What Work Means to Love
Directed by Richard Quine
Rod Taylor as Peter McDermott
Catherine Spaak as Jeanne Rochefort
My father’s work life was a mystery to me, which is to say that the world of work was a mystery. He drove to the train station every morning, and returned home in the evening. I had no idea what he did, nor did he talk about work. A movie like Hotel was a revelation to me. The workaday leading man, Rod Taylor, stars as Peter McDermott, the manager of the St. Gregory Hotel. He greets people, directs personnel, plans hotel events, organizes negotiations, intercedes in disputes, and counsels the hotel’s owner. He never stops working. He knows the high society guests, the bellmen bringing room service, and the singer in the lounge. Did I briefly fantasize about working in the hotel industry? You bet.
But this is about love, and Pete, so he is called by all who work with him, finds love when he woos away the French escort of the tycoon who comes to purchase the hotel. Catherine Spaak plays Jeanne, and is named in the opening titles as “The Girl From Paris” (It should be noted that Taylor is billed as “The Hotel Manager”). The tycoon introduces her as “Madame Rochefort,” but she is little more than his consort. She waits in her room of their suite while he plots the purchase and is awake for him when he finishes his business.
Pete gains Jeanne’s attention by greeting then speaking to her in French. Pete’s charm is that he makes everyone at the hotel feel at ease; he is the perfect host. Jeanne warms to Pete, recognizing in him the genuine kindness and concern that distinguishes him from her lover. He listens as she reveals her past, and when they are alone, at last, in his small apartment away from the hotel, she makes a pass at him. By the end of the movie, she leaves the tycoon, and joins Pete at the hotel bar.
Pete and Jeanne’s begin a sexual relationship after their first lunch. In the film, there is barely a first embrace, before a cut to a scene of Jeanne in Pete’s bed, and Pete dressed and waking her up from a post-coital nap. No “I love you’s” are spoken, they simply come to an understanding. Is that how grownups do relationships? Movie relationships almost always proceed at the speed of 24 frames per second. They blaze forth and illuminate the heart. The serious and affable Pete, and the beautiful and melancholy Jeanne have not time for a slow swirl into each other’s arms. Reflecting back to The April Fools, Brubaker and Catherine are on a plane to France 24 hours after meeting each other.
Neither Hotel nor The April Fools explore what happens next. They are tip of the iceberg movies—they show a fleeting and focused glimpse of the tangle of life. The tangle is raveled and unraveled by love, or something that looks like love. I learned that love solves and resolves life’s difficulties from movies like this. Later in life, I learned that love creates its own set of tangles (And some of the movies I write about address this). The ideal version of love portrayed on the screen created a ponderous gravity that was hard to escape. After all, if a man like Pete, a working day white knight, followed the steps, then why wouldn’t I?