Let’s Smile with Doris! Romance on the High Seas

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Doris Day. THIS Icon. I’m a fan. She’s not my number one favourite actress, but she certainly is my favourite female singer (along with Madonna). Doris makes me happy. She herself said “I like joy; I want to be joyous; I want to have fun on the set; I want to wear beautiful clothes and look pretty. I want to smile and I want to make people laugh. And that’s all I want. I like it. I like being happy. I want to make others happy.” So, as I’ve said it many times, when you have the blues, Doris Day is the best cure.

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You can listen to her songs or watch one of her films. One of the most feel-good and entertaining one is 1948’s Romance on the High Seas directed by Michael Curtiz. Believe me, that’s very different from Casablanca or Mildred Pierce, which proves this director’s capability to direct movies of many different genres. Romance on the High Seas was Doris Day’s first film (she had previously appeared as an extra in Lady Be Good in 1941, but wasn’t credited). What a fun way for her to start!

A lot happens in Romance on the High Seas, but, “briefly”, it goes like this: Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) and Michael Kent (Don DeFore) are married. However, she thinks he cheats on her and vice versa, and that’s the case since the day they got married. Michael previously had to cancel two of their wedding anniversary voyages, pretending this was due to “business”. He also has to cancel the third one. Elvira, who thinks it is only an excuse to see his mistress, has a plan: she’ll make him think that she’ll make the trip alone, but she won’t. She’ll stay in New York to spy on him. How will she do that? It’s simple. In a travel agency, she met Georgia Garrett (Doris Day), a young a sparkling singer who dreams of traveling the world, but can’t as she isn’t very rich. On the same evening, she goes with her uncle Lazlo Lazlo (S.Z. Sakall) to the cabaret where Georgia sings and asks her if she’d like to make the trip to South America, but under her name. Georgia accepts without any hesitations.

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Later, Michael tells to Elvira that he will go with her to South America once he’ll be done with his business. Of course, that wasn’t planned and Elvira insists on leaving right now and make the trip alone. Michael is suspicious and decides to hire a private detective, Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to follow her during the trip to discover if she cheats on him. Inevitably, Peter will make  acquaintance with Georgia Garret (thinking she’s Mrs. Kent) and things will get more and more complicated when he’ll fall in love with her, and when her friend, composer Oscar Farrar (Oscar Levant), will appear on the boat in South America as he also thinks all this is very suspicious.

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What an incredible story this is! Yes, a lot happens and, believe me, from the beginning until the end, it’s impossible to be bored. Romance on the High Seas’s first quality is its colours. It’s a very colourful film indeed, narratively and visually. All the film’s composition (the actors, the music, the sets, etc.) makes it complex in a good way. It’s a real carnival. The cinematography was conducted by Elwood Bredell who knew perfectly well how to use the glory of Technicolor. So, once more, how can you be depressed after having been exposed to such a variety of colours!

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The entertainment in this film is not only due to its story but also to its musical numbers. This film made us discover Doris Day’s beautiful voice and some great songs. It’s Magic became a hit and was nominated for Best Song at the Oscars. The film itself was nominated for Best Score. Doris Day’s character sings It’s Magic twice in the story, and each performance is unforgettable. The first version is my favourite, as a bunch of emotions is transmitted to us. That’s when we realize Peter has really fallen in love with Georgia. This moment is one of my favourite in the film. It makes your heart beat and we’re so fond of Peter’s sensibility and tenderness to Georgia’s beautiful voice. Just the way he looks at her makes this a pure instant of magic (like the song). I always applaud very fast with screams of joy during that scene (it’s SO CUTE, you know). I have an old soul, but I guess I must have a romantic one too!

The first song sung by Doris in the film is “I’m in Love”. We’ll take a look at it too as it’s such a fun moment. I think it perfectly reveals the character’s joie de vivre. Her dynamism is simply contagious!

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I’ll wrap up on Doris’ songs with this last one: “It’s You or No One”. I chose it because it’s the first time in the film she reveals to Peter her singing talent, and also because I love the little boy band that accompanies her. Their vocals are so lovely.

Doris sings most of the songs, but we have the chance to hear Jack Carson singing. He’s not really a singer, but this musical number is presented in a humorous way so it becomes a very appreciated moment in the film.

I’ve talked a lot about the songs in Romance on the High Seas (it’s a musical after all!), but I also have to explore the cast in depth.

This is the film that made me discover Jack Carson. I had previously seen him in some other ones, but never really noticed him before I watched Romances on the High Seas. He is now officially one of my favourite character actors. What I like the most about him is his great chemistry with Doris Day and his facial expressions. Those are just so unforgettable and make me laugh out loud every time. One of the best examples is [spoiler] when he’s on the plane going back to New-York but realizes he has arrived to Rio instead. A very surprised look! [end of spoiler]

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Doris Day too makes some great facial expressions in this film. My favourite one is when she sees Oscar arriving on the boat in South America. Of course, she runs away. As I previously mentioned it, that was Doris Day’s first film. She proved she wasn’t only a great singer, but that she had a lot of potential as an actress. She certainly had a contagious smile as Georgia Garrett and a great sense of comedy. As it was her first role, it was hard to say at the time if she could excel in other genres, but we later got the proof she could thank to films like The Man Who Knew Too Much. About her performance in her first film, the magazine Variety said “A charming and talented newcomer… Miss Day is a winner, any way you look at her!” So, she was on the right track!

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Romances on the High Seas also made me discover S.Z. Sakall, probably the most hilarious person in this film. As uncle Lazlo Lazlo, he never seems to be there or say things at the right moment, which makes his character even funnier and even more endearing. His mimics, his voices, his lines altogether create a well-composed character. There’s a moment in the film that always makes me burst into laughter and it involves this Hungarian-born character actor. It’s very simple: [spoiler] Michael is in Rio, looking for his wife, but he’s not sure the reception gave him the right room number. The first time he gets here, Georgia is in the room, the second time, it’s Oscar. He finally meets his wife the third time. But he thinks she has cheated on him, so he opens the wardrobe (thinking her lover might be hidden therE) and Oscar comes out of it first, and then Uncle Lazlo! Surprise! “Uncle Lazlo, what are you doing in the wardrobe??!” [end of spoiler]. I love this scene.

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Oscar Levant’s presence in the film is very interesting and adds a lot to its musical side. As we know, he wasn’t only an actor, but also a pianist and a composer. Doris got the voice, he got the instrument. As much as Jack Carson and Doris have a great acting chemistry, Oscar and Doris have a great musical one.

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Janis Paige and Don DeFore are interesting choices for the role of Mr. and Mrs. Kent. They do the job well, but their performances are not as thrilling as the ones I’ve previously discussed. We also have to notice the presence of Eric Blore as the ship doctor (who is sicker that his patient). It’s a very smile part, but how can we forget him? That voice!

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Who says comedy says funny lines. The film is truffled with them from the beginning until the end. I talked about some of my favourite scenes, now let’s take a look at some of my favourite quotes:

1- Michael Kent: Are you a good detective?

Peter Virgil: Naturally, why?

Michael Kent: Where did you do your training?

Peter Virgil: In the army. Intelligence G2.

Michael Kent: Well how are you at the job?

Peter Virgil: We won the war didn’t we?

2- Georgia Garrett: Oscar! How did you get on this boat?

Oscar: I lied about my age.

3- Rio Hotel Clerk: What if there IS blood shed in 314? We’re going to do the whole third floor over anyhow.

4- Peter Virgil: There’s something I just gotta do, I cant help myself.

Georgia Garrett [thinking he’s going to kiss her]: Well if you can’t help yourself, you can’t help yourself.

Peter Virgil: I gotta find the cable-gram.

5- Georgia Garrett [trying to impersonate Elvira Kent]: À votre santé!

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The more I see this film, the more I love it. I know some people are not too fond of musicals (especially people from MY generation), but I think this one can please anybody. You’re entertained from the beginning until the end and there aren’t too many songs. Romance on the High Seas is simply a great boost. After watching it, I’m so joyful and want to sing and dance like Doris, even if it’s midnight and everybody except me is sleeping in the house. It’s also a film that makes you want to go on a cruise and live an exciting adventure!

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Coming Up Blogathon at The Wonderful World of Cinema

Don’t forget to subscribe to those two blogathons I’ll host in March and April!

The Marathon Stars Blogathon (co-hosted with In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood)

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The Golden Boy Blogathon: A William Holden Celebration

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See you there!

Joan and Fritz

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Fritz Lang was probably one of the most gifted movie directors the world ever had. He first established himself as a respected movie make in Germany with masterpieces such as Metropolis and M, and then in the USA with Fury, The Woman in the Window, Clash by Night, etc. Lang left Europe in 1934 due to the rise of Nazism, but this didn’t prevent him to continue a brilliant career in Hollywood. Aside from his fine work as a director, we remember Fritz Lang for his four collaborations with Joan Bennett, who, thanks to him, became a queen of films noir.

The talented blogger Theresa Brown (Cinemaven’s Essays From the Couch) is hosting, today and tomorrow, The Classic Symbiotic Collaborations Blogathon, where the participants have to talk about a movie director and a movie stars who were known for working together on several occasions. So, I went with Joan Bennett and Fritz Lang. The reason why I picked those twos is simple: I wanted to see more Joan Bennett’s films and more Fritz Lang’s films. Simple as that.  And it was a perfect choice!

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In an interviewed with Lang conducted by Peter Bogdanovich (Fritz Lang in America), the German director lets us know how wonderful it was to work with Joan Bennett. And, according to him, she obviously felt the same about working with him. They were friends, perhaps lovers, and certainly great collaborators. Fritz Lang was known for his love of women, but unlike many men during this period, he considered them to be equals and hated to see them treated as an inferior sex. (Fritz Lang, a feminist symbol??). Before working on Lang’s films, Joan Bennett had already proved us her talent in films such as Little Women, and was even one of the four final choices for the role of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, along with Vivien Leigh, Jean Arthur, and Paulette Goddard. Her screen test impressed David O. Selznick, but apparently not as much as Vivien Leigh’s one.

Happily, Joan had other occasions to prove her talent and Fritz Lang has to be praised for that. To his friend, he gives the wonderful chance to prove how a versatile actress she could be.

They first worked together for the film Man Hunt (1941), also starring Walter Pidgeon and George Sanders). It’s an exciting thriller where Walter Pidgeon as Alan Thorndyke has to escape Nazis after having been wrongly suspected of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler. Back in London, he still his followed by some Gestapo’s agents. He meets Jerry Stroke (Bennett) a young woman who will help him.

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Peter Bogdanovich notices how touching Joan Bennett’s character was in this film. He’s right. We can’t help being fond of her when we watch this film as much as we would like to enter in the television and console her when she’s crying. For her first collaboration with Lang, Joan Bennett proved us that she could play a sensible and endearing woman. Her character can easily be one of our favourites. In Man Hunt, Joan is supposed to be a prostitute, but, due to the severity of the Production Code, such information couldn’t be revealed too explicitly and directly to the audience. So, a sewing machine was placed in Jerry’s room to let us believe that she was a simple seamstress. Something completely ridiculous according to Lang.

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For her second collaboration with Lang, Joan played the role of Alice Reed, a character far different from the one in Man Hunt‘s, but still extremely interesting. The Woman in the Window, released in 1944, was her first co-acting collaboration with Edward G. Robinson under the direction of Fritz Lang.

The film tells the story of Richard Wanley (Robinson), a psychology professor who is fascinated by a woman’s portrait exposed in a window next to the library where he often meets his friends and colleagues. One evening, as he is observing the portrait, a  smiling woman appears. She is the model used for the famous portrait. Her name is Alice Reed. She invites him to her place for a drink. As they are conversing, an apparently very jealous man runs into the room and tries to kill Richard. To help her new friend, Alice gives him a pair of scissors that were lying on the floor and he kills the crazy man with it. Instead of calling the police and explaining that all this was done in legitimate defense, Richard decides to hide the corpse. Alice is worried enough.

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For The Woman in the Window, Fritz Lang presents us a rather ambiguous character portrayed by Bennett. We can’t really know what to think of her. Is she a true film noir femme fatal who will lead the man to his loss? She can’t really denounce him to the police as she is a partner in crime, but she can always “leave him alone with his problem”… The complexity of this character makes the film even more thrilling than it already is.

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Joan Bennett’s third collaboration with Fritz Lang is perhaps my favourite one. Released in 1945, Scarlet Street was probably the best way to prove Joan’s acting versatility. Here, Fritz Lang molded her into one of the most memorable femmes fatale of film noir history. Joan was once the sweet Jerry Stroke. Now, she’s the manipulative Kitty March.

Scarlet Street is a remake of the French film La Chienne (1931), directed by Jean Renoir. According to IMDB, that was Fritz Lang’s personal favourite film of his. I honestly think it’s one of his most accomplished ones. Of course, Metropolis is visually impressive, but as one of my teachers made us notice, it’s not the most interesting narratively. There’s much more to analyse in Scarlet Street, especially concerning Joan Bennett’s character.

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Scarlet Street tells the story of Christopher “Chris” Cross (Edward G. Robinson), a cashier, who, on a night, rescue a poor lady (Bennett) who is assaulted by a man. As a matter of fact, we’ll later learn this man is Johnny (Dan Duryea) the girl’s boyfriend. Chris and the lady named Kitty March, make acquaintance. In his free time, Chris paints. Kitty believes he is a professional painter and that he wins a lot of money. Chris, who doesn’t want to disappoint the lady he has fallen in love with, doesn’t deny it. March decides to set up his art studio in Kitty’s apartment. Johnny, obsessed with money, sells the paintings under Kitty’s name. Kitty, who obviously has no tender feeling for Chris, becomes an accomplice and, when Chris discovers her true nature, the result is disastrous.

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Joan embodies a perfectly mean woman in this film. She seduces and manipulates for money. According to me, this is one of Joan’s best performances. She is convincing and was perfectly casted for the role. The cruelty of her character is simply amazing. Except for Joan’s brilliant acting in this film, we can’t not mention her radiant beauty and the magnificent gowns she wears. Those were designed by Travis Banton who also dressed her for Man Hunt and Secret Beyond the Door.

This leads us to Joan’s last collaboration with friend Fritz Lang. Released in 1948, Secret Beyond the Door is the most psychologically complex films of the four. When we watch it, we can’t help noticing the similarities with Hitchcock’s Rebecca and with Bluebeard. Before I started working on this blogathon, this was the only Bennett-Lang’s films I had seen. I re-watched it with my mother and she loved it.

In Secret Beyond the Door, Joan Bennett plays the role of Celia. She is engaged to an old friend. During a vacation, in Mexico, she meets a handsome and mysterious man, Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave), and falls in love with him. They finally marry, but she then realizes she barely knows him. They move to his big manor where he leaves with his sister, Caroline (Anne Revere); his son, David (Mark Dennis); his secretary, Miss Robey (Barbara O’Neil), and some domestics. Celia is surprised to discover Mark has a son from a previous marriage (her last wife died) and begins to understand how strange (not in the right way) and distant her new husband his. Mark has a peculiar hobby: he collects rooms. During a party, he makes a guided tour of the rooms for the guesses. This turns out to be very creepy when we discovered that a murder was committed in each one of them. However, one of the rooms is locked and Mark refuses to show it to the guesses. That’s mysterious. What’s hidden behind this door? Of course, Celia wants to know, at her own risks…

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Secret Beyond the Door was the beginning of something for Michael Redgrave as it was his first American film, but, sadly, the end of something for Joan and Fritz as it was their last collaboration together. Unfortunately, we can’t say this was a beautiful ending. People obviously didn’t “get” the film and it was a complete flop at the box office. According to IMDB, the tension between Lang and Bennett was obvious during the shooting of and the actress said of the film that it was a “an unqualified disaster”.

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A happy moment on the set

But today, we have to watch it with a certain distance. I indeed don’t think it’s Fritz Lang’s, nor Joan Bennett’s best film, but it remains very relevant and quite worth watching. Here, Joan Bennett’s plays a victim. What’s really interesting about her character is that we hear her thoughts, so we’re able to understand her feelings and intentions. She is not a mystery to us. Michael Redgrave as Mark Lamphere is. Joan remains convincing and still is able to prove to us that she could play many types of characters.

Joan Bennettt as Celia Lamphere in SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR  (1948, Fritz Lang).

But, if we forget the disaster caused by this film, I can positively say that, of the four films we’ve discussed today, Secret Beyond the Door is the most stunning visually. Here are some images to prove it:

Fritz Lang and Joan Bennett never worked together again after making Secret Beyond the Door. At the end of Fritz’s days, Joan said : “Tell Fritz how much I still love him”. The message was given and Joan was told that he was moved by it. Fritz Lang died in 1976 at the age of 85.

Among all the directors Joan worked with, Fritz Lang certainly was who knew her the best and allowed her to develop an immense talent. I can positively say that Fritz Lang is now one of my favourite movie directors and that Joan Bennett is one of my favourite actresses. It was a real pleasure for me to discover their work via this blogathon. I finally want to thank Theresa for having this great idea!

Classic Symbiotic Collaborations

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