The Five Best Rock Hudson Performances

Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)

Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk (1959)

Following a recent less-than-flattering review of Magnificent Obsession (1954), someone on Twitter asked why I didn’t like Rock Hudson. Nothing could be further from the truth! Over the last decade, I have become a Rock Hudson fan, which prompted the following list of what I consider his five best performances:

1. Lover Come Back – After mostly dramatic roles in the 1950s, Rock Hudson developed into a gifted comedian with Pillow Talk (1959) and this delightfully delirious 1961 follow-up. Rock stars as Jerry Webster, an unethical Madison Avenue advertising executive who will do anything to beat his rival, Carol Templeton (Doris Day). When Carol mistakes the womanizing Jerry as a nerdish inventor, he plays along–even to the point of emphasizing he’s “never been with a woman.” This leads to Rock’s best scene, as Jerry tries to encourage Carol to seduce him in her apartment, during which a convenient phone call enlightens her about his true identity. While Lover Come Back is sometimes described as a variation of Pillow Talk, it’s actually a superior film, with clever jabs at the advertising industry and sparkling supporting performances (especially from Tony Randall and Edie Adams).

2. Pillow Talk – That’s not to say that Pillow Talk isn’t a first-rate–and very funny–film about a swinging bachelor (Rock) and a conservative interior decorator (Doris) who share a party line…but have never met. Brad (Rock) exploits the situation by posing as Rex Stetson, a sincere Texas millionaire rancher who takes an interest in Jan (Doris). This wacky scenario allows Brad to disparage Rex when talking on the phone with Jan–and then later have Rex act in exactly the same manner as Brad predicted. The brilliance of Rock’s performances in both Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back is that he makes unlikable characters likable, long before the love of a good woman makes them better men. Simply put, without his innate charm and expert comic timing, neither of these comedy classics would work.

3. Seconds – Rock Hudson’s best dramatic performance can be found in this seldom-shown, disturbing 1966 film about a wealthy middle-aged man dissatisfied with his life. An organization called the “Company” approaches him and promises him a fresh start. It fakes his death, makes him look younger through plastic surgery, and gives him a new identity. But all is not what is seems and his “new” life is not what he expected. Directed by John Frankenheimer, Seconds is a downbeat film, which may account for its infrequent appearances on cable TV. Still, it’s well-done and creepy and Hudson skillfully captures the conflict of an older man living in the body of a younger one.

Rock Hudson Movies

4. Giant - I am not a huge fan of this sprawling 1956 Texas family saga, but I still admire Rock’s performance as Jordan “Bick” Benedict, a wealthy rancher who marries an East Coast socialite (Elizabeth Taylor), clashes with former friend Jett Rink (James Dean), and struggles to develop relationships with his children. He allows us to see both the good and the bad in his strong-willed character. That’s the only reason it’s listed here in lieu of All That Heaven Allows, an immensely likable 1955 soaper about the romance between a middle-aged widow (Jane Wyman) and a younger gardener (Rock).

5. Send Me No Flowers – In a great change-of-pace role, Rock plays a hypochondriac who becomes convinced he’s going to die and sets out to find the ideal husband for his wife (Doris Day). It’s a nice contrast to the suave bachelors portrayed in earlier comedies, though overall, this 1964 comedy is not on the same level as Lover Come Back and Pillow Talk.

Honorable Mentions: a friend of mine is a huge fan of The Spiral Road (I’m gradually beginning to appreciate it); World War III (a now-obscure TV movie featuring Rock as a U.S. president trying to thwart a war with the Soviet Union); and Ice Station Zebra (one of his better action film outings).

If one of your favorites is missing (and I’m sure there are some Written on the Wind fans out there), please leave a comment!

Rick29 is a film reference book author and a regular contributor at the Classic Film & TV Café , on Facebook and Twitter. He’s a big fan of MovieFanFare, too, of course!

  • Richard

    I was quite impressed at the age of 8 with Rock in “Something of Value” opposite Sidney Poitier. A film by Richard Brooks a fine director. Though not a perfect film this came before it’s time.

  • Magic Inside 2012

    I agree with this Top 5 list, but my honorable mentions for RH are:

    (1) “The Lawless Breed” (1952): RH made the notorious 19th-century outlaw John Wesley Hardin a layered and sympathetic character, also proving to George Stevens he could believably age for “Giant.”

    (2) “Pretty Maids All In A Row” (1971): This Roger Vadim black comedy-drama showcased RH as the sexiest and most charming serial killer in film history, made even more offbeat with a opening-credits song by The Osmonds! :)

  • mike j

    all of hudsons comedys were great, can watch them over and over again. can’t remember the name of the one with paula prentess, he was a sporting goods salesman. that was one of my favorites. when he stayed with the comedys he was a winner. the only non comedy which they never show which I seemed to like was backfire or backlash or it could have been blindfold.

    • Lorraine M.

      That would be the wonderful and aforementioned “Man’s Favorite Sport?”

  • Gemini09

    I would add Mans Favourite Sport to the list – it really showcases Rock’s comic timing and I loved the chemistry with him and Paula Prentis. That said Pillow Talk is still my all tim favourite .

  • Wayne P.

    I thought he did a surprisingly strong turn with Duke Wayne in “The Undefeated” in which he was most likely cast against type but it was a good performance as any actor worth his salt doesnt always want to be typecast no matter what their strengths are on film! His role in “Giant” wasnt bad either…

  • Blair Kramer

    I never thought much of Hudson’s dramatic turns. To my mind, he was born to play light comedy. Particularly romantic comedy. Nobody did it better. PILLOW TALK is just about the most perfect romantic comedy ever made.

    • fbusch

      Has anyone ever noticed that most serious dramatic actors seem to run wild in comedies when given the chance? Even Cagney and Robinson can be gut bustingly funny. Burt Reynolds had average success at dramatic roles, but, when turned loose as the Bandit, he was delightful, followed with other comedies.

  • BSeto

    For me, Rock Hudson was EXCELLENT in “Pillow Talk”, “Giant”,”Written on the Wind”, “Come
    September” and “Seconds”. He was on the same level as the other legendary actors like
    Tyrone Power and Cary Grant.

  • Mindy Newell

    GIANT is a MUCH better book than movie. Stevens messed with the book for no reason.

  • Mindy Newell

    Although Hudson and Taylor were perfectly cast! As was James Dean and Mercedes McCambridge.

  • Chuck

    I think Battle Hymn was especially good- but I just like flying movies with a decent side plot anyway.

  • Jan

    There is another little known film starring Hudson that I really love titled ‘The Hornet’s Nest’. I rarely, rarely watch or enjoy movies based upon any kind of war, but this is a good one. However, as much as I like this movie, I do prefer his comedies. He is so very good at it and ‘Lover Come Back’ has to be at the top of the list.

  • doc

    Ice Station Zebra was my favorite Hudson movie.

    • FashionistaRx

      Hope all the Ice Station Zebra lovers were watching TCM a few weeks ago ’cause it was part of an homage to Ernest Borgnine.

  • Vin

    Something of Value

    • Susan Woods

      I’m so glad somebody mentioned this movie. It was long ago, and it is one of my favorites.

    • FashionistaRx

      Hope you saw it a few months ago on TCM. They show it in relation to focus on Sidney Poitier or Black History. It is a powerful film.

  • Chuck

    I’m surprised that no has mentioned “a Gathering of Eagles”. It’s by far my favorite Rock Hudson movie and I been waiting for years for it be released on DVD.

  • Frosty

    “All That Heaven Allows” was always my favorite. It’s pure soap opera, corny as hell, but I love the ending.

  • troskosk

    How about Man’s Favorite Sport, with Paula Prentess?

  • Mrs B

    My husband’s favorite is Man’s Favorite Sport, but I think it’s Paula Prentiss he likes best. I love Come September, Walter Slesak, & Gina Lolabrigada, also my favorite singer was Bobby Darin and Sandra Dee. Little known fact is that Darin and Dee began their long time love affair doing this movie. True Romance, love it!

    • FashionistaRx

      It would seem that was evidenced to thousands in “Beyond The Sea” with Kevin Spacey. If not in the tragic biography of the life of Connie Francis which revealed that she and Darin had a long close relationship before Dee came along.

  • tone26

    none of the above;rock hudson made gary cooper look exciting.

  • Bryan Ruffin

    I have never been a big Rock Hudson fan, however Ice Station Zebra and Man’s Favorite Sport were pretty good. I had to give him his performance in Ice Station, he really nailed that one!



  • Michele Gordon

    Magnificent Obsession is fab. I also like All That Heaven Allows. Everyone finds something different in a film. To each his own.

  • Daven Owens Hunigan

    Blindfold was also a very good movie of his, but it seems to be not be shown anymore

  • Gordon S. Jackson

    Not a big RH fan, but I do very much like his work in SECONDS.

  • pcpeterson

    “Giant” would be the best. The Doris Day films are near-classics of their kind. I would definitely include “Pretty Maids All in a Row,” which someone else smartly listed below.

  • Thom Thomas

    Has everyone forgotten Rock Hudson’s moving performance in FAREWELL TO ARMS?

  • Don Nicastro

    Definitely, SECONDS!

    • Bruce Reber

      I agree – it’s Hudson’s best dramatic performance (Bick Benedict in “Giant” runs a close second for me). Just “Seconds” was shown a little more often on TV – where can I get the DVD?

  • Judy_J

    Rock Hudson was so underrated. He was truly a gifted actor. He claimed Doris Day taught him his comdeic timing, but I believe he had a natural talent for comedy that she brought to the fore. Love him in those Douglas Sirk weepers, loved him in those Doris Day romantic comedies, loved him in Giant. He could do it all.

  • bevartly

    Magnificent Obsession was a poorly adapted Hollywood version of a great book by Lloyd Douglas. The actors did the best that they could with a flimsy script.

  • FashionistaRx

    I’ll accept “Giant” and “Magnificent Obsession” as two of Rock Hudson’s 5 best, but to round out the other three, I prefer… “All That Heaven Allows” (also with Jane Wyman); “This Earth Is Mine” (with Jean Simmons) and “Never Say Goodbye” ( with Cornell Borchers, a preteen Shelley Fabares and George Sands to round out the cast.) I used to say that Rock was not a great actor because he had plots that could have had Cheetah in the starring role and still ring a tear from your eye. Moreover, when he was young, he was gorgeous. He exuded testosterone and the pheromones seemed palpable through the screen. It was sad when he could not hide his middle-aged paunch in westerns like “The Last Sunset” (with Kirk Douglas, Dorothy Malone and Carol Lynley) and “Undefeated” (with John Wayne and football player Roman Gabriel). I am a fan and would love to own DVD copies of all my five picks. Not just of several. It is tragic that my two latter picks were so rarely seen on TV.

  • Nick Noble

    I’m actually NOT a Written on the Wind fan, but I really liked his performances in Captain Lightfoot and The Tarnished Angels (both for director Douglas Sirk) and in The Undefeated. Otherwise I concur with 1-5 above).

  • Mathew King

    Gee, no All That Heaven Allows. One of the best Rock Hudson performances ever.