Light, entertaining period musical comedy 3.5 Stars

A period musical comedy featuring a slice-of-Americana circa 1917, Roy Del Ruth’s On Moonlight Bay offers attractive and talented stars, a spiffy Technicolor production, and flavorful songs and dances of an era long since past.

On Moonlight Bay (1951)
Released: N/A
Rated: Approved
Runtime: 95 min
Director: Roy Del Ruth
Genre: Comedy, Family, Musical, Romance
Cast: Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Jack Smith, Leon Ames
Writer(s): Jack Rose (screenplay), Melville Shavelson (screenplay), Booth Tarkington (adapted from Penrod Stories by)
Plot: During World War I, a teenage girl begins a romance with a college student, but his unconventional attitudes cause friction with her father.
IMDB rating: 7.1
MetaScore: 65

Disc Information
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: Warner Archive
Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.37:1
Audio: English 2.0 DTS-HDMA
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: Not Rated
Run Time: 1 Hr. 35 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray
Case Type: keep case
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: All
Release Date: 02/23/2021
MSRP: $21.99

The Production: 3.5/5

A period musical comedy featuring a slice-of-Americana circa 1917, Roy Del Ruth’s On Moonlight Bay offers attractive and talented stars, a spiffy Technicolor production, and flavorful songs and dances of an era long since past but nostalgically pleasing all the same. Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray edition of this Doris Day musical is just as lively and colorful as their previous releases featuring the effervescent charmer.

As the Winfield family moves into a new house in a small Indiana town, the family must adjust to their new neighborhood and the maturing of their two children: post-high school tomboy Marjorie (Doris Day) and mischief maker eleven-year old Wesley (Billy Gray). Marjorie falls for her neighbor across the street Bill Sherman (Gordon MacRae), a rising senior at Indiana University with radical ideas about life and love, even though her father George (Leon Ames) much prefers her seeing local music teacher Hubert Wakely (Jack Smith) who’s traditionally stuffy and non-threatening. Bratty Wesley can’t keep out of trouble continually creating chaos at school and bedeviling his demanding teacher Miss Stevens (Ellen Corby).

The screenplay by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson was adapted from Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories, and there’s an obvious attempt to replicate the spirit and tone of MGM’s 1944 triumph Meet Me in St. Louis with episodic sequences featuring an eclectic family (including Leon Ames as the father of both families), a wise-cracking maid (here, the always reliable Mary Wickes), and the period songs, but St. Louis was under the spell of director Vincente Minnelli who infused his Halloween (bonfires, tossing flour, hazelnut cake and ice cream with the family) and Christmas (building snowmen, a Christmas dance, a great song of longing) sequences with such detailed mood and indelible charm that the movie became an instant classic. Director Roy Del Ruth has no such eye for detail, and the movie, while innocuous and fitfully entertaining, contains no individual sequences that stand apart. The wonderful period tunes like the title song, “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles,” “Cuddle Up a Little Closer,” “Christmas Life,” and “Pack Up Your Troubles” must not only set the scene but convey whatever character they can through the singers’ own emoting. The one new song of the bunch “Love Ya” isn’t even sung by the film’s star-lovers but rather by Doris Day and MacRae’s romantic rival Jack Smith as she struggles to remain civil to him. Del Ruth does manage some commendable sentimental warmth in the climactic “Till We Meet Again” as MacRae’s Bill Sherman heads off to World War I, but otherwise the film’s key hilarity involves a couple of powder puffs at a dance, a running gag with swinging kitchen doors always on the attack against the hapless Mary Wickes, and Billy Gray’s constant stream of mischievous shenanigans.

This was Doris Day and Gordon MacRae’s third film together, and their teamwork makes all of their scenes play marvelously well. Curiously, apart from the title song sung as a duet between the two over the opening credits, the movie’s first two songs are sung as solos by MacRae. Day doesn’t get a solo until “Tell Me Why Nights Are Lonely” as she moons over her new-found love. Jack Smith is stuck with his unappealing stick-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy character that does neither him nor us any favors. Billy Gray walks away with all of his scenes as the rascally Wesley (though why some punishment isn’t administered to curb his misbehavior is rather surprising noting the era of the film’s setting). Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp as the parents are as reliable as ever, and Mary Wickes and Ellen Corby manage to make even their small roles significant.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

The film’s 1.37:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully rendered in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. The Technicolor once again is the star of the transfer as the hues are gloriously solid and true. The image is marvelous to behold with wonderful contrast and sharpness that reveals nice details in facial features and the period clothes. Any age-related problems with dirt, scratches, and color fluctuations are long gone. The movie has been divided into 40 chapters.

Audio: 5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix combines the well-recorded dialogue, the music and lyrics, and the sound effects into an appealing whole that’s a joy to hear. There are no problems with anomalies like hiss, crackle, flutter, and pops.

Special Features: 2.5/5

Let’s Sing a Song About Moonlight (9:24, SD): a 1948 vintage short featuring three sing-along songs.

A Hound for Trouble (7:09, HD): animated short

Theatrical Trailer (2:32, SD)

Overall: 3.5/5

Roy Del Ruth’s On Moonlight Bay is a pleasing period musical comedy with attractive players and superb Technicolor presented beautifully on Warner Archive’s new Blu-ray release. Fans of the stars or the genre will certainly want to be sure not to miss it.

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Will Krupp

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Care to elucidate? :)
I apologize, I shouldn't have been so mysterious.

Billy Gray played a heroin dealer named "City" in DUSTY AND SWEETS McGEE (1971.) Director Floyd Mutrux used a lot of actual heroin addicts in the movie but Billy wasn't one of them, he was just an actor (and, apparently, quite a convincing one.) Leonard Maltin, starting with his annual movie guide for 1974, identified "Billy Gray of FATHER KNOWS BEST fame" by name AS a real live heroin addict/pusher and basically said, in print, that he was just playing himself. He had no idea that Maltin had done this and, when the guide came out, his reputation was severely damaged for years as a result of what Maltin wrote. People just assumed it was true because it tracked with the "ex-child star gone wrong" trope and it cost him jobs. Gray launched a libel suit against him and the case was settled in 1998. Maltin was court ordered to publicly apologize at a press conference for the years long "mistake." His team had long maintained a defense of "we only reported the information that the studio sent us."
 
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Matt Hough

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I apologize, I shouldn't have been so mysterious.

Billy Gray played a heroin dealer named "City" in DUSTY AND SWEETS McGEE (1971.) Director Floyd Mutrux used a lot of actual heroin addicts in the movie but Billy wasn't one of them, he was just an actor (and, apparently, quite a convincing one.) Leonard Maltin, starting with his annual movie guide for 1974, identified "Billy Gray of FATHER KNOWS BEST fame" by name AS a real live heroin addict/pusher and basically said, in print, that he was just playing himself. He had no idea that Maltin had done this and, when the guide came out, his reputation was severely damaged for years as a result of what Maltin wrote. People just assumed it was true because it tracked with the "ex-child star gone wrong" trope and it cost him jobs. Gray launched a libel suit against him and the case was settled in 1998. Maltin was court ordered to publicly apologize at a press conference for the years long "mistake." His team had long maintained a defense of "we only reported the information that the studio sent us."
I had never heard this story, but I HAD (much to my shame) believed the gossip about his being a drug addict. I'm very sorry such an accomplished actor had to endure this mistreatment. Thanks for setting the record (and me) aright.
 
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Will Krupp

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I had never heard this story, but I HAD (much to my shame) believed the gossip about his being a drug addict. I'm very sorry such an accomplished actor had to endure this mistreatment. Thanks for setting the record (and me) aright.

Well it's understandable that we would believe it because it fits so neatly into the "child star" morality tale we all know so well. Apparently there were other parties initially involved with the suit and it all stems from misleading information in the original press kit, which SHOULD have been vetted more carefully before defamatory articles were ever published. I feel terrible for him, too.

A few more details can be found here:

 

Harold Chasen

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Alas, your story of what happened between Leonard Maltin and Billy Gray is far more entertaining than On Moonlight Bay.

Knowing that it was coming out on a Warner Archive Blu-Ray, I tried to watch it (for the first time) on TCM, only to give up about half way through. It's not bad, just ordinary; something to pass the time, but not something I need to rewatch or own. And it really shows just how special Meet Me In St. Louis is. On the surface, that should be as ordinary as On Moonlight Bay, but it sure isn't!
 

Mark-P

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Alas, your story of what happened between Leonard Maltin and Billy Gray is far more entertaining than On Moonlight Bay.

Knowing that it was coming out on a Warner Archive Blu-Ray, I tried to watch it (for the first time) on TCM, only to give up about half way through. It's not bad, just ordinary; something to pass the time, but not something I need to rewatch or own. And it really shows just how special Meet Me In St. Louis is. On the surface, that should be as ordinary as On Moonlight Bay, but it sure isn't!
Meet Me in St. Louis is a bit of a high bar to live up to, but I think that On Moonlight Bay and its sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon are much better than just “ordinary”. I have a real fondness for these adaptations of Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories.
 
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Malcolm R

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I've never understood the love for MMSL. I tried watching it a second time, to see if I missed something. Nope. Still don't like it.

Here's hoping this film is better.
 

B-ROLL

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I've never understood the love for MMSL. I tried watching it a second time, to see if I missed something. Nope. Still don't like it.

Here's hoping this film is better.
I guest some people don't like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ... ;)
 

Malcolm R

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I guest some people don't like Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas ... ;)
The music is the only highlight of that film. Most of the central characters are awful people and deserve to be run down by a trolley.
 

JohnMor

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The music is the only highlight of that film. Most of the central characters are awful people and deserve to be run down by a trolley.
Awful people? To each his own, but I don’t find a single character in that film to be anything less than ordinarily decent, if a bit bombastic in the case of the father.
 

BarryR

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I apologize, I shouldn't have been so mysterious.

Billy Gray played a heroin dealer named "City" in DUSTY AND SWEETS McGEE (1971.) Director Floyd Mutrux used a lot of actual heroin addicts in the movie but Billy wasn't one of them, he was just an actor (and, apparently, quite a convincing one.) Leonard Maltin, starting with his annual movie guide for 1974, identified "Billy Gray of FATHER KNOWS BEST fame" by name AS a real live heroin addict/pusher and basically said, in print, that he was just playing himself. He had no idea that Maltin had done this and, when the guide came out, his reputation was severely damaged for years as a result of what Maltin wrote. People just assumed it was true because it tracked with the "ex-child star gone wrong" trope and it cost him jobs. Gray launched a libel suit against him and the case was settled in 1998. Maltin was court ordered to publicly apologize at a press conference for the years long "mistake." His team had long maintained a defense of "we only reported the information that the studio sent us."
Thanks for the info! Amazed Maltin could be that careless.
 

JoelA

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Are we talking about one of MGM's crown jewels MMISL? I think I missed something here.
Yes, to each his own. MMISL is a masterpiece, but On Moonlight Bay has many charms of its own. Love Mary Wickes and Day and MacRae have great chemistry along with two of the best singing voices ever in film. Looking forward to having this in my hands next Tuesday. Great review as always Matt.
 
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Egore

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Regarding Billy Gray, I remember reading in a Houston newspaper that Billy Gray had been arrested for the possession of marihuana. This was either in the late fifties, or the early sixties. Pot is not heroin--- all I'm saying is, Billy Gray wasn't completely unacquainted with the drug scene in his youth. This story was carried nationally, so Maltin may have heard about this news story second hand with the details exaggerated. The other surprise in that newspaper article was it said Billy was in his twenties when he was still playing a teenager on Father Knows Best. I was surprised, because I always assumed we were the same age. I only wound up on this thread because I couldn't figure out what MMISL is---- now I know.
 

Mike Frezon

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I've got On Moonlight Bay pre-ordered. I have the WB DVD of By the Light of the Silvery Moon (another film which has sat unwatched in my collection for years).

So, someday soon, Peg and I will be having a bit of a Doris Day/Gordon MacRae film festival. I guess they co-starred in a third film?