Sunday, July 05, 2020

Tonight's Movie: Romance on the High Seas (1948) - A Warner Archive Blu-ray Review

The great Doris Day became a movie star in the musical comedy ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), just released in a gorgeous Blu-ray by the Warner Archive.

The Blu-ray, said by the Archive to be a "4K scan of original nitrate Technicolor negatives," is truly a feast for the eyes and ears. And it's also quite a delightful movie!

I first reviewed ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS here in 2011 and was fortunate to see it again last year in a 35mm print at UCLA's Billy Wilder Theater. I've seen the film several more times on TV over the years and it never fails to entertain, and I can confidently say it also now looks better than ever before.

Doris plays nightclub singer Georgia Garrett, who lucks into the job of a lifetime when wealthy Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) hires Georgia to take a South American cruise under her name. While Georgia is pretending to be Elvira, Elvira is secretly staying home to spy on her hardworking hubby Michael (Don DeFore) and make sure he's faithful.

Michael is worried about the same issue and hires a private detective, Peter Virgil (Jack Carson), to take the cruise and spy on Elvira. When Peter and "Elvira" fall in love, all manner of complications ensue, especially when Oscar (Oscar Levant), who wants to marry Georgia, shows up.

It all builds to a riotous climax in a Rio hotel, with Michael repeatedly visiting his wife's room, only to find a different person in bed each time he enters and more people inexplicably hiding in the closet...it's laugh out loud funny no matter how many times I've seen it.

Those hilarious scenes segue into the wonderful final sequence, which has to be one of my favorite movie scenes of all time; when Doris takes the stage to reprise "It's Magic," it's so, well, magical that it never fails to make me cry. The swelling of the music, the way Jack Carson looks at Doris, and wow, the pullback shot with all those multicolored balloons, which are absolutely eye-popping on the Blu-ray...I could watch that scene on an endless loop (and maybe I have).

Over at the Home Theater Forum, film preservationist Robert A. Harris perfectly describes this scene as "the red hot cherry on top of a Technicolor sundae."

As I noted back in 2011, the film is a "Technicolor fantasyland," and the production design is such that the movie would be worth seeing simply for the visual "eye candy," including sumptuous sets and costumes. That's more true now than ever thanks to the Blu-ray.

As I also wrote in a past tribute to Doris, she said that from the beginning of her film career she "felt a nice exhilaration" when she stepped in front of a camera and heard "Action!" Despite this being her first film, she's a completely confident and natural big screen performer. Georgia is more brash than a typical Doris role, but when she launches into song the true Doris warmth and honesty breaks through; songs like "Put 'Em in a Box" and "It's You or No One" are great, along with, of course, "It's Magic."

Day is well supported every step of the way by Carson as the confused detective, Levant as the lovestruck, witty pianist, Paige as the glamorous socialite, and DeFore as the befuddled husband. The cast is rounded out by S.Z. Sakall, Fortunio Bonanova, Grady Sutton, Leslie Brooks, Eric Blore, and Franklin Pangborn. Sutton and Pangborn, in particular, have a couple very funny lines.

Additional music is provided by the Page Cavanaugh Trio, Sir Lancelot, Avon Long, and the Samba Kings.

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS was directed by Michael Curtiz and filmed by Elwood "Woody" Bredell. The entertaining screenplay was written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein of CASABLANCA fame, with additional dialogue by I.A.L. Diamond. The film runs 99 minutes.

The Warner Archive Blu-ray includes the extras from the film's original 2007 DVD release, including a cartoon, short, and the trailer.

As a side note, I put in my DVD to do a spot-check comparison of the prints; there was a noticeable Blu-ray improvement in the scenes I was able to compare, such as Elvira and Michael parting in her stateroom. Unfortunately I discovered that my DVD has fallen prey to the deterioration which is sometimes an issue with older Warner Bros. DVDs and had numerous digital breakups; it's at least the fifth time I've experienced this frustrating problem, a known issue which I've previously read about at sites such as Home Theater Forum. Just a heads up for my fellow collectors.

ROMANCE ON THE SEAS is upbeat, delightful entertainment, which we can all use now more than ever. Add to that the stunning visuals, and this Warner Archive Blu-ray is a "must buy," one of the best releases of the year.

Thanks to the Warner Archive for providing a review copy of this Blu-ray. Warner Archive Blu-rays may be ordered from the WBShop.

8 Comments:

Blogger Caftan Woman said...

I'm the same way. When Doris sings It's Magic I burst into tears. Every time. What a moment!

Movies needed more Page Cavanagh. Disney's The Truth About Mother Goose introduced me to them as a child and I thought they made music just for me.

Movies also needed more Sir Lancelot. So did Romance on the High Seas.

4:45 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Yep! Doris singing "It's Magic" is just an amazing, moving moment. And I love all the other music in the film too!

Best wishes,
Laura

5:58 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

I was interested in your observation relative to deterioration. I have the KL WesternClassics Volume One, Whusoerubg Smith, The Virginian (the title for which I made the purchase), and When the Daltons Rode. The blu ray quality in visual and audio is more than a disappointment, and my first thought, had this been marketed by Warner Archive, the disappointment would have been minimal as at least some honest restoration had actually taken place. Too bad, this kind of thing, and certainly not the only example, will harm the industry.

7:33 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Barrylane! The DVD deterioration is interesting as it's different from initial print quality but has been happening to some of the discs over a span of time. They play fine for many years and then poof! one day you put a movie in and partway through, the picture starts breaking up.

I'm sorry to hear you were disappointed in the Blu-ray quality of the Kino Westerns set. So far I've only seen one of the titles, WHISPERING SMITH, and found it quite pleasing. I haven't yet watched the other two Blu-rays but I anticipate doing so in the near future. Did you feel that the audio and video had not been sufficiently upgraded from DVD quality, or did you find more specific issues?

Best wishes,
Laura

8:25 PM  
Blogger barrylane said...

Non-specific issues; lack of upgrading. And I liked Whispering Smith. Recall seeing it on release and the ad campaign went like this: Alan Ladd in his first technicolor treat. And it was. A theatrical happenstance, Robert Preston was overwhelmingly the strongest performer, but Alan clearly the man with star presence. The parts could not have been switched.


Just noticed, I made another typo above, initial comment, in Whispering Smith's name. And I tried to be careful with that. Sweet mystery.

8:41 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thanks for the added feedback.

I agree about the casting in WHISPERING SMITH. Preston would of course later come into his own with a specific role (and how!), but in the '40s he was a really solid performer without that magical "something extra" the divides a Ladd from a Preston.

Best wishes,
Laura

9:02 PM  
Blogger mel said...

Even the DVD of High Seas was a brilliant print; I can't begin to imagine how much better the BluRay is going to be...

3:44 AM  
Blogger Seth said...

This is a favorite Doris Day movie of mine. She looks absolutely gorgeous and so full of life, and sings marvelously. And I enjoy all the male costars here, too. I already have this on DVD as part of the Essential Warner Bros. Collection, but it sounds like it might be worth upgrading to Blu-ray.

10:07 AM  

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