indigestion, and he’s not terribly concerned. He’s got a fishing trip coming up. Take a pill, George. You’re fine.
While he’s in the bathroom, George overhears the doctor getting a call about a bad cardiology report. The patient has a few weeks to live. George mistakenly believes the call is about him, and glumly rides the train home. He breaks the news to his best friend and next-door neighbor, Arnold (Tony Randall) and swears him to secrecy. Even so, he’s apprehensive. How is he going to tell Judy that he’s dying? How is he going to handle all the crying and wailing? George and Arnold make a beeline for the bar.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Judy is calmly sitting at the kitchen table putting sugar in George’s sleeping pills. She meets George at the train later to find him helping Arnold, who’s a little tipsy after one too many martinis.
Like good neighbors, Judy and George help Arnold home, and then invite him to dinner, where George and Arnold secretly muse about what George should do next. George’s biggest worry is that Judy will get mixed up with some gold-digger after he’s gone. That night he dreams about Judy bebopping around the living room with the kid who delivers the dry-cleaning while they wait to collect his life insurance money. He wakes up from his nightmare and to his horror finds Judy doing the cha cha in her sleep.
First thing’s first, though, and before George can secure Judy a new husband he needs to secure himself a final resting place, and Green Hills promises to be a “home away from home.” Mr. Akins (Paul Lynde) treats the place like a resort or a luxury apartment, and tells him breezily about whole families coming in together to pick out burial plots. The kids have a ball, he says.
Feeling more than a little weirded out, George says he wants a plot for himself, Judy, and Judy’s future second husband so there’s no question where Judy will be buried. Mr. Akins is ever so slightly taken aback, but gives George a nice spot on a hill. It’s got a great view, he says. George forks over a thousand dollars. He doesn’t want Judy to know. Mr. Akins is overjoyed. “Well this will give her a real thrill. It makes a very thoughtful gift.”
Mmmkay. With that out of the way, it’s time to find Judy a new fella. George and Arnold mine their country club’s rolls for possible candidates. There’s Paul Pendergass, a good-looking guy with a great smile who plays a fine game of tennis. His only shortcoming is that he’s a klutz–a flying leap over a tennis court net ends up in a face plant. There’s Harry Henderson, who looks promising until Arnold spies him cheating at golf.
Prince Charming enters on a charger, literally. Judy is playing golf by herself when the brakes fail on her golf cart and she goes careening down a hill. George and Arnold speed after her on their own golf cart, but Judy is saved by a ruggedly handsome stranger on horseback, who plucks her off the cart and brings her to a nice, gentle stop. The man surprises everyone by planting a big ol’ beso on Judy. Judy looks ready to deck this guy when she suddenly recognizes him: He’s Burt Power (Clint Walker), her college sweetheart. And whaddaya know, he’s still single. George insists Burt come to the country club dance that night.
Things are falling into place for George. He’s got a burial plot, and Judy’s next hubby is lined up. The only thing left to do is to tape a last message to Judy, which he does right before the dance, bringing tears to Arnold’s eyes.
At the dance, George zealously makes sure Judy and Burt still get along after their years apart. He pushes Judy towards Burt so much that she begins to suspect George is having an affair. Judy bolts for the parking lot to make a quick getaway.
The truth comes out, right before Judy drives away in someone else’s car, and she reacts just the way George predicted…lots of tears. She insists George use a wheelchair and makes plans to take George to the Mayo Clinic.
Predictably, though, Dr. Morrissey comes back from his fishing trip and brings George and Judy some of the fish he caught. Judy is incensed at him for leaving a dying patient, which leads to the real truth coming out. Judy’s reaction is, well, explosive, and she has a few choice words and gestures for Mr. Hypochondria.
According to TCM, Send Me No Flowers was when Rock Hudson started getting more comfortable with comedy, and it helps that he was ably supported by more seasoned comic players like Tony Randall. Sturdy dialogue did him plenty of favors, too.
Hudson as George is a treat. While he’s not the type to make lots of pratfalls like Red Skelton or big deer-in-headlights facial expressions like Cary Grant, his comic delivery is on point. I like that his character checks the hypochondria long enough to realize what he’s missing. Even the way a coffee table feels suddenly means something, and one gets the inkling that the stuffed medicine chest isn’t long for the world.
What’s nice about Send Me No Flowers is that it’s a great example of black humor presented in a classy way. Death isn’t exactly a light subject, and neither is disease, but it’s handled nicely in Flowers. When the cemetery manager is played by Uncle Arthur, nothing is going to be serious, like, at all. Plus, Doris Day and Hudson are so charming together that we can’t help but root for them, and screenwriter Julius Epstein’s script is very clever and fun. Norman Jewison’s direction is always effective, as he knows how to let a story play out. The only thing I would say is that it’s a wee bit paint-by-numbers, but I was having such a good time I didn’t care. This film is totally worth every minute.
For more of the Rock Hudson Blogathon, please visit Crystal at In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood and Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood. Thanks for hosting, ladies–it was fun as always! Thanks for reading, all, and I hope you’ll come back tomorrow, because a new post is on the way…
This film is available on DVD.