Doris Day and Jack Carson

Happiest of happy birthdays to the movie star and singer who has brought me more joy than just about any entertainer I can think of – the one and only Doris Day, who turns 90 today. I love her movies and watch them over and over. I never get tired of basking in the onscreen sunniness, charm, and delight that is Doris!

I’ve written before about how great Doris Day and Rock Hudson were together, particularly in my favorite of their three films, Pillow Talk. Rock and Doris are one of the all-time great movie couples. However, earlier in her career Day was paired with fellow Warner Bros. actor Jack Carson in three Technicolor musicals – Romance on the High Seas, My Dream is Yours, and It’s a Great Feeling. They too made a fantastic duo.

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Romance on the High Seas (1948)

This was Doris’s screen debut, and what a debut it was! It’s hard to believe it was her first movie, as natural and at ease as she was in front of the camera. In her recent interview with TCM’s Robert Osborne, Doris said that the movie’s director, Michael Curtiz, told her not to take any acting lessons. She didn’t need them! She was that good right off the bat.

Romance-on-the-High-Seas-doris-day-5171996-490-355Doris plays a spunky nightclub singer who’s hired by a society lady (Janis Paige) to pretend to be her while on a cruise. The society gal thinks her husband is cheating on her, you see, so she wants to stay home and keep a covert eye on him. Meanwhile the husband (Don DeFore), who thinks his wife is cheating on him, hires a private detective (Jack Carson) to go on the ship and spy on his wife’s shenanigans. Mayhem, misunderstandings, romance, and hilarity ensue.

In addition to Day, Carson, DeFore and Paige in the lead roles, Oscar Levant and S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall have supporting parts and both are great.

sakallDoris is adorable in Romance on the High Seas – sassy and vivacious, with sex appeal to spare. She and Jack Carson sparkle together. Plus Doris gets to sing some of the best songs of her career, including “It’s Magic” and my personal favorite from the film, “Put ‘Em In A Box, Tie ‘Em With A Ribbon (And Throw ‘Em In The Deep Blue Sea)”.  Check out her snazzy outfit!  She wears some great clothes by costume designer Milo Anderson in the movie.

My Dream is Yours (1949)

2438858,YbaW+S0Nk9IrXO0QCnIQawdIBHTqZL2AId_hyIjlV1i5vlLma+InCuf+WGyZGONpFG54BcGDKzs2m9EcdXUIwQ==Doris co-starred with Jack Carson again in this movie, playing another aspiring singer. This time she’s the widowed mother of a young son who must decide between the famous yet smarmy singer she falls in love with and the manager who is always there to support her and loves her son like his own. Some decision, huh? My pro-Jack Carson bias is coming through here, but he’s so sweet and funny as Doris’s manager. For me there’d be no problem deciding which man to go for!

Doris-Day-in-My-Dream-Is-Yours-doris-day-27502691-1067-800There’s a hint of A Star is Born in the film, with the famous singer (Lee Bowman) taking to the bottle and the up-and-coming female talent he’s involved with eclipsing him, but it’s far less dramatic and serious than that movie. In fact, the movie is often very funny and whimsical, as when Doris Day sings an energetic “Tic Tic Tic” to audition for a radio show, or when her son dreams of Bugs Bunny.

doris-bunnyEve Arden plays one of her patented wisecracking best friend roles in My Dream is Yours, portraying Jack Carson’s assistant who gets roped into housing Doris and her son and selling her fur coat when money gets tight, among other things. She’s so funny and a total treat to watch. The movie also features Adolph Menjou and S.Z. Sakall, and like Romance on the High Seas was directed by Michael Curtiz.

 It’s a Great Feeling (1949)

This movie is similar to Hollywood Canteen and other films like that, where there isn’t much in the way of plot, but there’s lots of fun and many cameo appearances by big stars. Superstars like Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman, Danny Kaye, Eleanor Parker, Edward G. Robinson, Errol Flynn, and others all show up.

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Doris plays an aspiring movie actress from a small Midwestern town. She’s been in Hollywood for a while and has had no luck getting her foot in the door.

Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan, playing goofy versions of their real-life selves, take Doris under their wings and try to get her a job.  The actors, in hilarious frenemy mode as they compete for Doris’s attention, put her through all sorts of silly things while attempting to get her the lead in their next picture.

All three of Doris Day’s movies with Jack Carson are worth checking out – the first two because they’re good romantic comedies, the last because of all the fun Hollywood spoofing and the appearances of so many big stars.

If you only see one of their films, though, I’d recommend Romance on the High Seas. It’s a wonderful movie full of catchy songs, Technicolor eye candy, and a breakout performance by Doris Day that makes it clear why she became such a huge star.

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Top 10 Movie Musicals

I just love making lists.  No matter how silly it is to narrow down favorite things in some arbitrary way or how changeable my opinions might be, it’s still a fun way to pass the time.

Here are my top 10 favorite movie musicals – at least as of today.  Tomorrow I may remember another one I love and wish I’d put it on the list!

 10.  Funny Face

Fred Astaire, Audrey Hepburn, Kay Thompson, beautiful tunes by Gershwin, gorgeous ‘50s Paris, and super chic fashion by Givenchy.  What’s not to love?  Think Pink!

Favorite number:  “Clap Yo Hands”

9.  The Sound of Music

I almost can’t believe this movie is so far down on my list, considering that I’ve loved it since before I was even born!  It’s my mom’s favorite musical, so I think I listened to “Do Re Mi” and “My Favorite Things” in utero.  This is the warmest, most loveable story, and yet in spite of singing nuns, adorable children, and breathtaking mountain vistas it’s never too cute or precious.  The melancholy of impending war hangs like a cloud over everything.  I never fail to weep when Captain Von Trapp sings “Edelweiss” at the festival and can’t make it through the song, so heartsick is he about leaving his beloved Austria.

Favorite number:  “Something Good.”  What can I say?  I’m a romantic. 

 8.  Singin’ in the Rain

Pure joy.  This is a movie that always cheers me up whenever I’m feeling blue.  Gene Kelly dancing with an umbrella, Donald O’Connor bouncing off the walls, Debbie Reynolds popping out of cakes – this movie has everything.  I don’t know what else to say except that it’s hilarious, romantic, and contains some of the happiest song and dance numbers ever filmed.

Favorite number:  “Moses Supposes”

7.  Calamity Jane

I love, worship and adore Doris Day (making it all the more shocking that I haven’t talked about her here before this), and this is my favorite of her musicals.  Calamity Jane was Warner’s answer to MGM’s Annie Get Your Gun, and as much as I like Annie, I enjoy Calamity Jane even more.  It may not have as many instantly recognizable songs (although “Secret Love” and “Black Hills of Dakota” are classics), but I like the story more and I think Doris Day gives one of her best performances as the rough and tumble tomboy Calamity Jane.  She’s a hoot to watch sparring with Wild Bill Hickok, played the handsome Howard Keel.  (He was also in Annie Get Your Gun, because you can’t have a western musical without Howard Keel!)

Favorite number: “Black Hills of Dakota”

 6.  My Fair Lady

One of the wittiest, most erudite musicals ever, and one of the most deliciously snarky.  Rex Harrison simply is Henry Higgins.  I’ve seen quite a few stage productions of My Fair Lady, and while there’ve been some very passable Eliza Doolittles, I’ve yet to see a Professor Higgins who can remotely touch Harrison’s performance.  He’s marvelous as the arrogant, misanthropic, sexist bachelor who finds he can’t quite live without the squashed cabbage leaf he found in Covent Garden.  Audrey Hepburn makes a lovely, touching Eliza.  Nobody played ugly duckling (ugly, ha!) to swan stories quite like her.

Favorite number: “Just You Wait”

 5.  Easter Parade

It seems wrong that only one Judy Garland musical made it onto this list, because I completely adore her and think she was the greatest woman in movie musicals ever.  (See, these lists are such baloney!)  Still, she’s here in Easter Parade, beautiful, vulnerable, spunky, and with more talent than pretty much anyone.  Anyone other than Fred Astaire, that is.  I love how much fun they seem to have together in numbers like “We’re a Couple of Swells.”  Ann Miller is fabulous in this movie, and while Peter Lawford might not have much in the way of musical talent, he’s very pretty to look at.

Favorite number:  “Drum Crazy”

 4.  An American in Paris

For a movie filmed entirely on the MGM lot, An American in Paris certainly influenced what everyone imagines Paris to be like!  Gene Kelly took his dancing to another level with this movie, particularly in the “American in Paris Ballet.”  It’s so innovative and beautiful, with its painting-come-to-life feel.  Leslie Caron is adorable in her screen debut and Oscar Levant is too funny as Kelly’s grouchy concert pianist friend.  Plus – can I say this without sounding like a weirdo? – Gene Kelly has an ass that just won’t quit.  (Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks so.  This blog post is hilarious!)

Favorite number:  “Tra-La-La”

3.  The Band Wagon

For many years I couldn’t stand MGM musicals like The Band Wagon.  They hardly had a plot!  The songs were just thrown in there!  I liked the more story-driven musicals like those by Rogers and Hammerstein.  Gradually I came to appreciate the “let’s put on a show” musicals, however, and this one is a great example of that.  I love the colorfulness, the costumes, the amazing performances by uber-talented stars.  There’s a story here, but it’s not the main thing.  Mostly it’s about song and dance numbers that transport you, take you out of yourself and your humdrum life, and fill you will joy.  Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse make sublime dance partners.  Also, this movie makes me wish Nanette Fabray had been in more musicals.  She’s so endearing dancing with Fred to “I Love Louisa” and singing “Louisiana Hayride.”

Favorite number:  “Dancing in the Dark”

 2.  Swing Time

One of the quintessential Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies, and the one I can never see too many times.  It was hard to choose between this and Top Hat, but since Swing Time features my all-time favorite Astaire/Rogers dance number, “Pick Yourself Up,” it’s the one that made the cut.

Favorite number: “Pick Yourself Up”

 1.  Gigi

I love every moment, every song, every little thing about this movie.  It’s absolutely perfectly cast, starting with Leslie Caron’s charming turn as Gigi.  Her transformation from gangly schoolgirl to elegant young woman is completely believable.  Louis Jourdan is a dreamy French dreamboat as  world-weary Gaston, and Maurice Chevalier steals the show every time he’s on screen.  No one could have played Gaston’s elderly playboy uncle like Chevalier.  Hermione Gingold and Isabel Jeans are fantastic, too.  The lush, painterly sets and costumes, memorable music, and a story in which love wins out over cynicism all come together to make this my favorite musical.

Favorite numbers:  “The Night They Invented Champagne”, “I Remember it Well”, “She Is Not Thinking of Me”, “Gigi”

Happy 97th birthday to Gene Kelly!

“If Fred Astaire is the Cary Grant of dance, I’m the Marlon Brando.”

- Gene Kelly

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Gene Kelly would have been 97 years old today.  Time to celebrate with a few of my favorite moments from his MGM musicals.  There are so many more I could have included!  The hours of happiness this man has brought me…

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