Sunday in New York (1963)
Starring Rod Taylor, Jane Fonda, Cliff Robertson, Robert Culp, Jo Morrow, Jim Backus and Peter Nero. Directed by Peter Tewksbury. From Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
Adam Tyler (Robertson) is a pilot for TWA. He flies home to Idlewild in New York, excited that he has a whole Sunday off to spend with his girl, Mona (Morrow). As he cleans up his gorgeous penthouse apartment, 4B at 120 E. 65th St., there’s a knock at the door. He opens it expecting to see Mona but there’s another girl at the door, his sister, Eileen (Fonda). Poor Eileen has been cast aside by her fiancée, wealthy Russ Wilson (Culp) and has escaped the family home in Albany for a week’s respite with her brother in Manhattan. Adam sees his intimate afternoon with Mona go up in smoke but he plays it cool and listens to his sister’s story.
It seems Russ had suddenly demanded that 22-year-old Eileen give up her virginity to him. When she had demurred, he cut her loose. Eileen is now second-guessing her stance on chastity and wants Adam’s advice. Boys don’t want to date her, she laments, because of her reluctance to go all the way. Is a girl supposed to go to bed with a man she is just casually dating? Adam answers emphatically no, explaining that men marry decent girls, not easy ones. What about you, Eileen asks, do you sleep with with women? No, Adam answers, he doesn’t sleep with women and binds his honesty with the siblings’ long-shared oath “sacred honour”. Mona arrives and Adam takes her out to find a place where they can be alone.
Adam is on stand-by for the day and gets a call at home from his boss, Mr. Drysdale (Backus). Eileen takes the call and is told Adam is needed for a flight so helpful Eileen hits the streets to find him. During her search, she meets Mike Mitchell (Taylor), a sports and music writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer who is in town to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon. Game Mike joins the hunt, hoping perhaps this chance meeting with a pretty girl will lead somewhere.
During coffee on a break from searching for Adam, both Eileen and Mike realize that they don’t care to spend any more time together and they go their separate ways. Eileen finds Adam and Mona and passes along Mr. Drysdale’s message. Adam takes Mona along as he hurries to work – and the two spend the rest of the day having their own crazy adventures. Eileen runs into Mike again and this time they cotton to each other. When they both get soaked in the rain, Eileen takes Mike back to Adam’s apartment to dry off.
Mike warms up by the fire while Eileen looks for a needle and thread to repair Mike’s jacket. When Eileen discovers Mona’s underthings in a closet, she is crushed to learn her brother lied to her. Good enough for one Tyler, she figures, good enough for another and she proceeds to turn on the heat and entice Mike into seducing her. Mike is ready until he learns he will be Eileen’s first and he pumps the brakes. This brings tears to a frustrated Eileen and the two argue. While they stand there – both wearing robes – Russ rudely breaks in and declares his love for Eileen. He assumes that Mike is actually her brother, Adam – who else would Eileen be so casually dressed with? When Adam shows up, things really get tangled. Plans are hatched to navigate this delicate situation over dinner and drinks. The navigating proves a challenge for all.
Sunday in New York began life as a play produced in 1961 by David Merrick. It starred budding young actor Robert Redford alongside Conrad Janis, Pat Stanley and Canadian Pat Harrington, Sr. Author Norman Krasna was a prolific writer, producer and director of stage and screen who’s name is also on Bombshell (1933), Hands Across the Table (1935), Mr. and Mrs. Smith (1941) and White Christmas (1955). After our film, he would work on only one more movie, co-scripting the delightful hidden gem, I’d Rather Be Rich (1964). In December of ’51, Krasna eloped to Vegas with Al Jolson’s widow and the two built a large family and remained married until Norman’s death in 1984.
Cleveland’s Peter Tewksbury (1923-2003) was a director who worked sparingly. He was the initial director of Robert Young’s Father Knows Best and was awarded an Emmy for his efforts. On the big screen, Sunday in New York was his first credit and he wrapped his directing career only 6 years later with two King Movies; Stay Away, Joe in ’68 and the nadir, The Trouble With Girls the following year. I’ll give him credit; he knows how to photograph the real star of Sunday in New York, as we’ll talk about later. Henry Peter Tewksbury later chucked it all and moved to Vermont, becoming Henry the Cheeseman. He became a farmer, a miller of wheat, a teacher and an expert on cheese – he had directed The Trouble With Girls, after all – becoming a “legendary figure at the Brattleboro Food Co-Op” in Vermont. And you didn’t think that was possible, becoming a legend at the Co-Op. The store manager of the Co-Op responded to my query with the news that Henry had been their Cheese Manager for 8 years and they still have some pictures of him up in the cheese department. Legend, indeed.
Peter Nero provides his only film score and also appears in the movie. Nero (b. 1934), as most of us old school types know, is a stalwart pianist and recording artist of the easy listening variety. I have a few of his albums in my collection, as any self-respecting collector has. They include the soundtrack and one of two seen in the film; I have Young and Warm and Wonderful (1961) that Adam has in his collection. The other was new at the time; Eileen gifts her brother The Colorful Nero. I also have maybe his finest, Summer of ’42, from 1972. Nero’s score for our film is fine and features Mel Tormé singing the title track, a tune I know better from Bobby Darin’s excellent treatment. Dig the cat who sings the film’s other song, the delightful “Hello”, at the Club Nero. Looks like a car salesman. IMDb claims its Harry Babbitt, who sang with Kay Kyser, but I don’t think that’s right. I can’t find any skinny on who this guy is so the mystery persists. Any help would be appreciated.
The real star of Sunday in New York is Adam’s apartment. His penthouse digs are nothing less than the most perfect living space I’ve ever seen depicted on film. The large, two-storey apartment boasts high ceilings and a loft featuring library/sitting room and bedroom. The main living room is luxurious and includes a fireplace. You step down to a quaint bar and kitchen area. Up the spiral staircase and you find a comfortable sitting area with a chair surrounded by bookshelves. Through a door to the bedroom complete with skylight above the bed. Shutters close along the bedroom’s railing for privacy. It is simply divine and I’ve spent many hours just imagining living there, preparing a meal in the galley, reading in the library… Director Tewksbury knows what he’s got and this is borne out by the many places he set up his shots. He places his camera all over the apartment set affording the viewer unlimited visual access to each area of the pad, even giving different views of the same spot so the viewer can fully appreciate its grandeur. The same set was used in the woefully substandard film Honeymoon Hotel (1964) starring Robert Goulet. As I’ve scoured the internet for articles with good representations of this miracle of set design I’ve been disappointed. I hope to present here at Your Home for Vintage Leisure the definitive tour of the apartment from Sunday in New York.
I would be remiss not to mention the set decorators. Henry Grace (1907-1983) worked on over 220 films, from After the Thin Man in 1936 to The Phantom Tollbooth in 1970. He was nominated for nine Oscars, winning once for Gigi (1958). He played Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower in The Longest Day (1962). No, I don’t know how that happened. George R. Nelson (1927-1992) has more than 80 credits to his name and was nominated for four Academy Awards. He took home the statue for his work on The Godfather Part II in 1974.
If you want to love an actor, one that is a little of a deeper cut or at least not quite as popular as others, you should love Rod Taylor (1930-2015). He is a masculine presence in any film and he has appeared in several good ones – some quite popular and some also under the radar a bit. Taylor from New South Wales began in Australian films before making the move to Hollywood. He began showing up in small roles in Giant (1956) and Raintree County (1957) before leaping to stardom with his starring role in the classic The Time Machine, George Pal’s 1960 film of H.G. Wells’ timeless story. After this, Rod joined the large company of Hollywood actors to star in films abroad, in Rod’s case Italy. He returned to Hollywood films with the Hitchcock classic, The Birds that became – along with The Time Machine – the most notable film in Rod’s career.
After our film, Rod went abroad to star in Young Cassidy and then returned to the States to feature in the less significant but perhaps more popular The Glass Bottomed Boat with Doris Day and Eric Fleming. Taylor than made his mark in a certain type of movie and attained a prestigious reputation as the star of hard-bitten, violent action films favoured by those of us who enjoy the lesser-known “drive-in classics” of the late 1960s and 1970s. First came The Dark of the Sun (1968) followed later by Darker Than Amber (1970). In between these, Taylor made an appearance in the bonkers Zabriskie Point. He would continue in such films into the 1980s, films made at home and abroad, many of which he contributed script revisions to. He may never have scaled the heights suggested by his earliest films but that did not stop Quentin Tarantino from honouring him by casting Rod as Winston Churchill in Inglorious Basterds (2009). It was Taylor’s final film and he passed in 2015, aged 84. Be sure to get all your Rod Taylor needs satisfied at the excellent RodTaylorsite.com.
Jane Fonda appeared in our film at the outset of her career and she was soon to break out in 1965’s Cat Ballou. You can read more about Jane in my review of Barefoot in the Park. Cliff Robertson was well into his career at this point and earlier in the year he had been seen in theatres portraying JFK in PT 109. You can learn more about Cliff’s fascinating career in my piece on Gidget.
California’s Robert Culp attended scores of universities but never stayed long enough to earn a degree. He got his start on television in one of the plethora of westerns of the late 1950’s, Trackdown, a show that sounds like a stone cold copy of Wanted: Dead or Alive – only Trackdown predates the McQueen show by a full TV season. Culp continued on television until 1963 when he appeared in our film, his second feature. In 1965, he scored the job that secured his place in the pop culture lexicon playing Kelly Robinson on I Spy. On this, one of the better television shows of the 1960s, Culp played – with Bill Cosby – one-half of a team of US intelligence agents who jetted all over the world keeping democracy safe from evil.
When I looked into Robert Culp, I realized that he may be one of those actors who are beloved more for who they are than for any one role. What was Robert Culp in? Name me something that isn’t I Spy. Culp was a regular face on television and he was one of the four stars of Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969) but beyond that… And this brings up an interesting question, especially for those of us who enjoy a “deep cut” – what nature of film in the 1970s would feature Robert Culp in a starring role? Films like A Name for Evil, a horror film from 1974. Inside Out, a 1975 British action film with Telly Savalas that aired on American TV. And how about Hickey & Boggs, a 1972 neo-noir written by Walter Hill and directed by Culp who also starred with his old buddy Bill Cosby? This one we all should seek out (check here). Culp rewrote some of Hill’s script – he had penned some episodes of I Spy. He also later narrated an Eminem video. Culp was married five times and passed in 2010 at 79.
Jim Backus is known to all and sundry as Thurston Howell III from Gilligan’s Island. He was also in at least two significant films. He played Jim’s beaten father in Rebel Without a Cause –
“Dad, stand up for me” – and he played another aircraft worker in the hilarious It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. He is also well known for his many years spent voicing Mr. Magoo. Jo Morrow was also in Gidget with Robertson and I wrote briefly about her there though there is not much to know about the actress. Keep your eyes peeled for Jim Hutton reclining in a row boat on Central Park Lake.
The most fascinating thing about Sunday in New York – aside from the apartment, of course – is the essence of the plot itself and its presentation of issues and concerns that are of their time. Right off the hop, something you may be less likely to find today is a 22-year-old virgin. That’s what Eileen is and, y’know what?, good for her. Rich Boy Russ wants to change that and has apparently put some pressure on Eileen to succumb. Again, good for her that she has rebuffed his advances and lammed it to her brother’s. But now she’s sad and laments the idea that this is what she must do when she dates a guy.
Adam insists that “men marry decent girls” meaning that only girls who abstain will be proposed to. “Good” girls who stay chaste get married and have a family. “Fast” girls? Men won’t think of marrying them but they sure do like them. Men in this era could have it all; kicks with the fast girl, a wife and a mother for his children with the good girl. Obviously, we’re dealing with a double standard of the time. Adam doesn’t want his sister to know that he has sex with girls and he also doesn’t want her to have sex with guys as he considers her a quality girl who shouldn’t cast her pearls – which is legit, but… Adam is intimate with Mona, though; so, what does that make Mona?
For his part, Mike plays the lecher at first. When he sees it’ll be no dice with Eileen, he jets. But then he gets to like her and when she gives him an opening, he takes it. Sex with a virgin, though, he is not down with. There is some horror connected with a deflowering. In this case, Mike thinks Eileen is too nice a girl for this sort of behaviour. Mike thinks so highly of her that he tries mightily to keep her fiancée from knowing what almost happened even though this will put Mike himself out of the running for Eileen’s affections. Women of today would be outraged to hear of the “rules” laid out in this film. I try to keep in mind that these guidelines existed PARTLY because men of the day placed virtuous girls on a pedestal and they appointed themselves guardians of their honour. Let’s keep the good girls good. (The bad girls? Let’s party!) Russ finds out the truth – that Eileen wanted Mike to take her to bed and that’s it. Even this non-consummation gives Russ pause and makes him reconsider. Good riddance, says I.
The action is well choreographed as Mike confesses his love – it’s actually quite lovely the way it rolls out, with the coffee pot and the room key. This time when Adam catches Eileen and Mike in an embrace, he simply leaves them alone. The epilogue declares that wonderful things can happen to a girl – if she stays virtuous. It’s all a charming piece of how the mating game worked in 1963. In addition, you get a sense that Sunday in New York is to be best enjoyed laying on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. The idea that someone in Philadelphia would take the train in to hang out in Manhattan is just wonderful and serves as much food for a vintage-leaning imagination.
Gary: thanks for writing about one of my favourite “New York City” movies. I believe that I had previously mentioned this movie, when I commented on your article about “Barefoot in the Park.” I also love, love, Adam’s apartment and would love to have that footprint in my own living quarters. I also looked for, over the years, articles about the apartment, and at one time I had a link to someone’s blog who had all sorts of information about how it was built/photos of it, etc. I’m going to see if I still have that link, and if it still works, will send it to you.
Again, love everything about, and every actor in this movie. I love the soundtrack and may I say that I envy the fact that you have the LP of the movie’s soundtrack. Lucky guy.
I’m glad you enjoyed the article, Betty and yes, I recall you mentioning this film in your comment on Barefoot in the Park; when I read it I grinned knowing that a review of Sunday in New York was coming!
I feel like I had found a blog post by someone, too that gave details on the apartment set but I couldn’t find it. That was part of my goal – to have lots of pictures of the apartment for all to see.
Thanks again for reading and for your comment.
Gary: this is one site that I had previously found in which the blogger loves the apartment as much as we do: https://www.thefilmsinmylife.com/2009/03/sunday-in-new-york-apartment.html, And here’s another site you might find interesting: http://makingniceinthemidwest.com/2013/12/13/sunday-in-new-york-1963/. You probably know about these two sites, but I thought I’d bring them to your attention.
By the way, my husband and I have been visiting New York City, during all four seasons, since 1990. The best times to visit, at least for us, have been Spring and Autumn. One year, we visited in October, and visited Rockfeller Centre. And I specifically wanted to eat in the restaurant that was featured in Sunday in New York. When we visited it, it was called The Rock Center Cafe. We managed to reserve a table which looked out onto the skating rink. The food was very good, and the view was terrific. We had a great time!
By the way, I am ashamed to say that I had actually forgotten that I owned the soundtrack on LP.
Thank you for those links. I will check them out. The second one, for sure, I visited during my research.
How lovely that you and your husband have made those trips. My wife and I have often thought of it – New York being “so close” to us and certainly do-able. I would love so much to make the trip you describe!
Great review of one of my favourite romantic films, Gary. Rod and Jane have wild chemistry and the film is so much fun. Maddy
You’re so right, Maddy.