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Romance on the High Seas (1948)

ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEASDo you mind if I gush for a moment? Thank you very much.

I am a huge Doris Day fan. I love her warmth and enthusiasm, her can-do attitude and resilience in the face of obstacles (onscreen and off-screen). She could literally do it all: sing (oh, how she could sing), dance, handle comedy and drama. And yet it’s so easy to overlook her outsized talent because she always seems to downplay it.

I’m done gushing. Thank you for your patience.

Romance on the High Seas was Doris Day’s Hollywood debut. She was 23, a successful band singer and at a low point in her personal life. She was so depressed that she didn’t even go out of her way to impress director Michael Curtiz during her audition, bursting into tears at one point (her husband was leaving her because he could tell she was going to be a star and didn’t want to be “Mr. Doris Day”). But according to lyricist Sammy Cahn, ” On the day they screened the tests, first came Marion Hutton (Betty Hutton’s sister); she was not earth shaking. Then came Janis Paige–by comparison, excellent. Then came Doris Day–and the projection room, when they ran the film, exploded.” Doris Day was cast and rapidly became Warner Bros’ top star, though they continued to give her inferior vehicles to star in.

Romance on the High Seas is something of a musical/screwball comedy. Because this was Doris Day’s first film, she is only third-billed and shares screen time with Jack Carson, Janis Paige and Don DeFore, not to mention a host of scene-stealing character actors including Oscar Levant, S.Z. Sakall, Eric Blore and Franklin Pangborn.

Society lady Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) is happily married to wealthy Michael Kent (Don DeFore), or she would be if she wasn’t convinced that he is chronically cheating on her. But her suspicions are unfounded; he’s mad about Elvira, though equally convinced that she’s cheating on him. When Michael is unable to accompany Elvira on a cruise because of a business merger, she immediately suspects him and decides to stay in New York to keep an eye on him, while hiring someone else to go on the cruise in her place to allay her husband’s suspicions.

Doris Day, Jack Carson

Doris Day, Jack Carson

The woman she hires is struggling singer Georgia Garrett (Doris Day), who works in a dinky little cafe with pianist and would-be lover Oscar Farrar (Oscar Levant, playing himself), who proposes marriage to her by the hour. Georgia is thrilled at the prospect of taking a cruise and promptly quits her job. But Michael Kent is suspicions that his wife is happily be taking a cruise without him and he hires private investigator Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to keep an eye on her during the cruise. But when Peter meets Georgia – believing her to be Mrs. Elvira Kent – he has to struggle awfully hard not to make love to her.

It gets more complicated when Oscar joins them on the cruise, but things really get out of hand when Elvira and Michael also join them at the end of the cruise in Rio, along with their Uncle Lazlo (S.Z. Sakall), who is trying to sort everything out.

Admittedly, it’s not The Awful Truth or Singin’ In the Rain, but there is a lot to enjoy. In Doris Day’s debut, she is not quite the Doris Day we know from later films. She is super perky (perhaps a bit too perky; she obviously learned to tone it down) and plays what would have been termed a hepcat, tossing slang around even when she supposed to be acting like the dignified Elvira Kent. Doris Day always hated the costumes, makeup and hair of her Warner Bros. days. She felt it was phony and she has a point there. The hats are pretty extraordinary in the film, too. Janis Paige as Elvira Kent has one that looks like a flying saucer landed on her head.

I watched this film with my friend Andrea and she thought the film could be understood as being about perceptions and how people see things (often incorrectly). Because Elvira and Michael believe the other is a flirt, they interpret everything in a way that supports their belief, even when it’s not true. Likewise, Peter Virgil believes that Georgia is Mrs. Elvira Kent, even though there are quite a few things Georgia says and does that should have tipped him off. Likewise, the scene where Peter and Oscar manage to get drunk on nothing has to do with perceptions. They think they are drinking shot after shot, not realizing that a man is stealing their drinks before they have a chance to down the glass. They are too busy telling the other about their girl (not knowing they are both talking about Georgia). Even the song “The Tourist Trade,” which is sung by a man from Havana about how everything they do is for the tourists, makes a similar point about expectations. They don’t actually live this way; they just put on the show that the tourists are expecting.

One thing I enjoy about Romance on the High Seas is that it gives Jack Carson an opportunity to play a romantic lead. He even sings a song – in a fake Trinidad accent – and he’s actually rather endearing. He still has his usual sense of humor, but it’s fun to see him get the girl for a change. Oscar Levant, on the other hand, is his usual misanthropic self, which is either good or bad, depending on how much you enjoy his particular brand of wit, which I do.

Janis Paige and Don DeFore are adequate, but the S.Z. Sakall is his usual adorable self and Eric Blore and Franklin Pangborn both make delightful appearances. Fortunio Bonanova (who pops up in all sorts of unexpected films: Double IndemnityFor Whom the Bells TollThe Black SwanCitizen Kane, Kiss Me Deadly) plays the manager of the hotel in Rio who would like to hire Georgia to sing, believing her to be a society lady with name recognition.

The songs were written by Sammy Cahn (lyricist) and Jule Styne (music). “It’s Magic” was the hit of the film, nominated for Best Song (it lost to “Buttons and Bows”) and become forever associated with Doris Day. That is where Doris Day shines most of all in Romance on the High Seas. No one sings a ballad quite like she does. Like Judy Garland, she can bring emotion through a song that is often greater than the film even requires.

Doris Day sings “Put ‘Em in a Box” to express her disgruntlement with Jack Carson’s Peter Virgil, who is too principled to make love to married woman.

 
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Posted by on May 6, 2016 in Movies

 

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Larceny Inc. (1942) – A Gangster Christmas Film

larceny-inc-movie-poster-1942-1020417894Larceny Inc. isn’t officially a Christmas movie, it isn’t specifically about Christmas, but it takes place during the Christmas holiday with the finale occurring on Christmas Eve, so I think it should count. Sometimes, I get a little tired of watching the same Christmas films every year, so it was refreshing this year to watch some unconventional Holiday films. That, and I would watch Edward G. Robinson in anything.

It is the story of three crooks who become small time business owners in their attempt to rob a bank and quite accidentally make a success of their business. Edward G. Robinson is J. Chalmers “Pressure” Maxwell, a crook just released from prison and determined to go honest. He wants to buy into a dog racing track in Florida. The only problem is that he has no money and the bank won’t loan him any (he has no securities). So, he has brainwave: in order to go legitimate, he will first rob the bank.

He notices that there is a luggage shop right next door to the bank and he and his two friends, Jug and Weepy (Broderick Crawford and Edward Brophy), discover that the basement shares a wall with the bank vault. Pressure buys the shop (acquiring money through illegal means) and they begin a tunnel that will go under the alarm systems in the wall and come up in the vault, using the luggage to hide the dirt in.

Barbara Jo Allen (lingerie lady), Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy, Edward G, Robinson, Jack Carson and Jane Wyman

Barbara Jo Allen (lingerie lady), Broderick Crawford, Edward Brophy, Edward G. Robinson, Jack Carson and Jane Wyman

Of course, Pressure has no use for real costumers and is always trying to discourage them, wrapping luggage badly, being rude, hurrying them out of his shop, selling everything for a flat rate of $9.75. Meanwhile, the street that his shop is on is a very friendly street of small time business owners who want to welcome him and enlist his aid in getting the torn-up streets repaired quickly so that shoppers will return to the street in time for the Christmas season. The lady who owns the lingerie shop is particularly friendly, asking him to come over some time and take a look at her lingerie. As he hustles her out, he replies that he will and she should stop by again sometime and take a look at his trunks.

Pressure’s girlfriend, Denny, is played beautifully and humorously by Jane Wyman. They have a somewhat platonic relationship, really. He’s her ‘daddy,’ but he’s always so busy that he’s also hustling her out of the shop and into the arms of luggage salesmen, Jeff Randolph (Jack Carson), who proposes after fifteen minutes of acquaintance because he believes in saving all that time of wooing, misunderstanding, and expenses (she refuses). But when Denny realizes that Pressure is trying to break into the bank, she and Jeff work together to concoct all sorts of advertisement and publicity stunts to keep the shop full of people, so Pressure and his cohorts can’t drill in the basement. To add to Pressure’s complications, they picked the very same bank that fellow crook, Leo (Anthony Quinn), was trying to interest them in robbing while they were both in prison.

But despite all his best (or worst intentions) the shop does prosper and he earns the gratitude and friendship of his neighbors, whether he wanted it or not. He even begins to think that there’s more money to be made in expanding his business than in robbing banks. There is a big showdown with Leo, which takes place on Christmas Eve, where at one point Pressure dresses up as a cigar smoking Santa.

Edward G. Robinson and Edward Brophy

Edward G. Robinson and Edward Brophy

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. I have a weakness for comedic gangster films and Robinson – known for playing mean gangsters – has excellent comedic timing and actually made at least four spoofs of his own comedic image. He is a tough, but a quick-talking con artist in this one. He literally wheedles the suit off the back of the prison warden and talks Jug and Weepy into doing all sorts of crazy stuff for him. Jug is the less-than-brilliant brawny stooge of the group who gets to do most of the digging while Weepy gets to come out for air more often (he steals a drill and hides it in a Christmas tree) and gradually gets turned into a salesmen and finds himself a girlfriend on the street.

And what is hilarious is that despite his repeated intentions to become honest, Pressure will probably always remain a crook at heart. He just can’t help himself, even if he does help people or make friends or try to do the right thing; it’s how he operates and thinks. In fact, that is true for all the criminals encountered in the film. It is highly illustrative that at the beginning, all the crooks in prison are waiting for their sentence to be over so they can pick up where they left off, planning their crimes and making contacts before they are even out. Prison, for them, is just a temporary hiccup to an ingrained way of life. It actually strikes Pressure as a brilliant idea when it first occurs to him to borrow money from the bank (not that it works) instead of trying some form of larceny. They are incorrigible.

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Movies

 

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