"The High Cost of Loving" is yet another worthy film that has been plucked from obscurity by the Warner Archive. The 1958 comedy offered a rare starring role to Jose Ferrer as well as an opportunity for him to direct a feature film. Ferrer plays Jim Fry, a 15 year veteran of working diligently in the purchasing department for a mid-size company. He is frustrated with the corporate red tape that inhibits productivity but is overall happy in his work as well as with his home life. Why not? He's in his late 40's and his wife Ginny (Gena Rowlands in her big screen debut) is a ravishing blonde beauty twenty years younger than him (though the poster for the film simply ignores this and refers to them as the "young couple".) The film opens on an amusing note that will be familiar to many working couples. We see Jim and Ginny go through their morning workday rituals in an almost robotic fashion, barely saying a word to each other as they each perform their unspoken duties. He gets breakfast ready, she serves him orange juice in the shower. They both sit silently at the table, each taking a quick read of sections from the newspaper. They both climb into their vehicles and pull out of the garage in tandem before, each en route to their jobs. Ginny, against the fashion of the day, has her own career working at a small company. Jim still considers himself a rising star in his own company, a conceit that is reinforced by the news that his employer is being taken over by a much larger corporation. Warned that this often results in layoffs, Jim feels he is immune. He also isn't sympathetic to those who might lose their jobs, attributing it to social Darwinism and "the law of the jungle".
Jim's smug attitude goes into a nosedive when he discovers that virtually all of his fellow executives have been summoned to a forthcoming luncheon as a get-acquainted meeting with the new brass. The problem is that he didn't receive the invitation. Assuming it must have been a mistake, he pretends he did receive it and joins in all the backslapping among his colleagues who view this as a way to make a good impression on the new bosses and rise the corporate ladder. As the days pass, it becomes apparent an invitation isn't in the cards for him. His concern turns to paranoia as he tries to analyze why all his years of devoted service have resulted in him being bypassed. He becomes obsessed to the point that he barely acknowledges Ginny's news that she is pregnant, something that both have been hoping for quite some time. (Although the film hints at sexual activity, the prudish norms of the time in the film industry relegates both husband and wife to separate beds.) To bolster his spirits, Jim's best friend from the office, Steve Heyward (Bobby Troupe) arranges for he and his wife Syd (Joanne Gilbert) to go to dinner with Jim and Ginny. However, the evening is ruined by Syd's incessant chatter about the importance of the corporate luncheon, which she doesn't realize Jim has not been invited to. The script plays out predictably with Jim interpreting every action (or inaction) of his new bosses as a sign that he is about to be fired. He looks up an old business contact in hopes of getting a new job but not only are there none open, but he is warned that in terms of his age, he might be considered "over the hill" in the corporate world. Now enraged, Jim plans to have a showdown with the brass and tell him what he thinks of them, unaware that his snub from the luncheon was due to a bureaucratic mistake that they intend to rectify.
"The High Cost of Loving" is a modest production shot in B&W on a fairly low budget (most of the scenes are studio interiors). However, the movie signifies that paranoia about one's place in their jobs is not a new phenomenon and that discrimination based on age in the corporate world is also a long-standing concern. There is also plenty of sexism that never gets addressed. When she announces she is pregnant, Jim orders Ginny to quit her job ASAP. The corporate world is made up entirely of men in management positions and bosses refer to keeping an eye out for good "men" they can promote. All of the women in the office are clearly in secretarial positions. Ferrer gives a wonderful performance (did he ever not?) and has a deft hand at the comedic elements of the script. He never allows the characters to depend on slapstick or one-liners to get a quick laugh. They all talk the way real people would in the circumstances. There is also a great deal of pathos involved as Jim comes to a life lesson that no one should define the worth of their character on the basis of a specific job. The film boasts a wonderful supporting cast with Rowlands displaying the star qualities that would serve her well in the years to come. There are also some fun appearances by TV sitcom stars of the future including Jim Backus ("Gilligan's Island"), Werner Klemperer ("Hogan's Heroes"), Edward Platt ("Get Smart") and uncredited appearances by Nancy Kulp ("The Beverly Hillbillies") and Richard Deacon ("The Dick Van Dyke Show" and the only character in the film allowed to go a bit over the top.)
The film is not only delightful but unexpectedly poignant. The DVD includes the original trailer.