Friday, April 03, 2020

A Birthday Tribute to Doris Day

Note: I paid tribute here to the late, great Doris Day on her birthdays in both 2014 and 2018.

This year, on Doris's first birthday since her passing in May 2019, I share a tribute adapted from my 2014 article for ClassicFlix.

This column includes 12 recommendations for favorite Doris Day films, all available on DVD. Please click on any hyperlinked title to read my extended review.

When one of our greatest stars, Doris Day, celebrated her birthday in 2012, she made a rare public appearance for the occasion -- delighting not only fans present to see her in person, but those of us who were happy to see smiling new photos of the beloved singer-actress.

Day was the biggest female box office star in history, but she was off the movie screen for the last five decades of her life, living a quiet life in Carmel, California. At a past TCM Classic Film Festival, TCM staffers shared that Doris was Number One on their wish-list for a festival appearance, which sadly never occurred. The folks at TCM said Day seemed to have no idea just how greatly she was loved and admired. The network did persuade her to agree to a 2014 audio interview with the late TCM host Robert Osborne.

Day, born in Cincinnati in 1922, was an unlikely movie star. A successful big band singer, she was so ambivalent about a screen test that, when asked if she'd like to be an actress, she replied to director Michael Curtiz, "Oh, I suppose. I guess it might be interesting."

As recounted in Tom Santopietro's fine book CONSIDERING DORIS DAY, despite having no experience and simultaneously dealing with the stress of a collapsed marriage, Day sailed through her screen test, finding the ins and outs of filming effortless. Santopietro quotes Day as saying she "felt a nice exhilaration" when she heard "Action!"

Composer Sammy Cahn said when he saw Day's screen test, "The screen just exploded...a great star was born." Indeed, Day was a fully formed movie star from the very start of her screen career, starring in the leading role in ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948), and she continued to delight movie audiences for two decades. Off the screen her personal life was turbulent at times, but onscreen she was pure movie sunshine.

When Day's eponymous TV series ended in 1973, roughly a quarter of a century after her film debut, she retired from the screen and has since devoted herself to protecting animals.

When it comes to Doris Day's filmography, the challenge is not in deciding which films to recommend, but which titles to leave out! She could truly do it all: Musicals, comedy, and highly dramatic roles.

Below are a dozen favorite Day titles showcasing the breadth of her talent. Day appeared in many more films which are also worth seeing.

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS (1948) - Day's character, Georgia, is a brash and sassy singer in low-budget clubs who dreams of travel. About 40 minutes into the film, Day quietly launches into singing the Oscar-nominated "It's Magic," and a star is born.

MY DREAM IS YOURS (1949) - Day is lovely and very "real" as a young widow and mother determined to succeed as a singer. The film also has an attractive color palette, a nice low-key performance by Jack Carson, and an Easter sequence featuring Bugs Bunny.

ON MOONLIGHT BAY (1951) and its sequel BY THE LIGHT OF THE SILVERY MOON (1953) are very enjoyable films inspired by Booth Tarkington stories. Day plays tomboy Marjorie Winfield, who lives with her parents (Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp), little brother (Billy Gray), and housekeeper (Mary Wickes), then falls in love with the boy next door (Gordon MacRae). These films, with an early 20th century MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944) vibe, are great family entertainment.

CALAMITY JANE (1953) - One of Doris Day's very best musicals, she shines in the high-energy title role, singing great songs like "Deadwood Stage" and "Just Blew in From the Windy City," and performing a duet with Howard Keel (as Wild Bill Hickock) in "I Can Do Without You." Best of all is the Oscar-winning "Secret Love."

YOUNG AT HEART (1954) - This loose remake of FOUR DAUGHTERS (1938) cut the number of daughters down to three -- Doris, Dorothy Malone, and Elisabeth Fraser -- but the film is especially notable for the onscreen teaming of two of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, Day and Frank Sinatra. The movie may not be one of the best of Day's career, but it's absorbing, and the teaming of Day and Sinatra makes it must-see viewing.

LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955) - One of Day's greatest performances, she plays singer Ruth Etting, who has a turbulent marriage with gangster Marty Snyder (James Cagney). Day and Cagney are dynamite together.

JULIE (1956) - This melodrama has Doris in the title role, determined to escape from her psycho husband (Louis Jourdan) and return to a quiet life as an airline stewardess. Sure, it's a little hokey, but Doris totally sells the great final sequence where she has to land a passenger plane. Just plain fun.

THE PAJAMA GAME (1957) - Another of Day's best musicals, in which she plays a union worker at a factory who falls in love with her manager (John Raitt) just as a strike is in the offing. Great performances, score, and widescreen photography; a must for Doris Day fans.

TEACHER'S PET (1958) - This excellent comedy has an intelligent, Oscar-nominated script and terrific performances from Doris, Clark Gable, and Oscar-nominated Gig Young. An old-school newspaper editor (Gable) clashes with a journalism professor (Day) in a film which remains surprisingly relevant today as newspaper employees struggle to compete with the immediacy of TV and radio news coverage. Day's knack for comedy is especially evident in the dazed moments after Gable first kisses her, as she struggles to remain upright.

PILLOW TALK 1959) - The first and best known of the slightly racy romantic comedies Doris made with Rock Hudson, it continues to amuse and entertain today. The bright screenplay won the Oscar, and Doris received her one and only Best Actress nomination for this film.

THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963) - Day is deliciously teamed with James Garner in this entertaining tale of a doctor's wife who becomes a TV star selling laundry soap. Day and Garner have wonderful chemistry, and many viewers fondly recall the famous scene in which Garner inadvertently drives into a brand-new swimming pool; a must for those who love Day in comedies.

This post is adapted from an article originally published by ClassicFlix in 2014.


Blogger Seth said...

I just love Doris Day, both her music and her movies. I've seen most of these titles, and really enjoyed ROMANCE, DREAM, JANE, and THRILL. If only she's done ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. Some additional recommendations of mine would be YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN, GLASS BOTTOM BOAT, and MOVE OVER DARLING. I really need to see TEACHER'S PET, plus I own the Essential WB Collection and still have some discs to watch. Well, now I have time enough at last, right?

10:14 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Seth!

Wow, it would have been something if she'd done ANNIE GET YOUR GUN. I can totally see her in the role, based on her performance opposite Howard Keel in CALAMITY JANE.

I saw PILLOW TALK countless times in years past, but it's been a very long time since my last viewing -- I've been thinking this might be a good time to revisit it.

It's kind of weird how now we've got plenty of movie viewing time -- although at times I find it hard to concentrate! Still, the movies are a great distraction in troubled times, as has been the case for a century or more.

I hope you enjoy TEACHER'S PET! It's a particular favorite of mine.

Best wishes,

10:29 PM  
Blogger Hamlette (Rachel) said...

Several here I've seen, and quite a few I haven't. I have some catching up to do!

2:25 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Hi Rachel!

I hope you enjoy catching up on unseen titles! A lot of really enjoyable viewing here. :)

Best wishes,

11:21 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Hi Laura. Hope you are well and wish you and your family a happy Easter. I think for me Doris is what Deanna is to you. Loved this write up. Be well and stay safe.
Teacher's Pet and Desk Set are two I must see every so often. Great job with this
and I love reading anything that you write.

9:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Thank you very much, Happy Easter!! Doris and Deanna are both great. :) I'm so glad you enjoyed this tribute! And thank you very much for the kind words.

Best wishes,

8:42 AM  

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