Classic Cracker: On Moonlight Bay (1951)
Time for a not-so-shocking confession. I may have mentioned this here before, but my first screen crush, as far as I can recall, was Doris Day. I’d seen her in a number of movies that could easily be slotted into the TV schedules on afternoons and weekends – the likes of Pillow Talk, this film, By The Light Of The Silvery Moon, and Move Over, Darling – and she always brightened up my day. Those bright, blue eyes, that blonde hair, the dazzling smile, and the fact that she would often be as playful and cheeky as many of her male co-stars.
On Moonlight Bay is typical of a Doris Day film, which means that it’s a good film made all the more enjoyable by her presence. She plays Marjorie Winfield, a young woman who starts off the film as a fully-fledged tomboy. That all changes when her head is turned by the handsome William Sherman (Gordon MacRae). William ends up not looking like a good option, however, in the eyes of Mr Winfield (Leon Ames), which leads to a bumpy time in the Winfield household as Marjorie tries to distract herself from a possible lost love, young Wesley (Billy Gray) gets up to plenty of hijinks that would make Dennis The Menace proud, and the housekeeper (Stella, played by Mary Wickes) tries to keep her cool while those around her grow more and more heated.
A winning blend of comedy, romance, and music, this is the movie equivalent of comfort food. Writers Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson, loosely adapting some of the comic work by Booth Tarkington, have fun skipping between the trials of Marjorie and tricks of Wesley, with plenty of extra amusement being derived from the parents (Ames and Rosemary DeCamp) and another man (Hubert, played by Jack Smith) who considers himself a worthy suitor, despite lacking much charm or personality. MacRae could have easily been a crushing bore, but he’s given a number of moments in which viewers get to laugh at his foot being put squarely in his own mouth.
Roy Del Ruth handles the frothy mix with ease, unsurprising considering his lengthy list of directorial credits (although I couldn’t say how many of his movies are on a par with this one), and he delivers exactly what viewers should be wanting from this kind of thing. You get the title song, as well as some other decent ditties, you get comedic angry outbursts, there’s some surprisingly dark humour amidst the fluff, and you can bask in the glow of Doris Day’s starlight. Highly recommended, as is the sequel.
DIRECTOR: ROY DEL RUTH
WRITER: JACK ROSE, MELVILLE SHAVELSON (ADAPTED FROM PENROD STORIES BY BOOTH TARKINGTON)
STARS: DORIS DAY, GORDON MACRAE, LEON AMES, ROSEMARY DECAMP, BILLY GRAY, MARY WICKES, JACK SMITH, ELLEN CORBY
RUNTIME: 95 MINS APPROX