David Butler’s Lullaby of Broadway offers Doris Day at the peak of her singing and dancing best with a clutch of classic show tunes that she handles to perfection.
The Production: 3.5/5
Doris Day sings and dances up a storm in David Butler’s Lullaby of Broadway, a 1951 musical that pairs her with, not Gordon MacRae who was her usual leading man of this period, but with Gene Nelson in Warners’ attempt to move the previous supporting player to leading man. The attempt was only a partial success, and the movie’s narrative is more feather-brained and nonsensical than usual, but there are plenty of familiar tunes to ease the pain, and the movie gives Day the most challenging opportunity she’d ever have in her career to prove that she was an adept and talented dancer along with possessing one of the most golden singing voices of the 20th century.
Pert and perky entertainer Melinda Howard (Doris Day) returns secretly to New York to surprise her mother after spending all of her adolescent years in Europe. Melinda’s under the impression that her mother Jessica Howard (Gladys George) is still a Broadway headliner not knowing that she’s actually hit the alcoholic skids and now can only find work in dive bars in Greenwich Village. Former vaudevillians Lefty Mack (Billy De Wolfe) and Gloria Davis (Anne Triola) know what’s going on and do all they can to hide the truth from Melinda assisted by their wealthy boss Adolph Hubbell (S.Z. Sakall). Hubbell takes a liking to the effervescent Melinda and decides to back a Broadway show with her in the lead along with singer-dancer Tom Farnham (Gene Nelson, vocals by Hal Derwin), but the constant attention Hubbell pays his protégé gets back to his long-suffering wife Anna (Florence Bates) leading to problems both on and off the stage.
The screenplay by Earl Baldwin is a silly tissue of on-going lies based on the proposition that Melinda isn’t a grown-up and must be protected from the truth about her mother at all costs. The constant lies and subterfuge tangle everyone in knots, so much so that Melinda almost throws away her chance at Broadway stardom, Tom and Melinda break up in a ridiculous misunderstanding, and Hubbell and his wife are headed for divorce with Melinda’s reputation ruined in the process. Conversely, where the movie goes right are in the songs and dances, almost every one of them a tonic filled with high spirits and vivacity. Doris gets the show off to a smashing start singing and dancing to the great Cole Porter tune “Just One of Those Things,” and Gene Nelson has his own showcase to “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart.” The script and director David Butler manage to fit in showcase numbers for all of the principals: Billy De Wolfe and Anne Triola do a fine comic ditty “You’re Dependable,” Gladys George gets two torchy talk-sung numbers “A Shanty in Old Shanty Town” and “Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone,” and the novelty duo the De Mattiazzis have a mechanical doll specialty that offers a big payoff (for those who don’t know the secret of this kind of number). But the key production numbers are all Day and Nelson: “You’re Getting to Be a Habit with Me,” “Somebody Loves Me” (with creative choreography using swinging doors by Al White and Eddie Prinz), and the smashing title tune sung and danced on a gigantic staircase with the most impressive dancing Day would ever undertake in a feature film.
The combined successes of Lullaby of Broadway and several other films Doris Day released in 1951 found her breaking her way onto the Quigley list of Top Ten Box-Office Stars for the first time. (In the years to come, she’d actually come out on top of the list on four separate occasions.) In this movie, Doris runs through her patented high spirits and heartbreak pretty much on cue while wearing a succession of flattering Milo Anderson gowns. Gene Nelson’s perfectly fine singing voice was for some reason deemed insufficient to pair with Doris Day, and thus he was dubbed by Hal Derwin whose voice has lilt but doesn’t match Nelson’s speaking voice exactly. Billy De Wolfe and squeaky-voiced Anne Triola pair nicely together while veterans Gladys George, S.Z. Sakall, and Florence Bates perform perfectly within their spheres of expertise. As with many of Day’s Warner musicals, she’s expertly abetted by the Page Cavanaugh Trio.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully represented in this 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Warner Archive technicians have done another fantastic job dealing with three-strip Technicolor resulting in a gorgeous image with pristine picture quality. Sharpness is outstanding except in soft-focused glamour shots, and the color is deeply saturated but always under control. There are no instances of splices, scratches, or reel cues to mar the viewing experience. The movie has been divided into 14 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is very good and offers fine fidelity though the tap sounds for Gene Nelson’s “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” number sound weirdly disembodied as if the ghosts from Follies were doing the tapping. Dialogue and song lyrics come through clearly and cleanly, and the music and sound effects are otherwise blended well. Hiss, crackle, flutter, and pops are not a problem at all.
Special Features: 1/5
Theatrical Trailer (2:41, HD)
Song Selection Menu: offers instant access to any of the fourteen musical portions of the movie.
David Butler’s Lullaby of Broadway offers Doris Day at the peak of her singing and dancing best with a clutch of classic show tunes that she handles to perfection. A strong supporting cast and a beautiful Technicolor production add luster to another great Blu-ray success for Warner Archive.
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