Susan Slept Here (1954): Tashlin’s Christmas Romantic Comedy with Debbie Reynolds and Dick Powell

Though not one of Frank Tashlin’s best film, Susan Slept Here has its satirical moments, nicely delivered by Debbie Reynolds, then at the height of her popularity as “America’s Sweetheart,” due to happy marriage to singer Eddie Fisher.

Grade: C+ (** out of *****)

Susan Slept Here

original film poster

(That label would change in 1960, during Fisher’s scandalous affair with and later marriage to Elizabeth Taylor, after making together the film, Butterfield 8).

The film still is too theatrical, revealing its origins as a play of the same title by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb; Tashlin would use the same premise again in Bachelor Flat, in 1962.

Dick Powell, in his last screen role, plays Mark Christopher, a successful Hollywood screenwriter suffering d from writer’s block after winning an Oscar Award.  Powell’s role was first offered to Robert Mitchum, who was penalized $40,000 by RKO for refusing to play it.

On Christmas Eve, Mark receives an unexpected surprise present: Sergeant Sam Hanlon brings a youngster named Susan Beauregard Landis (Reynolds) to Mark’s luxurious apartment.  Abandoned by her mother, Susan was arrested for vagrancy and hitting a sailor. The kindhearted cop, bending the rules, suggests that Susan stay with Mark until her arraignment after Christmas.

He is 35 year old but pretends to be 29, and she is a minor (17) whose mother is younger than Mark.

But Mark has a fiancée, Isabella Alexander (Anne Francis), a Senator’s daughter who’s jealous. Mark’s secretary Maude Snodgrass (Glenda Farrell), best friend Virgil (Alvy Moore), and lawyer Harvey Butterworth (Les Tremayne) try to keep the crisis under control.

Threatened with juvenile detention till she is 18, Mark quickly and impulsively marries her in Vegas.  To avoid consummation, he takes Susan out dancing until she collapses with fatigue. When the marriage is reported by the press, Isabella confronts Susan.

Isabella and Susan arrive at Mar’s cabin, with the latter determined to gain real marriage with Mark. She refuses to sign the annulment, but Mark still will not consummate the marriage. Seen eating strawberries and pickles, Susan is mistaken to be pregnant.

In the end, Susan convinces Mark that they are right for each other.

The movie was popular the box-office, reportedly pulling RKO out of the red before studio head decided to sell it.


The film was based on the play Susan by Alex Gottlieb and Steve Fisher which was originally called A Present for Joe, and opened in July 1951 at the Circle Theatre, Los Angeles with Robert Rockwell, Beverly Long and Mabel Albertson who directed it.  Gottlieb wrote a script version and decided to produce.

Oscar Context

The film was nominated for two Oscar awards: for Best Original Song “Hold My Hand” (sung by Don Cornell), and for Best Sound, Recording (John O. Aalberg).


Directed by Frank Tashlin
Produced by Harriet Parsons
Written by Steve Fisher, Alex Gottlieb, based on “Susan Slept Here,” 1956 play by Steve Fisher and Alex Gottlieb
Music by Leigh Harline, Richard Myers
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Harry Marker
Color process Technicolor

Production and distribution company: RKO Radio Pictures

Release date July 14, 1954
Running time: 98 minutes
Box office $2.25 million