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.
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!