DVD Review: TCM Spotlight: Doris Day Collection -- April in Paris; It's a Great Feeling; Starlift; Tea for Two; The Tunnel of Love

This 5-Disc Set Arrives
Just in Time for Mother's Day Shopping

“Some of the downbeat pictures, in my opinion, should never be made at all. Most of them are made for personal satisfaction, to impress other actors who say ‘Oh, God! What a shot, what camera work!’ But the average person in the audience, who bought his ticket to be entertained, doesn't see that at all. He comes out depressed.

“I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that's all I want. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.”
-- Doris Day (As Quoted on IMDb)


And that is a goal that Doris Day has achieved having appeared in 39 movies, more than 75 hours of television and upwards of 650 musical recordings in her career as a singer, actress, and television star garnering an Oscar nomination as well as receiving both a Golden Globe and Grammy Award. Now a tireless advocate for animal welfare-- a cause she’s believed in for decades—with her very own Doris Day Animal League which merged in 2006 with the Humane Society of the United States, Day has continued to be an inspiration for women everywhere.

Although now in the 21st century, she's mostly known for her “virginal” and frothy, surprisingly sexless sex comedies co-starring her dear, departed friend Rock Hudson including the comedy favorite Pillow Talk that saddled Day with as she laments, “the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-shoes." And while in fact it is Pillow Talk that I've always considered my personal favorite-- recently Warner Brothers Home Video and Turner Classic Movies has opened up the vaults to release a colorful five disc DVD set of the largely overlooked films in Day's career.

In the TCM Spotlight: Doris Day Collection that consists of painstakingly remastered digital transfers that focus on “Miss Day’s golden years at Warner Bros., where her career began,” Warner Brothers continues the excellence illustrated in their exquisite releases over the past few months on stars Natalie Wood, Sidney Poitier, and a Classic Romance Set in augmenting the works with vintage shorts and/or cartoons, original trailers, and more.

The debut of the set which contains works which span nearly a decade from 1949 to 1958 is also timed perfectly for early Mother's Day shopping as well as Universal Studios Home Entertainment’s 50th anniversary release of Pillow Talk. Additionally, it also coincides with cable channel Turner Classic Movies’ April event in paying tribute to the star over the course of the month as the TCM Spotlight slim packaged box set marks the third collaboration “in a series of joint releases” between the cable channel that's always been dedicated to “classic film programming” and Warner Brothers.

The TCM Spotlight presented by Warner Brothers, contains works from the studio that’s proud to house “the industry’s largest” library of titles wherein—along with Turner Classic Movies—they’ve chosen selections that emphasize “a broad group of classic films from various eras, all of which have earned an important place in film history.” And without further ado, we’ll go back in time to alphabetically analyze some of the earliest work by the woman who’s become well-known as “America’s Sweetheart.”

April in Paris

Although it was new to me, April in Paris was Doris Day’s third cinematic collaboration with director David Butler (who helmed one of her strongest turns in Calamity Jane) and likewise had the distinction of being the overworked star’s twelfth film in five years.

In his recent biography Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, author David Kaufman likens the plot of Paris to that of her first film--Romance on the High Seas-- as Paris finds Day appearing “yet again [in a work] built are around a case of mistaken identity and set, in part, on a cruise ship,” (139).

However, having never seen her debut effort, my initial impression of April in Paris was that—in a far more innocent way-- it reminded me Garry Marshall’s 1990 blockbuster smash Pretty Woman as both concern a free-spirited, adventurous and instantly sunny young woman who manages to charm an uptight businessman into letting down his guard and inevitably fall in love.

Despite the poor casting decision of pairing Day with Wizard of Oz’s Scarecrow—Ray Bolger as an ambitious Washington D.C. politician hoping to climb the ranks from being the Assistant to the Assistant to the Undersecretary of the Secretary of the United States—with whom Day has zero chemistry, it's still a mildly entertaining, harmless little picture that brightens whenever Day appears on screen.

It begins with a wonderfully amusing comedic set up that still feels relevant today as a French star battles endless red tape in trying to return back to his homeland and-- having dealt exclusively with Bolger in a series of round-and-round conversations that get them nowhere—the film cleverly illustrates the complications and human error that one inevitably finds in a well-intentioned government that’s operated by the people and for the people.

And when Bolger learns that he himself has made a rather embarrassing error by mistakenly extending an invitation to Ms. Ethel Barrymore to serve as an American delegate to Paris’s International Festival of the Arts to Day’s sassy chorus girl, Ethel “Dynamite” Jackson, he realizes he has no choice but to bring the uncouth and unsophisticated but naturally charming woman along.

Meanwhile, on the cruise ship we run into Claude Dauphin’s struggling Frenchman from the movie’s opening—trying to earn his passage back home by working in the ship’s kitchen (and seducing as many women as possible in the process). And when he sees the way that Day’s Dynamite is forced into a crash course of etiquette, study, and manner by Bolger and the man’s would-be father-in-law, Dauphine intervenes a la Pretty Woman's Hector Elizondo, serving as Dynamite’s “fairy godfather” in one of the picture’s most amusing numbers as Dauphin and Day have their very own ball in the ship’s kitchen.

Of course, as viewers expected, shortly thereafter Bolger begins realizing that he’s more than just a little interested in the vivacious chorus girl who makes his fiance back home seem as lifeless as a crash test dummy. A drunken wedding follows along with a series of misunderstandings and again while we never buy the relationship between Doris Day and Ray Bolger as they fail to ignite even a spark the size of a matchstick, and she had-- as Kaufman wrote “a lot more fun with Dauphin” (143)-- the movie’s dance sequences are as dynamite as Day’s character (showing off the lead stars' strengths considerably), thereby making it an enthralling find for her fans as well as Bolger's.

As the dancer Donald Saddler who worked on the film and became a good friend of Day’s shared with Kaufman, “of all the stars and principles I've ever danced with, I think she was one of the most gifted... I don't think she ever had any idea of how great she was. She just thought that was the way she was supposed to be. But when she was working, she was in her own world... she could do anything,” (142).

While instead of viewing it as simply the smile-inducing, lighthearted romp it was supposed to be—Paris which was released in the era of the McCarthy HUAC hearings-- was cited in Kaufman's book for being hammered with an accusation that the film had both a communist sympathy and sexually suggestive dialogue that was “degrading for both genders” that was sent to the Motion Pictures Production Association (Kaufman, 143).

And admittedly, those more familiar with the Pillow Talk, The Thrill of it All, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies and Send Me No Flowers era Day will be surprised by some of the film’s frank jokes about not being able to send Dynamite to France “unconjugated,” and Bolger keeps referring to Day’s physique creepily with the line, “what a built!” it seems ludicrous that such a fast paced, benign diversion would’ve been deemed remotely propagandist even when you take into consideration some of the film’s Frank Capra-esque jokes about bureaucracy that open the picture.

It's a Great Feeling

In a film in which Donna Marie Nowak described in her online essay posted at The Films of Joan Crawford, noted was produced as “an attempt by Warners to duplicate the popular Bing Crosby/Bob Hope team with Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson,” we’re presented with the archetypal “star is born” premise.

Although it’s definitely not as memorable as Crosby and Hope’s Road pictures, it is directed by Road to Morocco filmmaker David Butler from an original story by future Billy Wilder partner I.A.L. Diamond as aspiring starlet and current Hollywood cafeteria employee Judy Adams (Doris Day) makes her last ditch attempt at a big break before she returns to Gurkey’s Corners, Wisconsin to marry her sweetheart Jeffrey Bushdinkle.

Filled with countless celebrity cameos including brief appearances by Raoul Walsh, King Vidor, Edward G. Robinson, Michael Curtiz, Danny Kaye, Joan Crawford, Gary Cooper, Jane Wyman, and Ronald Reagan-- It’s a Great Feeling is strengthened by the humorously antagonistic relationship of Jack Carson and Dennis Morgan playing themselves as Carson struggles to find a director who is willing to work with him. Ultimately deciding to make the film and star in it all on his own, Carson tries to lure Dennis Morgan whom he calls “the biggest ham in Hollywood” to sign onto his full-blown opus about the gay ‘90s entitled “Mademoiselle Fifi.”

Finally tired of quietly surveying tea and sandwiches, Day’s Judy grows bold, locking the door and dropping the key to Jack Carson's office down her bosom in order to audition for her captive audience. While unfortunately the key slides down her dress, the intrigued Carson cruelly promises Judy a part in his picture if she’ll help him trick Morgan into signing on. After she's successful, Carson’s conscience gets the better of him and he and Morgan chase her down to the train station in one of the zaniest repetitive jokes as Day and the others keep inquiring about the next train to Gurkey’s Corners.

Soon they decide to all work together and try to get their film produced and while a natural rivalry builds between the men, the old time Ginger Rogers RKO-like feel of the film keeps us entertained. However, the momentum is spoiled as the movie derails into an overly silly conclusion that ruins its excellent set-up as the three partners in crime try to cause the producer to “accidentally discover” Day’s natural talent in an increasingly ridiculous series of events.

Although its strength lies in the natural chemistry between Day and Jack Carson in their third film together (and Day’s third film period), It’s a Great Feeling was likewise her first in what would become a highly important relationship with David Butler who helmed countless films for the star, even though as Tom Santopietro and other critics noted, the backstage Hollywood setting to some “is of interest only to those working in the industry,” as he and others argued that it “feels like an antique from the 1930s, when Hollywood was first learning to talk,” (Considering Doris Day, 36-37).

While that assessment seems a bit harsh and it’s far more entertaining than the instantly forgettable next two features-- Starlift and Tea for Two-- and the film’s conclusion may not sit that well with feminists, there’s a lot to like about the film as it’s one that really gives Day a chance to shine and help prove herself as an actress who sings rather than a singer who acts.


Labeled a “spirited flag-waver,” by Warner Brothers, this production that is filled with a who’s who of the studio’s lofty roster of talent educates viewers on their efforts with “Operation Starlift,” as the celebrities welcomed and entertained brave troops at Travis Air Base as they left and returned wounded from duty overseas.

Mostly worth a look for those who simply enjoy reveling in the nostalgia of the golden age of film-- the messy picture which as Kaufman noted was “thrown together in a month—and it looks it,” is one inwhich even Day confessed she “didn’t care much for,” even going as far as to call the work “ridiculous” and question “why the picture was being made in the first place,” (126).

Although it purports to be a celebration of the stars and stripes and men in uniform in its simplistic tale about a young soldier who develops an attraction to an ingĂ©nue, ultimately, it feels little more than as Santopietro dubbed it, “an unrealistic armed forces recruiting poster of a film,” (62).

Day-- who appears only briefly – is one of countless other stars ranging from James Cagney to Virginia Mayo to Gary Cooper (taking part in a Western number) that all perform songs from such treasured American composers as George and Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter.

Tea for Two

Much like April in Paris, Tea for Two is mostly memorable for its great production numbers. The first film in which Day was given the honor of top-billing not to mention the first one in which she danced on-screen which had been her childhood passion until a car accident put a stop to that and she discovered her natural singing ability-- this pleasant but forgettable second reunion with director David Butler is based on Otto A. Harbach’s play No, No, Nanette which had already been filmed once before.

A 1920s flapper era musical—in the film Day’s millionaire heiress turned aspiring “stage-struck” performer Nanette Carter is the last one to learn that her uncle lost a fortune in the stock market crash of 1929. Fending off a sleazy producer-- Billy De Wolfe’s Larry Blair who’s only after her financial backing, Nanette and her love interest-- the angelic singer Jimmy Smith (Gordon MacRae) try everything to get a show made and ensure that Nanette will rightfully get a chance to star in it as well.

Taking part in a peculiar bet with her uncle for $25,000 that she can answer “no” to everything for forty-eight hours (after she’s told she says "yes" far too often)—as a way to buy time for all characters involved to face the music, the plot grows much more complicated and predictable as her repetitive answer puts a damper on her love life.

And just when you begin thinking the show should’ve stayed on the stage, Butler ramps up the entertainment factor with its Gershwin based music and some truly amazing dance sequences including the ultimate showstopper that occurs roughly sixty minutes in as a character dances on a railing in tap shoes, jumping from the banister, window sil,l and stairs in a way that dazzles as much as it frightens.

Giving Day a great opportunity to croon some beautiful romantic songs throughout to change the pace in a piece that was beginning to feel a bit like an inferior version of the Gene Kelly/Judy Garland musical Summer Stock -- Tea for Two distracts with enough pure That’s Entertainment! value to keep us distracted from the nonsensical and needlessly gimmicky plot.

The Tunnel of Love

There’s an old adage that states that “you are your own harshest critic” and such is the case with the movie that I found to be the most enjoyable one in the TCM Spotlight boxed set—The Tunnel of Love.

The film that marked Gene Kelly’s solo directorial effort and one that—in adapting Joseph Fields’ hit play that trades musical numbers for razor sharp dialogue and revealingly mature material—senselessly seems to be one that stars Richard Widmark and Doris Day are all too happy to disown.

Although the Kiss of Death, film noir tough guy Richard Widmark started on stage in the field of romantic comedy before he became typecast as America’s favorite villain in the ‘40s and ‘50s, he proves to be a natural and fascinatingly capable comedic actor in this film which centers on a married couple’s failed attempts to conceive a child.

While Doris Day’s character Isolde is actively pursuing all options, applying for adoption and taking her temperature every day in a diligent attempt to become pregnant—the 1958 film’s not-so-subtle views on marriage and sexuality make it feel far less dated than some of Day’s other work. And soon Widmark’s Augie grows frustrated by what is essentially a new relationship centered entirely on “sex on demand” as he laments that after suffering through a 105 degree day, the only thing he really wanted to do was take a cold shower and sleep… literally.

Following the endless visits of their amusing and perpetually pregnant neighbors Gig Young and Elisabeth Fraser who are on baby number four (despite Young’s loathsome view of his kids and preference to chase any and every skirt he comes across regardless of the matrimonial vows)— soon Day and Widmark’s attempt to adopt is jeopardized.

With Young’s insistence to Widmark that an affair will help spice things up and cause success in conception weighing heavily on Widmark’s mind—he fears he may have indeed strayed without his knowledge following an unbelievably bad case of mistaken identity and misunderstanding when instead of an old spinster, a Parisian seductive beauty arrives from the Rock-A-Bye Adoption Agency and too many tranquilizers and cocktails are thrown into the mix.

While I still found it to be quite daring, compulsively watchable, and enviable from a writer’s standpoint—not to mention dazzled by Widmark’s ease with comedy and Gig Young’s hilarious supporting role-- I was stunned to discover that Widmark told film historian Michael Buckley that he’d made “an error” by accepting the part,” saying “I was no good and neither was the movie. It could’ve been [better] with the right actor." Likewise, Day said the entire film seemed “strange” to all involved as it “just didn’t feel right,” (Kaufman 243-244).

Although perhaps this could’ve been because it was so different than anything else being made in 1958 for cinema—especially when it’s supposed to be played as a romantic tinged comedy—I strongly feel that the film has only improved with age and resonates today even more. Additionally and although normally as a critic, I’d never suggest such a thing—given the terrific source material and the fact that those involved weren’t pleased with the finished result, it may be just the time for the work to be remade since it’s far more relatable than ever as loving, capable and highly intelligent couples continually are put through the gauntlet of trying to have a child. In other words-- "Attention Hollywood, go out and buy The Tunnel of Love."