On the way to the premiere of her latest movie "The Kidnapped Bride", an ironic fate befalls Hollywood sex goddess Laurel Stevens (Jane Russell). She gets abducted by a couple of desperate amateurs, Mike Valla (Ralph Meeker) and his friend Dandy (Keenan Wynn). After assuring Laurel they don't mean to molest her in any way, the pair clarify they plan to ransom her in return for a big payout from the movie studio. Being a wily operator herself Laurel does not make things easy for them. However a bigger problem arises when the public refuse to believe her kidnapping is anything but a crass publicity stunt. With her career in jeopardy, Laurel promptly takes charge of her own kidnapping and tries to negotiate a better deal for all involved. Not least Mike with whom she falls in love.
Produced by Jane Russell herself in collaboration with husband Bob Waterfield, The Fuzzy Pink Nightgown was the star's own personal favourite of the movies she made. This in spite of the refreshingly plainspoken actress later proving very honest about the film’s shortcomings. While director Norman Taurog originally favoured a Technicolor farce set to pair Jane with Dean Martin (later replaced with Ray Danton who was himself replaced with a miscast Ralph Meeker), Russell's own preference was for a romantic thriller in black and white. The result, as Jane later noted in her autobiography, was neither fish nor fowl albeit still fairly interesting and entertaining.
Most of the film's appeal stems from the vivacious energy Jane Russell brings to scene after scene. As the brassy, ball-busting Laurel Stevens she spoofs her own sex goddess image, at one point self-effacing enough to acknowledge she is in the business of selling sex. Needless to say Jane looks sensational throughout sporting a blonde hairdo and tight satin dress that are decidedly fetching. While the spectacle of a smart, gutsy woman with a take-charge attitude putting Hollywood suits in their place was seemingly meant to bait a Fifties (let's face it: mostly male) audience into longing to see Laurel knocked off her pedestal, modern viewers will likely find her thoroughly admirable. Which unfortunately makes it that more unpleasant to see her roughed up by Ralph Meeker's thuggishly self-righteous Mike. Adapted from the novel by Sylvia Tate, the script tries hard to paint Mike and Dandy as lovable misfits who are deep down decent guys, but can’t shake that familiar Fifties misogyny. Oozing contempt for the proto-feminist heroine the film insists on having macho Mike put Laurel in her place at every turn. He says it is because he hates "phonies" but you don’t have to scratch to deep beneath the surface to see what Mike really hates are women who project sex on the screen but are sexually unavailable in real life.
On the surface, at least to a Fifties mindset, Fuzzy Pink Nightgown's thematic arc sets out to dethrone Russell’s Hollywood diva, strip her off all that glitter and makeup and get her to reconnect with how it feels to be a "real woman." Presumably so she can settle down with Mike, stop worrying about her career and start birthing babies. Yet what the plot actually does, albeit unintentionally, is spotlight how certain macho men feel the need to rob women of their agency before they feel comfortable enough to share love. It does not help that Ralph Meeker's dead-eyed sourpuss demeanour throughout renders Mike and Laurel’s romance less than convincing. Dean Martin would have at least brought his louche charisma to the role. In spite of the film's more dated attitudes Richard Alan Simmons' witty and literate script is surprisingly engaging. Poking fun at ruthless studio bigwigs, amoral publicists and self-serving Hollywood-ites the film hits many of the same satirical targets Ben Stiller lampooned decades later in Tropic Thunder (2008). Reliable journeyman Taurog maintains a breakneck pace throughout. And of course Jane Russell, when given the chance to slip away from Meeker's stifling macho influence and strut her stuff, is a delight to watch.