Susan Slept Here (1954)

(Image: Listal)
(Image: Listal)

Mark Christopher (Dick Powell) is a Hollywood screenwriter struggling to finish his latest film. It’s Christmas Eve, and he’s working late, trying to cram to get the script done. He’s been stuck in a bout of writer’s block ever since he won an Academy Award.

Much to his surprise, Mark gets an odd Christmas gift: a juvenile delinquent named Susan (Debbie Reynolds) dropped on his doorstep. Sergeant Sam Hanlon (Herb Vigran) brings the 17-year-old gal to Mark’s swanky apartment after she is arrested for vagrancy.

Susan’s got  nowhere to go, and Hanlon doesn’t want to lock her up over the holidays. Knowing that Mark has some interest in writing a film about juvenile delinquents, he hopes this unexpected new friend will be the perfect solution.

Things get complicated when Susan starts to have feelings for her 35-year-old guardian, and Mark’s girlfriend Isabella (Anne Francis) starts to get very jealous.

Frank Tashlin directs 1954’s Susan Slept Here, an odd romantic comedy of a May-December romance from RKO. The film is based on a play by Alex Gottlieb (who also adapted it for the screen) and Steve Fisher.

The film begins with an opening song that is very cute and very typical of the ’50s. We then pick up narration, but from an unexpected source: Mark’s Oscar statuette. The statue has apparently been spying on Mark from its place on the mantle and has ample commentary to provide about his problems in love and work.

This unique opening grabs the viewer, and with aesthetic beauty and believable performances offered up as the film moves along, Susan Slept Here keeps its hold on the audience.

This isn’t a full-on showbiz movie, though the leading male is a screenwriter. I assume you’re interested in film if you’re reading TMP, but a viewer wouldn’t have to be interested in the inner-workings of Hollywood in order to enjoy Susan Slept Here. (For those of us who are interested, the film is that much more enjoyable.)

The cast of the film is quite wonderful. Musical vet Dick Powell and the always lovely Debbie Reynolds make an odd match, but there’s something quite charming about them both.

It’s a bit hard to buy Debbie as a juvenile delinquent at first because the audience is accustomed to her sweeter persona, but her performance is absolutely full of energy. She brings a lot to the film in the way of  comedic value and screen presence, and she plays very well against Powell. I always find Debbie to be a very likable actress, and her performance in this film is no exception!

(Image: Out of the Past)
(Image: Out of the Past)

There will be one major thing working against this film for some viewers: the romance between Powell and Reynolds. They’re playing 17 and 35, which is quite a large age difference. When the film was released, Reynolds was actually 22 and Powell was 50.

Personally, I didn’t find their ages too bothersome. The film is a fun, light watch, an enjoyable piece of 1950s cotton-candy fluff, and the ages of the actors don’t take that away from it.

On top of the talent, the film has lots of zippy dialogue and the script delivers a few surprises.

Susan Slept Here is a pretty good watch. Would I have rather seen Powell and Reynolds teamed up in a musical? Certainly! But this film provides a good, cheery way to spend a rainy afternoon and is full of charm. The score: 3.8/5

Buy, rent or watch Susan Slept Here from:
Warner Archive (DVD)
Amazon (DVD)
Amazon Instant Video ($2.99 rental)
TCM (DVD)

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7 thoughts on “Susan Slept Here (1954)

  1. This sounds like a fun one, and not once did you make it sound like it was ‘creepy’, as today’s mindset would instantly assume…but something you mentioned caught my attention: the film was based on a play by Steve Fisher. I remember the guy as being a writer of hard-boiled pulp fiction back in the 1940s and 1950s, whose stories were many times turned into noir films. I never imagined he would write a romance comedy like Susan Slept Here, but according to IMDb, yes he did, as well as countless other movies and television episodes (his last being several segments of Fantasy Island!).

    I’ll have to skip a Taco Bell dinner some night and plunk down the $2.99 to rent it!

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  2. I have to say I’m a bit bothered by the Susan-character’s age of 17. I know she’s on the threshold of turning 18, but still! I can’t seem to get past it. However, both Powell and Reynolds are fabulous here.

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    1. It didn’t bother me as much once I found out that Debbie was over 18 when she filmed it. I might have been bothered if she was actually 17 and mackin’ on 50-year-old Dick Powell. I can’t judge — when I was 17 I was hoping middle-aged Cary Grant would show up on my doorstep! Haha

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