Sex and the Single Girl is a 1964 American Technicolor comedy film directed by Richard Quine and starring Natalie Wood, Tony Curtis, Henry Fonda, Lauren Bacall, and Mel Ferrer. The film is very loosely based on Helen Gurley Brown’s 1962 non-fiction book of the same name.
Bob Weston works for Stop, a tabloid magazine whose owner and staff are proud of being known as the filthiest read in the U.S. One of Bob’s colleagues has just written an article about Dr. Helen Gurley Brown, a young psychologist and author of the best-selling book Sex and the Single Girl, a self-help guide with advice to single women on how to deal with men. The article raises doubts on her experience with sex and relationships. Helen is very offended, having lost six appointments with patients due to the article discrediting her as a “23-year-old virgin.” Bob wants to follow up by interviewing her, but she turns him down.
Bob’s friendand neighbor, stocking manufacturer Frank Broderick, is having marriage issues with his strong-willed wife Sylvia, but cannot find time to go to a counselor. Therefore, Bob decides to imitate Frank and go to Helen as a patient, with the goal of getting close to her in order to gather more information. Meanwhile, he will report back to Frank on her advice. During their first couple of sessions, Bob acts shy and infatuated, and tries to slowly seduce Helen. She seems to respond to Bob’s polite advances, all while insisting that it is a transfer and that she will play the role of Sylvia to the benefit of his therapy. After he fakes a suicide attempt, the two of them end up making out at her apartment, with Bob realizing he is actually falling in love with Helen, which is the reason he has still not written anything about her, prompting a proposition from his boss.
Helen panics at the idea that she is falling for a married man, and upon suggestion from her mother, she meets Sylvia and encourages her to go back to work at Frank’s office, where the two of them first met and could stand together against Frank’s business rivals. Sylvia agrees.
A very lovesick Bob forces another meeting eith Helen and tries to convince her his marriage is not legal, but Helen insists on hearing it from his wife and secretly asks her to come to her office. In the meantime, Bob asks his girlfriend, nightclub singer Gretchen, to pose as his wife (or rather, Frank Broderick’s wife), and when she cancels at the last minute because of an audition, he asks his secretary Susan to go instead. WIthout telling him, Gretchen decides to forgo her audition, so she shows up at Helen’s office. Witnessing three different women claiming to be Mrs. Broderick, Helen becomes extemely confused, while an angry Sylvia calls the police on Frank, who is arrested for bigamy.
Helen comes to visit Sylvia with fellow psychiatrist Rudy DeMeyer, who has had a crush ever since the article hinted she might be a virgin. In trying to convince Sylvia to pardon Frank, she finally discovers the man who has been coming to her office was not Frank Broderick at all, but rather Stop magazine’s managing editor Bob Weston.
Like said above, this film is VERY LOOSELY based on the 1962 book of the same name, that is supposed to be a non-fiction advice book that encouraged women to become financially independant and experience sexual relationships before or without marriage. The film seems much more unrealistic than a self-help book, like if it is based off a book, even loosely, than it be a comedy book. This film is only partly based on Helen Gurley Brown’s book, the rest is basically about a woman that’s supposed to be Helen, only a semi-fictional version, as she wrote the book from a psychologist and marriage therapist point of view, but was never either one, unlike Natalie Wood’s character.
Natalie Wood’s “Helen” is smart, sassy, flirty, adorable, funny, and sexy. The perfect role for her and she does it perfectly, even though this movie is anything but. Tony Curtis’s “Bob Weston” is sexy, smart, sleazy, and secretive and he plays the character outstandingly. There are multiple times throughout the movie that make reference to his 1959 film with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe Some Like it Hot, which are very clever jokes and one may not get them if they haven’t seen that film as well or at least know what it is. Henry Fonda’s “Frank Broderick” is womanizing, a workaholic, and a cheater. Fonda plays the character fantastically. Lauren Bacall’s “Sylvia Broderick” is naive, yet hard working and Bacall plays her well, though this is not her finest performance. Fran Jeffries does a fabulous job as Gretchen, Bob’s girlfriend, much better than Bacall and just as good as Wood in her role. Mel Ferrer does a fine job as psychiatrist and colleague of Helen’s Rudy DeMeyer.
This film is a romantic comedy all the way. One would not believe (if they didn’t know already) that it’s fairly based on a sex guide book for single working women. It is a very feminist movie, just like the book, but it is also very silly for much of its runtime of nearly two hours. The film does not paint psychology or marriage counselling well, as Helen refuses to help for certain problems. The film also makes light of serious issues like cheating, suicide, and bigamy. The film also pokes fun of the fact that the main character is a virgin and still single at 23, even though that is still very young, although most women at that age back then were already married and most had at least two children. It was still the age of housewives, so many women didn’t have careers and were “Suzy Homemakers,” so it is interesting to see a lady with a full-time job in the early 1960’s.
This is a very entertaining movie, but there is far too much silliness and talking about affairs and cheating. The film gets even sillier towards the end. The acting is great, but film itself is graceless and rediculous for the most part. There is literally no sex, only implied, despite the title. The closest you’ll see is kissing and one make out scene. Had the film had actually sex scenes would it have been better? No, it would have actually made it worse. This is a comedy film, though I found myself mostly laughing at the Some Like it Hot jokes.
This was supposed to be a fodder for the Sexual Revolution of the 1960’s, and it is to an extent, but with some slapstick and fairly offensive humor thrown in. Though the entertainment factor is there, the whole film is pretty much a rushed up mess, with some fine acting added that is the only thing that makes it fairly enjoyable. Had this film dialed back on the goofines and been more dramatic and been more like the book, it could get an A rating, instead it is almost nothing like the book and relies too much on bad humor and tries to make it up with a well acted cast, which barely works.
The real Helen Gurley Brown thought the movie version was awful and couldn’t believe she gave them rights to film it. I wouldn’t call this one awful, but great is not the word either. It is somewhat enjoyable, has a bit of sexiness and sassiness, but very little else. If you’re looking for a classic rom-com with sex, this isn’t it. Natalie Wood’s attractiveness and sex appeal won’t save you from this pile of mess. 17+ 2.5/5