Happy 93rd Birthday Doris Day! 04/03/2017

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One of my favourite women is 93 April 3rd. Whoda thunk it?! Doris Day is forever cowgirl, comedienne, romantic heroine, Hitchcock Blonde, dramatic lead, musical star and one of the great singers of the twentieth century. Long retired to Carmel, California, she has remained an animal rights advocate and one of the legendary stars. What an astonishing career! Every day should be Doris Day. Happy Birthday!

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It Happened to Jane (1959)

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Doris plays Jane Osgood, a widowed mother of two trading lobster. When a shipment of 300 of the poor creatures dies in transit she asks her lawyer George (Jack Lemmon) to sue the railroad company and she’s awarded money. The company files against her and George wants her to take the train in lieu then the newspapers get hold of the story and she threatens to appear on TV. George is jealous of Larry (Steve Forrest) who’s a journalist she’s smitten with and the railroad bypasses the town, endangering all the businesses … Cute undemanding comedy with great stars and fun script by Norman Katkov and Max Wilk, this saw director/producer Richard Quine reunited again with regular star Lemmon and the great Ernie Kovacs, who had also appeared in Bell, Book and Candle:  he’s cast here as “the meanest man in the world”! Re-released in 1961 as Twinkle and Shine.

Pillow Talk (1959)

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Producer Ross Hunter thought Doris Day could be sexy and her husband Marty Melcher resurrected a script by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene that had been loitering unmade since 1942, and with a rewrite by Stanley Shapiro and Maurice Richlin and a co-star in Rock Hudson, a new movie partnership was born. From the titles sequence to the original ending (reshot, making things legal) this romcom about an interior decorator (her) and a composer (him) sharing a party line (ie telephone!) whose lives cross, this skirts all sorts of sex and censorship issues using split screens with hilarious results. It doesn’t hurt that Tony Randall is her besotted suitor and his disgruntled friend, or that Thelma Ritter is the dipso housekeeper with rare repartee. A new era of sex comedy was born, with awards and profits flying in every direction and both Day and Hudson re-inventing their careers in the first of their screen collabs. A great looking film in every respect. Directed by Michael Gordon, who advised Hudson, Comedy is the most serious tragedy in the world. Play it that way and you can’t go wrong. If you ever think of yourself as funny, you haven’t got a chance.

The Thrill of it All (1963)

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This has been a sentimental favourite since I was probably ten years old and it should be grist to the mill of card-carrying feminists, but there you go. Doris is the homemaker and mom of two married to ob-gyn James Garner whose stories about her kids’ bathtime make her the ideal shill for Happy Soap – the company grandee is the father-in-law of Garner’s oldest patient, soon to be a first-time mom. Day’s frequent absences from home and her growing stardom cause chaos on the domestic front. Carl Reiner’s screenplay takes potshots at TV, commercials, male-female relationships and everything in between in what is a sight gag- and joke-strewn satire of contemporary life and it proved huge at the box office. Doris is great playing a very comedic role straight and Garner is perfect as the harried confused husband who is victim of a great sequence involving his car and a swimming pool he didn’t know was in his yard. My granddad’s fave rave Zasu Pitts has a funny role as the paranoid housekeeper, Reiner himself plays the hilariously repetitive soap opera roles, Edward Andrews is superb as the oldest father in town and Ross Hunter (and Day’s hubby Martin Melcher) proved he could produce another winning contempo-comedy starring Day, with all the values he’d been putting into Sirk’s marital melodramas and without the kind of formula you might have expected at this stage of their collaborations following the Rock Hudson series. Bright shiny glossy fun! You’ll feel just like you washed with Happy Soap. Directed by Norman Jewison.

On Moonlight Bay (1951)

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Sheerly delightful musical comedy starring Doris Day. She’s tomboy Marjorie Winfield who moves house with her family and starts dating the boy next door, college boy William Sherman (Gordon MacRae), meanwhile bank VP pop Leon Ames (reprising his role from Meet Me in St Louis) disagrees with William’s notions about money and marriage. He declares of Marjorie, All she knows about men are their batting averages! Precocious son Wesley (the brilliant Billy Gray) spends his time devising schemes that wind up in disaster, housekeeper Mary Wickes keeps everyone going and Mom Rosemary DeCamp is the still centre of an ever-brewing storm. When William goes off to WW1, stuffed shirt Hubert (Jack Smith) tries to woo the more feminine Doris who tries to lose her mechanic’s gear. Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson conjured the wonderful screenplay from the Penrod stories by Booth Tarkington (whose work also inspired Orson Welles’ The Magnificent Ambersons).  There are some wonderful individual scenes, including a silent movie insert, there are great songs and the atmosphere is tangible. Did I mention that there’s snow? And a snowball fight and a sleigh ride? Oh joy! It was devised as standard studio fare by Warners but had Ernest Haller doing the incredible cinematography and Max Steiner on scoring duties. It was such a huge success it was followed with a sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, another fabulously charming outing. This period romcom is on constant rotation at mine. Lovely lovely lovely!

The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

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The spy who came out of the water! The first of two slapstick spy comedies Day made with live-cartoon auteur Frank Tashlin, this is good lighthearted fun and sports a case of mistaken identity. Doris is PR at NASA where scientist Rod Taylor, reuniting the pair after Do Not Disturb, is developing a gravity simulator and an overzealous employee hears her making a phonecall to her lovely dog Vladimir – and he presumes she’s a Russian spy. Gorgeous scenery around Catalina, where Doris plays a mermaid for her dad Arthur Godfrey’s eponymous tourist business. Terrific slapstick scenes featuring Paul Lynde, Dick Martin and Dom DeLuise amid exquisitely rendered production design and Robert Vaughn’s cameo as Napoleon Solo is heralded with the theme from The Man from UNCLE. With cinematography by Leon Shamroy, music by Frank DeVol (excepting Doris and Dad singing Que Sera…!) and costumes by Ray Aghayan, the same production team would be back together a year later for Caprice, another amusement filled with mistaken identity, cross-dressing and espionage – and Godfrey makes a cameo appearance in a photo as Doris’ dad again. Lively, gag-filled entertainment.

Caprice (1967)

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Or, the spy who came in from the cold cream, as Day has it, in this spy spoof/pastiche set in the world of cosmetics and industrial espionage. Deemed a failure at the time, it’s a fun spin on that genre with more than one nod (setting and music score) to Charade, the great Hepburn/Grant/Donen comedy thriller from a few years earlier. Doris works for Edward Mulhare and tries to obtain the secret behind another company’s new hairspray developed by mad scientist Ray Walston that keeps wet hair dry.  It’s a product that would render all others obsolete. She has to figure out how to get past Richard Harris, her opposite number, with whom she teams up. There is lots to cherish – it starts with a James Bond sequence on a ski slope, the costume and production design is to die for (colour coordination you will not believe) and the cinematography is by Hollywood great Leon Shamroy, making one of the last two CinemaScope films. If the directing is a bit lame blame it on Frank Tashlin, that cartoon-bright auteur who isn’t in top form here – mainly because the script by the director and Jay Jayson from Jayson’s story with Martin Hale is quite complicated.  Day’s black eyebrow/white hair combo led to Judith Crist calling her a drag queen on national TV – despite the fact that her performance in a demanding seriocomic role is very good indeed. Harris said he learned more from working with her than he ever did at drama school. Day would only make two more films following that lousy lambasting which is a matter of eternal regret to her fans – including myself. Jack Kruschen makes another good supporting appearance following Lover Come Back. This may have looked dated when it was released  but strangely the mod stylings look very attractive now and the jokes still work.

Lover Come Back (1961)

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Rock Hudson and Doris Day made some fine movies but their work together has a special place in the heart of most cinephiles. This was their second teaming after Pillow Talk and they’re rival ad execs on Madison Avenue engaged in all sorts of down ‘n’ dirty ploys to get advantage for their agencies. Stanley Shapiro and Paul Henning got together and constructed another (Oscar-nominated) mistaken identity scenario replete with parodies of advertising, psychiatry and masculinity as well as the battle of the sexes, monitored by two middle aged men in awe of Rock’s success with the ladies. The dialogue is sharp, Doris is winning and Rock is basically the model for Don Draper minus the neurosis. Great fun and fabulous to look at. And Doris sings!

Midnight Lace (1960)

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Just how much do we love Doris Day? Oh, let us count the ways! Probably better appreciated nowadays for her work as a brilliant comedienne, she also did the odd dramatic work and acquitted herself extremely well. Here she’s the housewife in London terrorized by a series of phonecalls in which an unknown voice tells her she’s going to be murdered. Janet Green, who wrote the stage play, was a noted screenwriter with a venerable body of work and this was quite a hit in London in its day. Ivan Goff and  Ben Roberts (who simultaneously had the similarly themed Lana Turner vehicle Portrait in Black on release)  adapted it for the screen. Reunited here with director David Miller who had a great record bringing Oscar noms to actors, she is definitely in a Universal Picture:  Ross Hunter along with her husband Martin Melcher on producing duties, Russell Metty doing the cinematography and art direction by Robert Clatworthy and Alexander Golitzen. There is Sexy Rexy Harrison as Doris’ elegant husband and a wonderful supporting cast including Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall, Herbert Marshall, Natasha Parry, Hermione Baddeley and Hitchcock favourite John Williams as the Inspector along with Anthony Dawson  (also from Dial M for Murder) in the lineup. As you might surmise, this is indeed another case of Marriage is Murder. London at the time was quite the location as we know from previous outings. (I want a flat in St James’, and in this life, please). Not the greatest thriller of its time but boy is it fun! Now:  when is someone going to screen Sudden Fear (1952), directed by Miller and starring Joan Crawford?!

Send Me No Flowers (1964)

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The last of the three Hudson/Day sex/marriage comedies is an extremely funny exercise in black humour and sight gags. He’s a hypochondriac who in the mistaken belief he’s dying tries to fix his wife up with a replacement. Then he doesn’t die and she smells an affair and leaves him. Hilarious one-liners and terrific look at life in the ‘burbs. Director Norman Jewison is working from a screenplay by Julius (Casablanca) Epstein who adapted it from a stage play. Jewison had shot the previous Day marriage comedy, The Thrill of it All, with my beloved James Garner. Sigh!