TCM Spotlight: Doris Day Collection
It's a Great Feeling (1949) / Tea for Two (1950) / Starlift (1951) / April in Paris (1952)/ Tunnel of Love (1958)
|Studio: Warner |
Film Length: Various
Aspect Ratio: 4:3/ 2.35:1
Subtitles: Eng SDH, French
Release Date: April 7, 2009
With two volumes of "Doris Day Collection" releases already under their belt, Warner has compiled all but one of their remaining classic Warner and MGM titles featuring Day into an entry in the "TCM Spotlight" series. While the packaging has changed (a digipak vs. a box of Amaray or slimcases), the approach remains otherwise similar, with each title being accompanied by vintage cartoons and other shorts.
It's a Great Feeling (1949 – Warner - 85 minutes)
Directed By: David Butler
Starring: Dennis Morgan, Doris Day, Jack Carson
In It's a Great Feeling, Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson play comedic takes on themselves. Carson is having a hard time finding a director for his next picture because no one wants to deal with his raging ego. He manages to both solve his problem and stroke the aforementioned ego when he resolves to direct the film himself. When word of this gets around the lot, all of his potential co-stars run for the hills in an effort to avoid being cast, including the previously committed Morgan. Carson enlists the aid of aspiring actress and studio commissary employee Judy Adams (Day) to con Morgan into coming back to the production, and is forced to give her a second look when he becomes desperate to cast a leading lady. The production is hampered by a romantic rivalry between Morgan and Carson over Judy as well as Carson's technical ineptness at film production.
You are forgiven if you do not recall that Warner Bros. attempted to create their own Hope and Crosby style musical comedy duo in the late 1940s. While not tremendously successful, the films were usually good for a few laughs thanks frequently to the tastefully acerbic wit of co-writer I.A.L. Diamond (who is given a story credit on this film). Unfortunately, the filmmakers hewed so closely to the Hope-Crosby model that the films tended to underline the relative lack of star wattage generated by Carson and Morgan vs. their more famous predecessors who eclipsed them as both radio and film personalities. Released in 1949, It's a Great Feeling was the third comic teaming of Morgan and Carson, and while it failed to generate much audience demand for a follow-up, the folks over at Paramount, home of Crosby and Hope's "Road" films, were lapping Warner Bros. by kicking off the film careers of yet another singer/comedian duo who had honed their act in nightclubs by the name of Martin and Lewis.
On its own merits, It's a Great Feeling works best when it id getting its digs in at Hollywood vanity, usually at the expense of Carson. The cameos from several big name stars as themselves are ladled out effectively, and often take good-natured jabs at their on-screen personas. There have probably been a million and a half gags surrounding Gary Cooper's minimalist use of the expression "Yep", but his cameo early in this film is definitely one of the funniest. My next favorite cameo was Edward G. Robinson who clearly has a blast lampooning his tough guy persona. In addition to the stars, fans of classic Hollywood will also get a kick out of Technicolor looks at behind the scenes luminaries such as directors Michael Curtiz, Raoul Walsh, and King Vidor and Musical Director Ray Heindorf. Director David Butler even lets himself in on the fun, giving himself a cameo so he too can tell jack Carson to go pound sand.
The film bogs down when it gets too committed to the romantic rivalry subplot with Morgan wooing Day with only mild competition from Carson, and while Morgan and Day put forth their best efforts vocally, it suffers from a surfeit of truly memorable songs. That being said, the gently satirical edge goes a long way towards making those weaknesses tolerable, and it goes out with a very amusing punch-line which is always a good idea for an otherwise uneven film.
Tea for Two (1950 – Warner – 98 minutes)
Directed By: David Butler
Starring: Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson, Patrice Wymore, Eve Arden, Billy DeWolfe, S.Z. Sakall
Tea for Two is a very loose remake of the stage and screen chestnut, No, No, Nanette with Doris Day in the title role of perky ingénue heiress Nanette Carter. Nanette has aspirations of singing professionally, and unscrupulous producer Larry Blair (De Wolfe) is game to give her an opportunity, mostly because he is running out of cash to stage his latest show and he wants to tap into her trust fund. Unbeknownst to all, Nanette's uncle Max (Sakall) has lost her entire inheritance in the stock market crash of 1929. Ashamed to admit it, Max tries to simply put a stop to Nanette's requests for money by betting her the cost of the show that she cannot go two days answering every question with a "No". Naturally, comic complications follow, and Nanette's determination, coupled with the talents of singer/songwriter Jimmy Smith (MacRea) and dancer Tommy Trainor (Nelson), and the moxie of friend Pauline (Arden) ensure that a show will go on in one form or another.
This was the third talkie adaptation of the popular 1920s stage play (unfortunately, the original 1930 version is a "lost" film), and easily the least beholden to its source material. The depression era setting post-dates the original play by about four years, but serves to provide a nostalgic context for the old-fashioned Vincent Youmans tunes such as the title track which are blended with some "ringers" from the likes of George and Ira Gershwin, Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, and Harry Warren and Al Dubin.
This was my favorite film in this collection. It hits just the right nostalgic tone for viewers to be able to suspend their eye rolls at the sillier plot contrivances and enjoy the perfectly cast singers (Day, MacRea), dancers (Nelson), and comic actors (Arden, Sakall, De Wolfe) being asked to do what they do best. Particularly impressive in a mildly antagonistic supporting role is future Mrs. Errol Flynn, Patrice Wymore, who is a singing-dancing double threat who looks great in Technicolor and almost steals the film.
This was a significant film in Day's progression as a movie star as it was both the first film in which she received top billing, validating her status as a box office draw, and it was also her first of several successful cinematic pairings with singer Gordon MacRae.
Starlift (1951 – Warner – 103 minutes)
Directed By: Roy Del Ruth
Starring: Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Virginia, Mayo, Gene Nelson, Ruth Roman, Janice Rule, Dick Wesson, Ron Hagerthy
Starlift is a "support the troops" film in the vein of Warner's World War II-era Hollywood Canteen. Like its predecessor, it is largely a musical-comedy variety-revue held together by a plot involving a soldier improbably romancing a Hollywood starlet. In this Korean-war era version, the soldier is US Air Force Corporal Rick Williams (Hagherty) who is goaded by his buddy, Sergeant Mike Nolan (Wesson), into contacting starlet Nell Wayne (Rule), an actress from his home town. In the course of trying to contact her during a short leave, Williams and Nolan stumble across a bevy of stars playing themselves including Doris Day, Ruth Roman, and James Cagney. They convince Day, Roman, and Wayne to come to Travis Air Base to see them off under the mildly false pretense that they are shipping off to a combat zone. In truth, they are crew on a transport plane that shuttles other soldiers back and forth to Southeast Asia. Sympathy for the troops leads the actresses to enlist their Hollywood pals to make regular trips to the base to entertain the departing soldiers. When Nell learns about Rick's deception, it throws a wet blanket on their budding romance even though they must pretend to be a happy couple for the sake of publicity/propaganda. While Rick and Nell feud and reconcile, we are treated cameo performances from a bevy of stars including Gary Cooper, Virginia Mayo, Phil Harris, Jane Wyman, Randolph Scott, Gordon MacRae, Gene Nelson, Tommy Noonan and Peter Marshall.
Just for sheer star power, this film is worth a viewing for fans of early 50s Hollywood. Unfortunately, as a film, that is about all it has going for it. The humor is corny, the plot is pedestrian, the musical staging is only sporadically inventive, and the film's low budget seams are frequently showing, such as the use of rear projection for many of the on-base sequences, including for the audience during the stage show performances.
Doris Day's appearance in the film is over after the first 20 minutes or so, although she does get to both act (as herself) and perform a number of songs, including the Gershwin's "S'Wonderful" and Cole Porter's "You Do Something to Me".
April in Paris (1952 – Warner Bros. – 94 minutes)
Directed By: David Butler
Starring: Doris Day, Ray Bolger, Claude Dauphin, Eve Miller, Paul Harvey
In April in Paris, Doris Day plays slightly against type as nightclub singer Ethel "Dynamite" Jackson, who is mistakenly awarded a fellowship to represent the United States theatrical arts at an Exhibition in Paris. Ray Bolger plays S. Winthrop Putnam, the State Department bureaucrat responsible for the clerical error who thought he was extending the invitation to Ethel Barrymore. Putnam revels in his middle management job and is supremely relieved when Assistant Secretary Robert Sherman (Harvey), who is both his superior and his future father-in-law, calls the mistake a populist stroke of genius. Putnam accompanies Ethel on her ocean voyage to Paris to insure that nothing else goes wrong at which point the film morphs into a romantic farce thanks largely to the catalyzing effect of wealthy unapologetically caddish Frenchman Phillipe Fouquet (Dauphin).
April in Paris is a somewhat underrated film. It is often penalized by critics for the fact that the Leroy Prinz-staged musical numbers are frequently uninspired and do not do full justice to the talents of Day and Bolger. With the oft-cited exception of the "I'm Going to Rock the Boat" number in the middle of the film, this is a fair criticism. In particular, numbers like Bolger's presidential themed solo dance seem full of unrealized potential.
As a romantic farce, however, the film is more successful, with a script that wryly negotiates its way around the Motion Picture Production Code. The film also has a lot of fun playing against the personalities of Day and Bolger, with Day playing a worldlier woman than usual and Bolger appropriately befuddled when he finds himself the improbable cause of a romantic feud between Day and Eve Miller. Even Claude Dauphin manages to subvert his Maurice Chevalier-styled persona by the film's conclusion. If the film does not quite manage to achieve the Ernst Lubitsch level of continental romantic farce to which it aspires, it comes closer than its somewhat minor reputation would suggest.
Tunnel of Love (1958 – MGM – 74 minutes)
Directed By: Gene Kelly
Starring: Doris Day, Richard Widmark, Gig Young, Gia Scala, Elisabeth Fraser
In Tunnel of Love Richard Widmark and Doris Day play married couple August and Isolde Poole. Isolde desperately wants a child, either via adoption or more old fashioned means, and devoted hubby August, while considerably less obsessive about it, wants to accommodate her as best he can. Their adoption plans go south when Augie and his caddish neighbor, Dick Pepper (Young) inadvertently offend Estelle Novick (Scala), the representative of the Rock-a-Bye Adoption Agency. A subsequent feud with a disappointed Isolde leads Augie to a night involving lots of alcohol, some tranquilizers to calm his nerves, a reconciliatory dinner with the comely Estelle, and a morning wake-up at a hotel to which he has no memory of checking-in. In subsequent weeks, Augie learns both that the adoption agency is reconsidering their negative assessment and that Estelle is pregnant and in need of financial assistance. Augie becomes increasingly anxious about the possibility that he is being led to adopt his own child, not to mention what would happen if Isolde found out about it.
1958's Tunnel of Love was Gene Kelly's first directorial effort in which he did not also star. The film is a somewhat tepid adaptation of a theatrical farce and never really escapes its stage-bound origins. As much as I love to see vintage Hollywood sets designed with CinemaScope in mind, I eventually became tired of all of the extended scenes set in the great room of Augie and Izzy's converted farm house. To Kelly's credit, he does exhibit a strong eye for painterly compositions within the Cinemascope frame, even if some of the sets do wear out their welcome.
The film also takes a risk that does not pay-off by casting Richard Widmark in the neurotic comic role of Augie. While his performance is not a complete disaster, audiences were not inclined to accept him in the kind of comically emasculated role typical of actors like Tom Ewell (who successfully created the role of Augie in the original Broadway production).
While I mentioned how I enjoyed the way that April in Paris wryly negotiated its way around the Motion Picture Production Code to tell its story, the screen adaptation of The Tunnel of Love is a negative example of what can go wrong when trying to accomplish such a feat. One always gets the sense that the film is being held back from being about what it wants to be about, despite the apparent sexual indiscretion of Augie and the frequent risqué discussions of marital infidelity by his neighbor played by Gig Young. This is never more apparent than in the awkwardly forced ending of the film which transparently tries to touch all of the bases in order to keep the censors at bay.
Day's character is little more than a "sitcommish" baby-crazy housewife, but she manages to imbue her with a reasonable amount of personality. Her personal highlight occurs off-screen, however, as she sings the hybrid rock-swing title song, reminding viewers that she was as much or more a pop singer as an actress in her heyday and that she could adapt her style to modern tastes. Supporting cast highlights are provided by Gig Young who seems to relish his role as the broad-minded alcohol swilling neighbor, and, in a small role, pin-up model Vikki Dougan, who provides eye candy via one of her trademark low-backed dresses that emphasizes her hourglass figure and nickname, "The Back".
All films in this collection are presented in 4:3 full-frame transfers reflecting their original theatrical aspect ratios except for Tunnel of Love which is 2.35:1 and enhanced for 16:9 displays. Starlift and Tunnel of Love are in black and white while It's a Great Feeling, Tea for Two, and April in Paris reflect their Technicolor origins.
Of the three Technicolor films, It's a Great Feeling fares the best. It has natural but not excessive levels of film grain, infrequent light element wear, and a pleasing color palette with contrast that is good but perhaps a bit soft. It suffers from slight mis-registration of the Technicolor elements which will be evident to viewers watching on large displays as a slight fringing, especially along white edges.
Tea for Two and April in Paris both exhibit a palette tilted towards browns and magentas and high contrast that results in constricted shadow detail. Strangely, during one of Tea for Two's title cards, all of the writing credits indicating adaptation from the No, No, Nanette stage play are obscured by a magenta blob. This was done deliberately at some point in the past, presumably due to some kind of rights dispute. Apparently, a clean version of this title card does not currently exist.
Starlift at times seems to be artificially softened in contrast and at other times exhibits whites on the verge of blooming, but in general presents an acceptable grey level with solid detail.
The Tunnel of Love looks about as close to perfect as one could reasonably expect it to look. While there is a "dupey" quality to opticals such as the opening credits and scene transition fades, the rest of the picture exhibits a wonderfully wide grayscale with excellent detail, light natural film grain, and no glaring digital video artifacts. This could very well be the first time Warner has released a box set mixing classic Warner and MGM titles where the MGM title has the best image quality. It appears that either the negative of this film survived the George Eastman House fire or Warner uncovered an extremely high quality interpositive from which to create their element for video transfer.
All films in this collection are presented with Dolby Digital 1.0 mono tracks. As with the video, Tunnel of Love has the strongest presentation, sounding like it was sourced from a high quality magnetic element. Starlift sounds the worst, largely due to what sounds like a very heavy handed application of filtering that results in almost no audible hiss but also no audible top end.
The remaining three titles all exhibit the modest dynamic range and audible crackle characteristic of vintage optical tracks, although for some reason in the case of Tea for Two the audible noise sounds worse on the musical numbers than it does during the dialog sequences.
Extras consist of vintage featurettes and trailers on all titles. Video based extras are in 4:3 black and white video unless indicated otherwise below. In addition, Tea for Two also includes a couple of audio supplements related to prior radio and film adaptations of the No, No, Nanette stage play. All are listed below organized by the title of the feature on the disc where they appear.
It's a Great Feeling:
- Spills and Chills (10:23) is a short from the "Sports News Review" series. It starts with a series of aerobatic stunt work accompanied by narration about the history of aeronautic daredevils in planes balloons rockets, and gliders. It then moves on to footage of a variety of stunts such as climbing skyscrapers, being dragged by land vehicles, and crashing vehicles into things.
- Bear Feat (6:53) is a 1948 Technicolor "Merrie Melodies" cartoon directed by Chuck Jones in which gruff diminutive Papa Bear decides to train giant imbecilic Baby Bear to be a trick bear in the circus despite some well-reasoned objections from Mama Bear.
- Breakdowns of 1949 (10:23) is a collection of outtakes/bloopers from various 1948-9 Warner Bros. films including A Kiss in the Dark with David Niven, Jane Wyman, Broderick Crawford, Victor Moore, and Wayne Morris, The Fountainhead with Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal, Key Largo with Humphrey Bogart , Lauren Bacall, and Lionel Barrymoore, June Bride with Bette Davis and Robert Montgomery, The Inspector General with Danny Kaye and Walter Slezak, and many others as well.
- The Theatrical Trailer (Color - 1:03) Emphasizes Day and the many celebrity cameos.
Tea for Two:
- So You Want to Hold Your Husband (10:51) – is a 1950 "Joe McDoakes" short starring George O'Hanlon and Phyllis Coates in which Joe's wife, Alice, talks to a counselor to get tips on how to bring the magic back to their 10 year marriage, but they never seem to work out as planned. It is presented in composite video with some very pronounced color aliasing in detailed areas of the image.
- Tee for Two (7:03) is a Technicolor MGM Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoon with their neverending battle transposed to a golf course. Warner Home Video rarely matches MGM cartoons with Warner features on disc, but the homophonic title must have proved irresistible.
- "No, No Nanette" Radio Show (29:49) is an audio-only feature in which Doris Day and Gordon MacRae star in an episode of "The Railroad Hour" adapting and severely abridging the No, No Nanette play.
- No, No Nanette (1930 Film) Overture (6:52) is another audio only feature that lifts the opening overture from a surviving Vitaphone disc from the "lost" early talkie adaptation of the No, No, Nanette play.
- The Theatrical Trailer (Color - 2:34) is the best trailer in this collection with unique fun footage of Day and MacRae singing an adaptation of the title song for promotional purposes.
April in Paris:
- So You Want to Wear the Pants(10:45) is another vintage "Joe McDoakes" short starring George O'Hanlon and Phyllis Coates. Joe and Alice see a psychiatrist who recommends a therapy in which their spouse's point of view is hypnotically placed in their minds resulting in some amusing politically incorrect role reversal.
- Terrier Stricken (6:52) is a 1952 Technicolor Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Chuck Jones in which Claude the Cat continuously comes up on the short end in his rivalry with a yappy puppy.
- The Theatrical Trailer (Color - 2:59) is a fairly unremarkable promo that predictably highlights the cast, Parisian setting, and musical production numbers.
- Desert Killer (9:34) is a Technicolor short telling a story of a hunt for a mountain Lion that is terrorizing the sheep and cattle of a Native American tribe of a young boy named "Little Sure Foot". It is told through narration over silent footage. I could not watch approximately two minutes of it due to a physical scratch on the disc I was provided for review.
- So You Want to be a Bacehlor (9:27) is a vintage 1951 short in the "Joe McDaokes" series starring George O'Hanlon and Phyllis Coates in which an assignment from Alice to clean the basement causes Joe to reminisce about his bachelor days, illustrated by an extended flashback including the humorous events surrounding how he was railroaded into proposing and marrying Alice. For those curious about such things, Alice's maiden name turns out to be "Peckinpah". Who knew?
- Sleepy Time Possum (6:55) is a vintage Technicolor Merrie Melodies short directed by Robert McKimson in which "Pa", the father of a lazy young possum called "Junior" tries to motivate him by dressing in a hunting dog costume and chasing him. This leads to a comic pursuit with the usual amount of injury inflicted on the pursuer. Pa's voice is a slight modulation of the voice used for "Foghorn Leghorn"
- The Theatrical Trailer (2:40) is a predictably patriotic promo placing the film in the "tradition of Hollywood Canteen" and emphasizing the star-studded cast.
The Tunnel of Love:
- Tot Watchers (16:9 enhanced video - 6:37) is 1958 MGM color Cinemascope Hanna-Barbera Tom and Jerry cartoon in which the cat and mouse interrupt their constant battles to try to protect an infant from a negligent teen babysitter and no good deed goes unpunished.
- The Theatrical Trailer (4:3 Letterboxed - 2:15) is a bit boring with too much time spent with a narrator trying to lay out the plot's complications.
The five discs are held in a three panel digipack with two of the panels with plastic trays holding overlapping discs and the third holding the fifth disc alone. My copy of Starlift had a visible scratch/defect on the disc that prevented one of the supplements from playing properly. I wish I could blame the hated overlapping discs for this defect, but that was the one disc that had its own tray with no overlap. I assume it is an isolated occurrence, but make sure to inspect your discs for such blemishes just in case. The tri-fold digipak is in turn encased in a carboard box. The cover art is graphically appropriate for the 40s-50s era of the films with a portrait of a fresh-faced Day trimmed in pink.
With the TCM Spotlight: Doris Day Collection, Warner Home Video has almost completely polished off its classic Warner Bros. and MGM Doris Day theatrical catalog library holdings (Only the MGM suspense title Julie remains MIA from DVD) with yet another classy set, this time in a digipak with all titles exclusive to this collection. Transfers are solid, although limited by their source elements, with The Tunnel of Love and It's a Great Feeling faring the best, and Starlift exhibiting some unpleasantly muffled audio. Extras consist of the typical array of vintage cartoons and shorts on all titles with some audio supplements on Tea for Two related to prior adaptations of the same stage play.
Edited by Ken_McAlinden - 7/9/2009 at 03:46 pm GMT