Archive for the ‘Doris Day’ Category

Calamity Jane

05 Jul

Calamity Jane – directed by David Butler. Musical Western. 97 minutes Color 1953.


The Story: A wild and wooly hoyden from Deadwood, Dakota, plays superwoman to Wild Bill Hickock.

If ever a performer and role collided triumphantly it is Doris Day and Calamity Jane.

Here we have her notorious pep, deleted of her starchy virtue, and elevated to a jig on a bar.

Day began as a dancer, and she is a good one, and the choreography designed for her is perfect. She is game, athletic, and lithe. She can be tossed around like a kite. She is vigorous and full of fun. She hasn’t a vain bone in her body nor one that isn’t limber.

Day was an amateur with the uncanny ability to throw herself into a scene like there was no tomorrow. This means that the selection of her resources is narrow, since it consists only what full emersion offers to one in danger of drowning. Which is to say, tension or thrashing about. But not here. Here all this works for her. The foolish tomboy turns out to be just her speed, in a velocity generally reserved for Betty Hutton.

She opens her mouth and sings with a natural brass in her vocal chords that has big carrying power, and a catch of emotion she probably can’t help, but which would be better supplied by the listener than the singer. She has perfect diction at full volume, and it seems her displayed singing technique has no borders. She is different from many pop singers in being able to negotiate comic songs – different from Sinatra who was not good in musicals because he crooned, which means that he sings legato, everything is slowed down, and so comic songs, of which musicals mainly are constituted, fail with his voice around them.

Day is right on top of those comic songs, and every single song in Calamity Jane is one, but one. “A Woman’s Touch,” is an example of her ready attack on a song – this a duet with Allyn McLerie – but “Just Got In From The Windy City,” and “Whip-Crack-Away,” she sings with zest and a joy that is real. Calamity Jane came out when I was a soldier on the front in Korea, and “Secret Love,” played over and over, had a painful meaning for me, quite separate from the movie, the meaning being a declaration of something that could not be declared. Her version, her way with it, is to declare it. Wow.

Howard Keel, opposite her, is relaxed, confident, humorous about himself. He has a big baritone, and he means what he sings. Tall, dark, and handsome, Howard Keel fit perfectly opposite every single leading lady he ever played with: Betty Hutton, Kathryn Grayson, Jane Powell, Doris Day, for some.

For the sheer entertainment of two performers ideally suited to doing what they are doing, with one of the best lyricist/composer combos ever to make songs together, Paul Francis Webster and Sammy Fain, you’ll see there isn’t a single missed beat or one too many.

I saw it when it came out. It’s better than it was before.


The Pajama Game

07 Aug

The Pajama Game – directed by Stanley Donen and George Abbott. Musical. The cute blond head of the grievance committee in a pajama factory butts heads with management led by the head of production. 101 minutes Color 1957.


Janise Paige who played it on Broadway was strictly show biz. Doris Day who plays it on film was not show-biz whatsoever. She was the lower working class girl next door. She was the most popular blond of her era, and was a paid a quarter of a million to make this film, which was finished in six weeks, and she is worth every penny. She is an actress justifiably denounced as a hot righteous maiden in most of her film roles, but here one can see the nature of a fine talent seldom properly used or understood, even by herself perhaps. Completely untrained as an actress, she can do anything as an actress. She is direct, clear, open, with zero subtext and perfect timing. Assiduity can do no more. She has a fine slim figure, excellent carriage, and moves well. Whenever she appears she is Somebody. Her defect is her taste, meaning her choices: for instance, her playing pain, which always comes out as self-pity. Immediate application is her strong suit technically. She never hesitates to engage. Here, her notorious pep is not played as her ace, thank goodness. Instead, really worth watching,  she is responsive, humorous, and unforced – except in her singing, for she always over-sung; that is to say she emotionalized. You can see this in her “Hey There,” version. Rosemary Clooney sang it simply, with her naturally rich intonation and perfect enunciation. Clooney has no brass in her voice; its power is introverted; you are inclined to move toward it. Day’s voice is extroverted; there is a lot of brass in it; its clarion force can penetrate steel; its inclination is to move toward you. Two different sort of voice, but Day emotionalizes; even when singing softy she is putting something into it which the words alone are sufficient to provide to us. She is a highly technical singer with a range of effects she is sure of and knows how to control exactly. There’s a lovely song, cut from the movie, given as an extra, mistakenly filmed, by the great Harry Straddling, through a screen door; watch it; she’s very good in it. From the point of view of acting, Pajama Game is Day’s best film. The Broadway cast, led by John Raitt in his only film, was brought in by Abbott who directed it on Broadway and who did not directed it here, but went out and played tennis, while Donen did all. The choreography was supervised by Jerome Robbins, and cries out for Agnes DeMille in the big “Once A Year Day” number which suffers from haste and from the difficulties of being filmed on the lumpy earth of an actual public park. The day is somewhat saved by Carol Haney: “Oh, she is a real dancers!” one says and leans back to enjoy the fact that in this dance musical she is the only principal person who is. Bob Fosse did the choreography, and his trademark minimalism is vivid in “Hernando’s Hideaway” and “Steam Heat,” which Haney does masterfully. Otherwise Donen handles the movement, and his gift for giving musical numbers personal registration is pronounced: how Day in “Small Talk” and picks up a newspaper perfectly; how she is shoved back and forth on a carton on a dolly in “I’m Not At All In Love.” Sometimes the natural settings work, and often the soundstage settings really make a convincing environment, the factory being one of them, a sewing machine hall in which Eddie Foy Jr. and Reta Shaw steal our hearts as a couple of stout middle-aged hoofers, singing and dancing to “I’ll Never Be Jealous Again.” If you love musicals, don’t miss it. It’s consistently entertaining, with the full Donen idiom in play, as in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, Singin’ In The Rain, Damn Yankees, and On The Town.



26 Dec

Starlift. A smorgasbord of numbers to boost morale produced at Warners 1 hours 43 minutes.Black and White 1951.

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The Travis Airforce Base stars in this pot pouri of musical and comedy numbers, designed to imitate Hollywood Canteen and This Is The Army. It is a scrapbook musical set this time not in WWII but in the Korean War, a War whose name, however, is never mentioned once during the entire film. Various superstars saunter through, among them James Cagney who is the best, and Gary Cooper who has a droll moment as a Dudley Doright cowboy in the skit narrated by the ever-bland Phil Harris. Doris Day sings whenever a bandaid appears on the arm of a returning vet. Gordon Macrae sings several numbers under his pompadour, and Virginia Mayo does a sweaty and effortful Polynesian dance in a blond wig, or perhaps the blond wig does the dance on top of Virginia Mayo. Everyone does their darndest anyhow. Jane Wyman sings, which is natural, as she actually began her career in musicals. Ruth Roman is the mother superior of  a mission to entertain the returning troops, airlifted in to Travis, (although I was in that war and we all went out by troopship from Camp Stoneman). Anyhow, the film is a actually about the movie star played by Janice Rule who is 19 when this was made. Here she is a dancer, as skilled as Gene Nelson who partners her, and she becomes involved with a forged romance, foisted off on the public by Louella Parsons who also appears. Janice Rule was to become one of the most accomplished and beautiful actresses ever to appear in film, and it is a loss that her career hadn’t more shape. She was powerful and mysterious with a beautiful speaking voice; she’s a later-day Howard Hawks sort of female, forward and humorous in her sexuality. The sides of her mouth curl up exquisitely, just as they did with that other dark-haired beauty, Cyd Charisse. What’s also fascinating is to see Doris Day in full force. Of course there never was a time when Doris Day was not in full force. She is always giving her all and it is always at the limit of her technique. Her application to the task and her daring make her look good. But she wasn’t about to play games; she was a single mother with a son to support; still, her work would appear more intelligent, were she not so eager to please. DoDo acts out of the power of a sure and certain instinct, and if you want to see instinctual acting, this is it. If you want to see instinctual acting with no discriminatory power attached, this is also it. She hits her mark every time; what is at question is the mark itself. The movie is lame, and slightly dishonest which the WWII anthology movies were not. What makes it lame is the faux naiveté of its sexuality combined with the obligatory leer of its males, wolf whistles being the shortest of all shorthands to romance.




Storm Warning

22 Mar

Storm Warning — directed by Jerry Wald — Drama. On a visit to her younger sister in a small southern town, a woman witnesses a murder that appears to be committed by her brother-in-law.

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What about Ginger Rogers? Was she some good actress or not? Boy she certainly is good here. And set her up against Doris Day and you can see what authority and readiness she had. She was, in Hello Dolly, rumored to be hateful to work with, and she may in her personal life have been humorless. She certainly had that peculiar way of ending her eyebrows at the center with an apostrophe. But what a wonderful chin she had. And she is a slender as can can be. She looks wonderful, and here she is already 39. She’s too classy and smart to be the touring model (as if there ever was such a thing), but one passes that over because of the conviction she gives to all her dramatic work, her simply being in the material, walking through a bowling alley, running in the rain. She was a strong athlete and tennis player, and of course was a national star dancer in her teens, touring and holding her own on Broadway, where she first met Astaire, who helped choreograph one of her shows. She had an acid touch, if needed. And here it works well against Steve Cochran, who is gorgeous, but not really a good enough actor to play the part of someone who is stupid. This required someone like Dan Duryea or Richard Widmark who both played stupid people as though they were canny. Doris Day had no training as an actor, and it always showed, but at least she was always fully invested in what she did, and could turn on a dime and come up with it. Here we also have Ronald Reagan, really quite good as the wised up DA who can’t forge a case against the Klan. He is never without a tipped-back fedora and a slangy approach to the townsfolk, none of whom have Southern accents, if you will. The ending is good. One of Jerry Wald’s social statements, and not a moment too soon. Not a bad picture, not a great one, but with what makes a Star a Star, Rogers is worth the ticket.


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