Doris Day was America’s sweetheart during her Hollywood heyday in the 1950’s and 60’s. She sung and danced her way into the hearts of millions around the world. But, this blonde-haired dynamo didn’t always have her pitch perfect vocal skills.
Born in Cincinnati, Ohio, Day spent most of her younger years training to become a dancer. She, like all little girls, had aspirations of being a ballerina. Her dreams were dashed, however, after a near-fatal car accident. Day’s mother “not sweating the small stuff” suggested that Doris try to develop her voice. With the help of a vocal coach Day developed a talent that would become her bread-and-butter for many movies to come.
Some of Doris Day’s finest celluloid moments come in one huge box set at the expense of Warner Bros. Home Video. Coming out on the heels of Warner’s Errol Flynn: Signature Collection, this eight-disc set showcases Ms. Day in some of her most energetic performances.
Doris Day fanatics probably will enjoy all the films in this set – Young Man with a Horn, Lullaby of Broadway, Calamity Jane, Love Me or Leave Me, The Pajama Game, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, The Glass Bottom Boat, and Billy Rose’s Jumbo. If you are on the fence about the collection, here are some of the standouts: Young Man with a Horn (1949), Calamity Jane (1953), and Love Me or Leave Me (1955).
Young Man with a Horn stars Kirk Douglas as a jazzman who has lost his note. Going down the slippery slope of booze and self doubt, this trumpet player is also a man stuck between two women. One woman isn’t afraid to give him kisses; another pines for the tortured trumpet man through the songs she sings. The singer should be a dead giveaway for Ms. Day. YMWAH is the only film in this set where Day doesn’t get top billing. (She had to settle for third after Douglas and Lauren Becall.) Still, her role as the love struck singer received critical buzz and showed that she can do more than sing and dance.
In Calamity Jane, Day trades in her sequined dresses and pumps for a suede jacket and a bullwhip. Joining her in this musical western is Howard Keel as Wild Bill Hickok. Surprisingly, this is Keel’s third on screen performance as the “Wild” man. Jane follows a long tradition of films where at the onset both the male and female protagonists hate one another. As the film progresses, though, they go from losing their cool to heating things up. Shot in Technicolor, the dances and the gunplay and the Western landscapes are emblazoned on the silver screen.
For the biopic Love Me or Leave Me, Day plays another important female. Ruth Etting was a boisterous songstress during the 1920’s. She was the total package. She had the drop dead gorgeous looks that men clamored for on a nightly basis; the sort of charm that could soothe the savage beast; and a smokey jazz voice that could captivate the crowd. But behind this amazing woman was a racketeer who boosted her career while thwarting her progress. James Cagney plays Martin “The Gimp” Snyder the Chicago swindler who is obsessed with Ruth Etting. So much so that he only wants her to succeed as long as he can ride on her coattails. The interesting fact about this film is the protest letters Doris Day got from her endearing fans. Theatergoers were expecting her sunny disposition. What they got instead was an edgy drama where Ms. Day plays against type. Again Doris Day shows there’s more to her repertoire than just singing and dancing.
A set of this size can’t help but reflect on musicals. It is a lost art form much like the “western”. With creativity in Hollywood being at an all time low, perhaps it’s time to bring it back. Steven Spielberg has said on many occasions that he yearns to direct a musical, he just needs the right material. Films like Chicago and Moulin Rouge (heck, even South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) prove that today’s musicals don’t have to abide by the rules of yesteryear.
The DVD Collection:
VIDEO: How does it look?
All films look okay for their age. Graininess and dirt are big issues, as is the dispersion of color in the Technicolor releases. After being kept in the Warner Bros. studio vault for 40-plus years you can’t expect miracles. Just be thankful the prints weren’t destroyed. The first three films are presented in their full frame format, the rest are in widescreen.
AUDIO: How does it sound?
Doris Day’s vocals get an upgrade for the DVD releases of Love Me or Leave Me and Billy Rose’s Jumbo. Both films have been remastered in Dolby Digital 5.1. The six remaining films come with their standard 2.0 tracks. The two remastered soundtracks were a nice surprise when I inspected the DVD packaging. Still, there are little hindrances with the audio: hissing and popping.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Trailers, musical shorts, and a Tom & Jerry cartoon!!
One would expect with eight films included in this Doris Day Collection there would be wall-to-wall bonus features. Sadly, there aren’t many extras. But if you love trailers this is the set for you.
A staple with each disc is the film’s theatrical trailer. The discs with The Doris Day Trailer Gallery extra include different trailers for Doris Day films.
Calamity Jane comes with a brief Doris Day filmography and written behind the scenes production notes. There are also two newsreels about the film’s premiere in South Dakota and an awards ceremony.
Love Me or Leave Me includes three shorts. A Salute to Theaters is a 17-minute commercial showcasing a number of theatrical releases for Metro Goldwyn Mayer in 1955. The other two shorts, A Modern Cinderella and Roseland, feature legendary songstress Ruth Etting. The addition of these shorts really adds to the film’s experience. Running a combined 29 minutes you’ll finally understand all the hullabaloo about this amazing jazz singer.
The Pajama Game has production notes on the cast and crew and the making-of the film. Not quite the feature you were looking for? How about a deleted song, “The Man Who Invented Love.”
The Glass Bottom Boat has three featurettes about the film’s production. Every Girl’s Dream has the 1966 newly crowned “Maid of Cotton,” Nancy Bernard, visiting MGM. As she tours the studio Nancy gets to see firsthand the newest Doris Day movie in production. In NASA, Doris Day tours the facility. She notes the brave sacrifices the men of the Apollo and Saturn have made. Day instills that on a movie set the actors have many opportunities to get a scene just right, astronauts only have one shot; Catalina Island is a brief feature about on location shooting at the beautiful island.
In addition to these featurettes is the Academy Award-winning cartoon, The Dot and the Line. It’s a peculiar love story about a blue straight line and a red dot and is masterfully directed by Chuck Jones.
Billy Rose’s Jumbo has a musical short, Yours Sincerely, and a vintage Tom & Jerry cartoon, Jerry and Jumbo. You can never go wrong with Tom and Jerry.