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.
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.
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.
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)
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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