An Afternoon Tea with Doris Day: Tea For Two (David Butler, 1950)

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As I start writing this article, it is currently March 6. I’m sitting in a café in Södermalm, the in neighbourhood where I’m living in Stockholm. I’ve never been there before (I like discovering new places to broaden my options). I don’t feel it’s the best place in terms of coffee quality, but it’s decent enough, and they have very cool decorations (you should see the royal-looking chair where I’m sitting right now). I now meditate on the fact that, in a little bit less than one month, I will be a quarter of a century years old (just like Sugar Kowalczyk), but that it will also be the first April 3 without a lady that I’m proud to call my birthday twin: the sparkling Doris Day. Indeed, Doris, her smile, and her contagious joie-de-vivre left us last May at the age of 97. Now, I hear you, this is a long life, but there are some people you are just never ready to let go!

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Doris Day has been an inspiration of mine for seven years now in all sorts of ways. Her songs, her films will always make me feel good. In other words, she’s gone but not forgotten. Luckily, people are here to spread her legacy and keep her memory alive, and this is what my friend Michaela has done for four years now with her Doris Day Blogathon hosted on her blog Love Letters to Old Hollywood. She is indeed back this year with the 4th edition and, of course, it’s a pleasure for me to take part once again. This time, I’ve decided to review Tea for Two, which is perhaps the first film of hers I heard about (not the first one I saw tho) and, for some reasons that I shall explain later, it occupied my mind a lot at one point in my life!

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Tea for Two is a musical directed by David Butler and released in 1950. It was only Doris Day’s 5th film of a career that brilliantly started with Romance On the High Seas (Michael Curtiz, 1948) — my favourite film of hers and my 6th most favourite film of all times. Butler’s film also features actor/singer Gordon MacRae, actor/dancer Gene Nelson and some of the best character actors you could find out there: S.Z. Sakall, Eve Arden, Billy De Wolfe and Bill Goodwin. The story takes place in the Broadway world of the late 20sduring the Economic Crisis. Nanette Carter (Day), the niece of wealthy Uncle Max (Sakall) occupies her time singing and dancing with Jimmy Smith (MacRae) and Tommy Trainor (Nelson). Her boyfriend (that she doesn’t really like), Larry Blair (De Wolfe) is a producer who is putting on a show on Broadway, but he needs $25 000 to carry on with it. Larry counts on Nannette’s fortune to finance his musical production and tempts her by making up a story about Jimmy’s sister being sick and by offering her the leading role (although he promised it to Beatrice Darcy (Patrice Wymore)). Nannette falls into the trap and agrees to finance the show as soon as she can get her uncle to sale stocks on the market.

However, there is a problem. With the crash ravaging people’s life, Uncle Max has just been told on by his attorney, William Early (Goodwin), that he’s broked, that Nannette is broked. The young lady doesn’t know it yet, and Uncle Max can’t face telling her. So, when she asks for this $25 000 to finance Larry’s show, he comes up with the strangest bet: she must not say “yes” for the next 48 hours. If she succeeds, the money will be hers, but if she doesn’t, she must not ask for anything (fancy dress, party, jewellery) for the next year. This is more or less a way for Uncle Max to get out with his problem and buy some time because he’s clearly convinced that his niece can’t manage to win such a bet. Unfortunately for him, she is more tenacious than he thinks! To make sure she doesn’t cheat, Nannette’s best friend and assistant, Pauline Hastings (Arden), is appointed to keep an eye on her.

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Tea for Two is one of your typical feel-good Doris Day movies. It has everything to be; Doris herself, but also uplifting musical numbers, a great comical spirit, colourful cinematography, and feeling of hope in an era where people felt there wasn’t much of it.

Tea for Two marked an important step in Doris Day’s entertainment career. Indeed, not only it was the first time she was top-billed, but it also was the first time she was seen dancing on-screen. (1) And what a lovely dancer she was! She might have been better known as a singer, but let not forget that she was first destined to be a professional dancer. It’s after a car accident and while recovering from it that she also discovered an undeniable singing talent. Thanks to both her singing and dancing capacities, she was able to form some iconic duos in this film. She and Gene Nelson formed and elegant dancing duo, maybe not as popular as Ginger & Astaire, but with no doubt talented. Day and Nelson appeared together again in The West Point Story (Roy Del Ruth, 1950) and Lullaby of Broadway (David Butler, 1951). Gene Nelson receives some good recognition for his performance in Tea for Two and the Golden Globe Award for New Star of the Year. (2) The singing duo is formed by Day and Gordon MacRae. Doris Day’s smooth and tender voice is in perfect harmony with MacRae’s deep voice, therefore creating something very comforting for our ears! The two actors-singers appeared in a total of five films together, the four other being The West Point Story, On Moonlight Bay (Roy Del Ruth, 1951), Starlift (Roy Del Ruth, 1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (David Butler, 1953).

Doris Day was not only an excellent singer and dancer; she also had a wonderful sense of comedy. I love how her character keeps up with good energy and how she herself delivers the lines with a lot of tact and agility, managing perfectly to make us laugh or smile at the right moment. Of course, she had a lot of competition because Arden, Sakall and De Wolfe were all hilarious (this shouldn’t surprise anybody). But the beautiful things about that is that all three of them, plus Doris Day, manage to bring humour to the screen all in their respective way. You see, these are actors that were able to create their own signature. Doris Day is one who had a sense of humour, so sharing it was easily done. S.Z. Sakall perhaps had the best facial expressions and, whenever you watch a film with him, you know you are in for a good time. Eve Arden was a born leader who played the card of sarcasm perfectly. And, finally, Billy De Wolfe plays that manager who keeps getting into ridiculous situations that are out of his control (well, more or less- most of the time he had it coming!). He tries to compete with Gene Nelson’s dance moves, but these are more ridiculous than impressive!

Butler’s musical is one with an ensemble of lovely songs. Some are romantic, like “Tea for Two” or “I Only Have Eyes for You” (that we first heard sang by Dick Powell in Dames  (Ray Enright, 1934), 16 years before). Some are energic and uplifting like “Oh Me! Oh My!” or “Crazy Rythm”, a 1928 song that was first composed for the musical Here’s Howe.

To make these musical numbers and the movie itself even more lively, Leah Rhodes designed colourful costumes, and cinematographer Wilfred M. Cline made sure to make the images and vivid as possible. Seriously, if you’re depressed, just watch this film, listen to its songs,  absorb its energy, and you will probably feel much better!

Tea for Two was written by Harry Clork and loosely based on the 1925 Broadway musical No, No, Nanette. Clork provided us with a story perfectly entertaining story, one that works well. And he kept it as simple as necessary. The humour is carried with some fun punchlines such as:

1-Larry Blair: I’ve missed you baby. The flame is still burning!

Nanette Carter: There’s a fire extinguisher on the wall.

2- Pauline Hastings: If I’d said yes or no in the right places, I’d be wearing mink.

On its release, Tea for Two was not necessarily seen as a masterpiece by the critics, but as a fun and pleasant entertainment, and it’s pretty much what it is.

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Now you might wonder how this film inspired me. I think I’ve discussed it before on my blog, but if you are a newcomer, you might not be aware of that life-story! The first Doris Day song I ever heard was “Oh Me! Oh My!”. It was on that radio show about film music (that, unfortunately, doesn’t exist anymore) and, as soon as I heard it, I thought “Hum, what a fun little song!”. At the time, I was having a class in CEGEP that aimed to develop our creativity. For our final project, we had to create something, and a very vague theme was given to us. The song was constantly playing in my head, and my creation became a one-act play called Oh Me!. It tells the story of a young woman who decides to participate in a Doris Day song contest and chooses this song to compete. The play is about her trying to learn the song in the most inefficient way as possible and getting disturbed by all types of people. It was a rather simple but fun play, and people really appreciated it! When I first introduced it in class and asked for volunteers to read some of the parts with me, pretty much everybody raised their hands! So, I own this academic success to Doris! Curiously enough, I only saw the film years after.

However, in the film, it is sang by Gene Nelson:

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Tea for Two isn’t necessarily Doris Day’s best-known film, but it’s one that deserves more attention, and that will certainly make you spend a pleasant time. So, if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you to do so!

Many thanks to Michaela for once again hosting one of my very favourite blogathons. You can read the other entries here. I’m looking forward to being here next year for the 5th edition! 😀

And happy heavenly birthday Doris. I miss you so much!

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Sources:

(1) “Tea for Two: Trivia.” IMDb. Accessed March 6, 2020. https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0043030/trivia?ref_=tt_trv_trv.

(2) “Tea for Two (film).” Wikipedia. Accessed March 6, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tea_for_Two_(film).

8 thoughts on “An Afternoon Tea with Doris Day: Tea For Two (David Butler, 1950)

    • Happy birthday Virginie. 🙂 I have never been a huge fan of musicals (in general), but now and then I will watch some and do enjoy them enough– and some more than ‘enough’. For example- Doris Day in her stand out starring role as Calamity Jane. But now I will take your advise after reading your column here on this other classic musical starring our wonderful Ms. Day and I will put this next musical in my bucket list for a future viewing. I appreciate your recommendation very much and look forward to seeing it soon. Thanks for sharing and I hope you have a wonderful birthday today. ~~ Joanie

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Happy belated birthday, Virginie!

    Like you, I still miss Doris immensely, but she left us with such a beautiful, upbeat legacy. Oddly enough, although Tea for Two isn’t a big favorite of mine, I love a lot of things about it, like the score and definitely the dancing. I’ve become a huge fan of Gene Nelson’s in the past year, so I’ll always watch whatever he’s in.

    Thanks for contributing this wonderful review to my event!

    Liked by 1 person

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