Michael Curtiz’s Romance on the High Seas earns its place in cinema history as the feature film that introduced movie audiences to the winning voice and personality of Doris Day.
The Production: 3.5/5
Popular big band singer Doris Day was launched into a two-decade movie career with Michael Curtiz’s Romance on the High Seas. Though a run-of-the-mill musical comedy of no great shakes, Day proved herself to be the real deal: effervescent, sincere, and attractive, all qualities that would serve her well through a series of musicals, dramas, thrillers, and comedies during the next twenty years. Warner Archive has served her debut effort up on a silver platter with a gorgeous visual and audible transfer that brings out all of the film’s most sterling qualities: fetching performers, wonderful Jule Styne-Sammy Cahn tunes, and glorious Technicolor.
Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) has long suspected her attractive husband Michael (Don DeFore) of cheating on her especially with a new secretary (Leslie Brooks) in tow. She arranges for penniless singer Georgia Garrett (Doris Day) to impersonate her on a cruise to Rio while she stays in New York keeping an eagle eye on her husband’s activities. Meanwhile, Michael, equally suspicious of his wife’s flirtatious nature, has hired private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to track his wife during her voyage to see if he has grounds for suspecting her unfaithfulness. On the voyage, Georgia and Peter inevitably fall in love, but they both feel helpless to act on their feelings since neither knows the other’s true identity.
Epstein twins Julius and Philip, partly contributors to the Casablanca screenplay, along with future Billy Wilder collaborator I.A.L. Diamond are responsible for the feather-light screenplay which serves as a handy hanger on which to drape the film’s nine musical numbers. Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn have come up with a succession of winning tunes for Doris Day which go to serve both her perky belt (“I’m in Love,” “It’s You or No One,” “Put ‘Em in a Box,” the latter two paired superbly with the Page Cavanaugh Trio) and her creamy croon (the film’s hit song “It’s Magic” which brought Doris another gold record for her collection and earned one of the film’s two Oscar nominations). In fact, the film finds three places for Doris to sing “It’s Magic,” and each one is a special experience, especially its debut moment in the movie where it’s first sung in Spanish during a Cuba stopover and then taken up in English by Miss Day. While Doris gets by far the lion’s share of the songs, the film does also offer Jack Carson the amiable “Run, Run, Run” in a Trinidad sequence and Sir Lancelot’s introduction to Cuba with “The Tourist Trade.” Versatile director Michael Curtiz keeps the rambunctious mistaken identity movie plot humming along (Busby Berkeley stages the musical numbers with little of the flair he had exhibited in earlier musicals) especially with some brightly staged farce near the end with Michael Kent making multiple trips to his wife’s room in Rio only to find someone surprising behind the doors each time he opens them and the climactic carnival in Rio with the lovers reunited amid a cascade of multi-colored balloons which gives the gorgeous Technicolor a solid workout.
Doris Day wasn’t the first choice for Georgia Garrett. Betty Hutton had been signed but had to bow out due to pregnancy, and Warners was unsuccessful in borrowing Judy Garland from MGM to take over thus giving Day her big break in the movies although she was already a favorite on records and the radio. She makes the most of her debut excelling in the singing, of course, but also showing she could perform wry comedy, earnest longing, romantic angst, and dispirited disappointment with ease. Jack Carson (who would go on to co-star with Day in her next two films) is a neat foil for Doris as the lovesick detective. Don DeFore and Janis Paige are fine as the jealous married couple though their screen time is limited after the sea voyage begins and the focus switches to Day and Carson. (Ironically, not only does Doris replace Janis on the voyage but years later she’d replace her in the starring role in the movie version of The Pajama Game after Paige played it on Broadway.) Oscar Levant hangs around as Doris’ thwarted “boy friend” (though she tells him constantly she doesn’t love him) and gets a brief minute or two to serenade us on the piano with the “Cuban Rhapsody.” S.Z. Sakall does his patented shtick as Michael’s uncle, the head of a drug store chain. Eric Blore has one scene as the cruise ship’s doctor who’s sicker than his patient while Grady Sutton as the ship’s telegraph operator and Franklin Pangborn as a Rio desk clerk play their moments with expected effortlessness.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s theatrical aspect ratio of 1.37:1 is faithfully rendered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sharpness (Warners hadn’t yet started hiding Doris’ freckles with too much pancake makeup), Technicolor reproduction, and contrast have all been dialed in expertly in this transfer which is also spotlessly clean and free from artifacts. Flesh tones look especially realistic and appealing. The movie has been divided into 39 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound mix is completely faithful to this era of moviemaking. The Ray Heindorf orchestrations are very noticeable and redolent of the Warners sound of the era, and the songs and background score have been combined expertly with the well-recorded dialogue and sound effects for an appealing mono soundtrack. There are no signs of age-related hiss, pops, crackle, or flutter.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Song Selection: a menu for the movie’s musical numbers offers instant access to eleven musical placements in the movie.
Hare Splitter (7:09, SD): Bugs Bunny cartoon
Let’s Sing a Song from the Movies featurette (10:43, SD): four songs from Warners movies are shown in film clips followed by sing-along lyrics: “Am I Blue?” “By a Waterfall,” “Some Sunday Morning,” “My Little Gal in Calico.”
Theatrical Trailer (2:21, HD): Doris Day and Janis Paige sing the introduction to the trailer, the only time on the disc that we hear Janis Paige sing.
Michael Curtiz’s Romance on the High Seas earns its place in cinema history as the feature film that introduced movie audiences to the winning voice and personality of Doris Day. The movie itself is above average entertainment, but Doris makes each of her songs special, and it’s for those and the disc’s outstanding video and audio transfer that it earns a hearty recommendation.