THE TUNNEL OF LOVE teases along for 98 minutes, just enough to wrap up its slice of married- in-suburbia-innuendo busyness with a good number of laughs and not wear out a welcome. Directed by Gene Kelly in 1958, the rather risqué (for the time) screenplay done by Joseph Fields was adapted from a successful play he’d written with Peter De Vries, off De Vries novel. Done on Broadway with Tom Ewell, Nancy Olson and Darren McGavin, for the screen version, lead roles went to Doris Day, Richard Widmark and Gig Young. *
The ‘Poole’s, a happily married Connecticut couple, want a child but aren’t having any luck with the whole conception part. After applying to the ‘Rock-a-Bye’ adoption agency, an interview with a comely Rock-a-Bye agent goes further than the husband intends, thanks to too many drinks and a few tranquillizers, provided by his lecherous neighbor. He’s convinced he is now a prospective papa, but not with his wife, who is overjoyed expecting good news from the agency. Doris is blissfully unaware wife ‘Isolde’, Widmark her suddenly stunned husband ‘Augie’, Young the carefree pal next door, who already has three kids and counting. Elisabeth Fraser plays his wife.
“You know, there’s nothing as smug as a monogamous man.”
The chipper movie has an undeserved rap as a flop, bolstered by the negative feedback about the results coming from the cast and director. Most blame got/gets dumped onto Widmark, in a rare excursion into comedy, the criticism more over basic miscasting than for any flaw on his part. Day’s role is more recessed than usual (naturally she gets to be flustered) as most of the action goes to her co-star. Young’s in good form, as is supporting actress Elizabeth Wilson, spanking her few scenes as cheerful agency rep. Exotic Italian import Gia Scala plays the inadvertent prospective donor in question, and there’s a saucy cameo from displaymate model Vikki Dougan (“The Back”) as a party bombshell who tries to vamp the already conscience-stricken Augie. From this end of the cul de sac (though hardly as tony as Westport, Connecticut) we think Widmark handles the comedy like a pro, and we enjoy the picture in general.
* The tunnel of conflicting sources: it seems to have cost either cost $500,000 (set-bound, it looks quite modest) or $2,017,000. Cogerson has it 49th place with a scoop of $5,000,000. But it may have been considerably less, as MGM reported a loss of $701,000, and both Kelly and Day called it it a b.o. dud.
For Young, this was another in a stretch of good supporting comedy roles, including Desk Set, Teacher’s Pet (also with DD, Gig was Oscar nominated for that one), Ask Any Girl and Day’s That Touch Of Mink.
For Widmark, at 44, after 11 years and 30 pictures only 1952’s My Pal Gus had fit the comedy genre. Following The Tunnel Of Love, another 11 years and 15 roles would go by before he’d do another, 1969’s western lark A Talent For Loving. Like Doris, he didn’t think much of ‘Tunnel‘, saying “It was something that happened at the last minute. Glenn Ford was supposed to do it and bowed out…so they asked me…I said, ‘Okay, if I can have a week’s rehearsal.’ About the second day, Doris Day said “Oh, screw this rehearsal–let’s hoot it! I was no good and neither was the movie. It could’ve been with the right actor.”
Kelly: “This is no criticism of Richard Widmark, who is one of the finest film actors we have and who actually started his stage career playing light comedic parts. It’s simply that the public fixes an impression of an actor, they accept him in a certain guise and they don’t like him to stray too far from it. Widmark had established himself in serious material and they weren’t prepared to accept him in this light, sexy part. The public creates type-casting, not the actors – unfortunately.”
So, it’s what I like to call an “orphan movie”, one that people involved with dissed and that carries an unlucky tag of being lame. We call foul. It’s no earth-shaker, but it’s far from being a stinker, and has a good many chuckles. Plus, Doris sings the bouncy title tune.
And Vikki Dougan? “The Back” story can be found at http://www.kitsch-slapped.com/2013/07/looking-back-at-vikki-the-back-dougan-a-biography/