THE DORIS DAY COLLECTION (WARNER BROTHERS HOME ENTERTAINMENT) includes
"I had worked with Doris Day before, of course, in THE WEST POINT STORY, but I really didn't get to know her then ----- but when we started on LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME I saw something in her I hadn't noticed before, or maybe it was just coming into bloom. She had matured into a really exceptional actress. She has a quality that makes people seeing her say " Why, there's a person who wouldn't do anything to hurt me." This quality, coupled with genuine acting ability, is irresistible to an audience."
------ James Cagney, CAGNEY BY CAGNEY
Doris Day fans who were delighted last year when Universal released all three of her comedies with Rock Hudson in their HUDSON/DAY COLLECTION should be positively delirious with joy now that Warners has released no less than eight of her films, six of them in their dvd debuts, in one stupendous eight-disc collection most appropriately entitled THE DORIS DAY COLLECTION. Day-naysayers are hereby advised to eat crow as this collection offers proof positive of Day's ability to successfully tackle musicals, dramas, and comedies with equal skill, a versatility which made her one of the most justifiably popular, beloved and long-running female movie stars of the twentieth century.
Without question, the crown jewel of this box-set is LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME (1955), in which Day assays the role of real-life singer Ruth Etting opposite no less than the great James Cagney, who is at his bombastic best as Moe (The Gimp) Snyder, her uncouth and overbearing manager/husband. The thing that makes this stirring musical drama sting like no other is the absolutely riveting manner in which Day unflinchingly holds her own against Cagney in an aggressive display of stark and unsentimental power seldom, if ever, matched in a film of this type. Indeed, the unblinkingly caustic and crackling manner in which these two square off is the primary factor that turns what could have been just another musical bio into a bitingly memorable cinema classic. The fact that LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME garnered six Oscar nominations (including one for Cagney) is no surprise, but the realization that Day wasn't nominated for this, her finest performance, gives one ample justification to shake their head in disbelief.
What a daunting task it must have been for Day to be the sole newcomer opposite the entire ultra-rehearsed original Broadway cast in the film version of THE PAJAMA GAME (1957), replacing Broadway star Janis Paige. You'd never know it once you witness the apparent effortlessness with which she takes control of the situation, negotiating the intricate Bob Fosse dance steps and complicated Richard Adler/Jerry Ross songs as if she'd been doing them for years. While a large segment of the cast plays to the rafters, it's Day's honest and down-to-earth performance as the efficiency expert at the soon-to-strike Sleeptite Pajama Factory that reminds us that this is a film and not merely a photographed stage production.
When Judy Garland was fired from ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, Day made no secret of her desire to play the title role of Annie Oakley but lost out to Paramount's Betty Hutton. Three years later Warner's attempted to compensate for that loss by tossing her into an ANNIE clone called CALAMITY JANE (1953) and even went to the trouble of borrowing ANNIE's leading man, Howard Keel, from MGM to costar. The results were a lot better than anyone had the right to expect, even though Keel's boisterous baritone would be glaringly under-utilized. Certainly any score that includes such standards as the Oscar-winning ballad "Secret Love" is worthy of note as are the arrangements by the incomparable Ray Heindorf and the spirited direction of veteran David Butler. Simply put, this JANE is no CALAMITY.
Clearly, one of the reasons for Day's longevity was her uncanny ability to meld perfectly with as disparate a list of leading men as any actress has ever encountered, including such stars as Kirk Douglas, James Stewart, Rex Harrison, Cary Grant, James Garner, Clark Gable, and Jack Lemmon, among many others. Certainly the suave and urbane David Niven would seem like an unlikely counterpart for Day, but PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES (1959), in which Niven plays a citified drama critic who reluctantly moves to the country at the behest of wife Day proves otherwise, for it's their unexpected chemistry together which provides the central attraction of this light, frothy and entirely agreeable family comedy.
The adjectives light and frothy also apply to LULLABY OF BROADWAY (1950), a musical with nothing on its mind but to entertain. Certainly the "plot", which is not worth recounting here, is nothing more than a rickety and flimsy framework created solely for the purpose of allowing Day to warble some fine vintage songs and Gene Nelson to supply some terrific terpsichorean taps while S.Z. Sakall provides funny support and Billy DeWolfe doesn't. If you're in the mood for something as insubstantial as it is jovial, LULLABY OF BROADWAY should fill the bill handily.
The back of the dvd package for JUMBO (1962) announces "Day, Durante, Raye - and Rodgers and Hart's songs - raise the big-top roof." Truer words were never spoken, but how interesting that they fail to mention second-billed leading man Stephen Boyd -- and how right their instincts are! There's simply no getting around the fact that while the the talented three are indeed "raising the roof," Boyd is the wet blanket that almost singlehandedly brings it down upon their heads, so sulkingly sullen and surly is his amazingly heavy-handed non-performance. Why this particular actor was chosen for this project after his glowering Oscar-nominated performance as the "heavy" in BEN-HUR is certainly a mystery for the ages. The sad fact is that it was the financial failure of this extravagantly sumptuous circus fantasy that caused the Metro hierarchy to have second thoughts about offering the title role in THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN to Day. To extract maximum pleasure from this melodic JUMBO, it's essential that one focuses their attention on the beautiful (and sadly last) Conrad Salinger arrangements and the jubilant and jaunty efforts of Day, Durante, and Raye. Avoid the leading man at all costs ---- he's for the Boyds!
The financial success of THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966) propelled Day into an eighth consecutive year as a Top-10 Box-Office Star, and while its mixture of romantic comedy and pseudo-spy nonsense doesn't always blend as seamlessly as it should, its leaps and bounds superiority to Day's followup atrocity CAPRICE is due primarily to the fact that just when this BOAT seems to be losing steam, director Frank Tashlin bolsters it up with a funny sight gag that at least temporarily restores it to buoyancy.
YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN (1950) is an unfortunate example of a film with an extremely promising first-third that runs aground at precisely the initial moment that Lauren Bacall appears, indecisively trying in vain to make sense out of a poorly established and severely underwritten role as the neurotic "bad" girl. Until that time there's a great deal to savor in this drama which is very loosely based on the life of legendary trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke, among which are the superb Harry James trumpet licks which are brilliantly backed up by Ray Heindorf's stunning arrangements, and strong support from Day, who already shows considerable dramatic promise as the good girl, Hoagy Carmichael as the pianist/friend ,and most especially the great Juano Hernandez, who invests such serene and dignified kindness into his portrayal of the elder black musician who unselfishly brings up the young aspiring trumpeter that one loses all sympathy for our "hero," played erratically by Kirk Douglas, when he ultimately rejects the old man.
LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME, JUMBO, PLEASE DON'T EAT THE DAISIES, and THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT all exhibit very good Eastman Color anamorphic (2.35:1) images and while both LOVE ME OR LEAVE ME and JUMBO have had their soundtracks reprocessed in resoundingly fine Dolby Digital 5.0 and 5.1 respectively, and THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT'S monaural soundtrack is clean but unspectacular, the big surprise here is DAISIES, which has one of the strongest distortion-free monaural tracks we've yet heard. The full-screen Technicolor LULLABY OF BROADWAY looks quite nice as does the full-screen black-and-white YOUNG MAN WITH A HORN and the monaural sound on both is reasonably clear and confident. Both CALAMITY JANE and THE PAJAMA GAME appear to be unchanged from their original dvd incarnations.
Anyone wondering why Doris Day was the only female singing star of the forties able to forge a multifaceted and successful screen career well into the sixties will find the answer in this gratifyingly well-put-together collection.