Films to Love: The Joy of Doris Day


There’s an irrepressible joy that Doris Day exudes. While it’s there in every film she takes on- with the notable exception of the heavy hitting Storm Warning- these following ones are my favorites where it’s showcased with stellar clarity.

This 1950 musical realization of the Broadway musical No, No Nannette was the first film in which Doris Day received top billing. It is an excellent example of the types of musical comedies that were her hallmark. The story is rather light, though it has its dramatic moments. Nannette Carter, played by Doris Day, is an heiress who has a very generous heart. If someone needs something, she’ll always say yes. Unbeknownst to her, her uncle, who managed her fortune, has lost is all when in the Stock Market crash in 1929. To curb her over-generosity while he tries to salvage what he can of her fortune, he makes a bet with her that she can’t say no to everything for 48 hours. She agrees because if she wins the bet, she’ll be able to fund her friend’s Broadway musical in which she’ll have a star lead. Her uncle doesn’t tell her that her fortunes is gone because he doesn’t think she’ll win the bet. Hilarity and a little heartache ensue, but it’s all short-lived in the this alls well that ends well musical. This was a film with a lot of firsts for Doris Day. Not only was it the first where she received top billing, it was also the first film where she did several dance numbers. And she held her own. In the 1930s, she had been in a horrible car accident when the car she was a passenger in was hit by a train. It required a long convalescence and resulted in the end of her dream to be a professional dancer. However, when you watch Tea for Two, you can see that she was a truly gifted dancer. The musical numbers are excellent as Gordon MacRae sings opposite of Day. And Gene Nelson is the male dancer Day is partnered with throughout the film. To say nothing of the inclusion of Eve Arden and S.Z. Sakall who lend richness to any film they are a part of. Tea for Two is a must for any Doris Day fan.

Seven years later, Doris Day top billed for this fantastic musical. The Pajama Game had already been a smash hit on Broadway for several years when the studios decided to immortalize it on celluloid. In fact, much of the Broadway cast was recruited to make this movie. That was one of the things Doris Day had difficulty with while filming The Pajama Game. Since so many of the people working on the film had already worked together on Broadway, there was an easy comraderie between them that Day had difficulty infiltrating. However, the chemistry of the cast is what makes this film shine. Centered in Sleeptite Pajama Factory, Doris Day plays Babe Williams, the head of the employee representatives committee, who is lobbying for a seven and a half cents hourly wage increase. The bosses aren’t too happy with this idea, so they bring in a a hard hitting superintendent that does more than ruffle the feathers of the employees. He’s handsome and a straight shooter who makes no bones about how attracted he is to Babe. However, while the attraction between them is mutual, can they find a way to work through their differences for the good of their relationship as well as the factory? Well, you’ll just have to take a musical romp with this movie. It’s positively wonderful with winning musical numbers and fantastic dance sequences featuring Bob Fosse himself.

What can possibly go wrong with a movie starring Doris Day and Clark Gable? The answer: nothing. Teacher’s Pet is not a musical. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that Doris Day doesn’t sing a single musical number in this one. Rather, she plays a straight laced night school teacher who comes to logger heads with the hard headed newspaper man played by Clark Gable. You see, Gable’s worked his way up in the industry to becomes one of the best, learning the hard way. He’s got a healthy disdain for academics. When he’s invited to speak at a journalism night class, he writes a scathing letter telling the professor exactly what he thinks of academia and their high handedness. Well, that teacher just happens to be the drop dead gorgeous Doris Day, who’s got spunk and feistiness to boot. What follows is a case of mistaken identities, a lot of soul searching, some hard dosed honestly, and a barrel of laughs.

My favorite film by Doris Day is Pillow Talk. Okay, that might not be completely true, but it is right up there. Doris Day and Rock Hudson star in this romantic comedy. I appreciate this film for so many reasons. We can start with Rock Hudson. In fact, that’s all I need say on that subject. He’s superb. He’s sublime, debonair, dastardly, and oh-so-charming throughout the whole of the film. But, at the end of the day, it’s really Doris who does it for me. She’s a successful interior designer who is sought after for her talent and skill in her arena. She’s pursued by affluent men, each of whom she shuts down graciously, but firmly. Her apartment is tres chic as is her wardrobe. And, on top of all of that, her thorough self-possession leaves the right amount of room for sincerity and gentility, too. This movie is truly dated. How so? It deals with party lines. Many people today don’t even know what that is, but before everyone had their own telephone lines, there was a time when people actually shared the same number. They might not know each other, but they had the same exact number and had to deal with juggling who could make calls when and for how long. Doris Day and Rock Hudson share a party line in this movie. Rock abuses his privilege by womanizing all hours of the day and night and hogging the line. Doris is upset about this because she’s trying to run her business and she needs to be able to be reached by her clients. Sparks fly over the wire. Suffice it to say that Doris thoroughly dislikes Rock. That is until Rock gets a look at what the other end of his party line looks like. What ensues is multilayered, complex, and very, very funny. Add to the great chemistry of Rock and Doris the casting of Tony Randall and Thelma Ritter, and you have a rollicking good time in New York City. Not to mention that Doris Day is downright sexy in this movie.

AND- I learned a particularly great life lesson from this film that every woman should heed. At one point, Doris Day is entering her office and is stopped by Tony Randall, who plays a successful millionaire whose just had his office remodeled by Day. He’s enamored with her and pursuing her relentlessly. He shows up at her work and hands her the keys to a brand new Cadillac convertible- for appreciation of all her hard work and time. Day, while thoroughly flattered, remarks that she can’t accept the gift:

It’s too personal.”
“If I gave you lingerie or perfume, that would be personal. But a car…?

Graciously, she places the key back in his hand and says,

Send me the perfume.

That self-possession and understanding of how to handle such situations was pivotal for me. She understands that while the gift is very sweet, the price tag that comes with it is not. So, she takes control of the situation and her destiny, and says no. And I love that.

If you’re not in the mood for musicals or comedies, have no fear. I’ve created another post, Films to Love: The Drama of Doris Day, completely devoted to the thrillers and dramas from Doris Day’s career. They are really good. Don’t miss it.

Do you have a favorite Doris Day musical? Please share it in the comments below.