What can one say about Doris Day? Plucky, perky, and somehow always cheerfully defiant – there never was or will be another star quite like her. As a girl, I loved her because she was undeniably beautiful but constantly defied what it meant to be “a beautiful woman.” She wasn’t afraid to be corny, touchable, or bumpkinish. She seemed to enjoy a good pratfall.
Of course, I adore her opposite Rock Hudson, but I also love her in her few more serious roles: In Love Me or Leave Me (Vidor, 1955) she’s jazz singer Ruth Etting whose gangster boyfriend (James Cagney) poisons her life and career. She’s an imperiled wife in Midnight Lace (Miller, 1960), a Gaslight-like thriller co-starring Rex Harrison, Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowell, and Herbert Mashall.
And then there’s the sometimes-clunky but irresistible Young At Heart (Douglas, 1955), a family melodrama in which she falls for angry-young-man-singer-songwriter Frank Sinatra. If only Douglas Sirk had directed this one! They sing separately during most of the film — some of their best songs — then finally, the very end, this duet briefly and incredibly entertwines two of the most stunning voices of the twentieth century…
Another guilty pleasure for me is the pair of period-piece musicals she did with Gordon MacRae, On Moonlight Bay (Del Ruth, 1951) and By the Light of the Silvery Moon (Butler, 1952). They are based on works by Booth Tarkington – imagine The Magnificent Ambersons meets Meet Me in St. Louis with a dash of screwball shenanigans tossed in. (Note that she does her own skating! But I suspect Leon Ames has a voice double.)
Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) is in a class of its own as a Doris Day film. Hitch ingenuously weaves Day’s singing into the thriller’s very plot. Early on we see Day’s character, a professional singer, happily singing a duet of “Que Sera Sera” with her son. Soon after, the boy is kidnapped, and she is, at first, numbed by grief. As she and husband (James Stewart) delve deeper and deeper into the espionage plot, they wind up at the embassy where they suspect their son is held. She performs the song for the guests but this time in stoic anguish. Hitchcock, who loved torturing his audiences as much as his stars, lets her go through the whole song as the scene plays out. Day never misses a note but via the strain and desperation in her voice, she makes you really feel what it means for a mother to have her child taken from her. It’s almost unbearable and is surely her most powerful cinematic moment. [Spoiler alert, don’t watch this if you haven’t seen the film.]
It never occurred to me until just now that both Tippi Hedren and Doris Day left Hollywood to devote their lives to animal rescue. Hmmm…
Day was never a celebrity with whom I personally “connected” (past age ten or so), but today I happened upon this quote:
“I love people and animals—though not necessarily in that order. I’ve never met an animal I didn’t like, and I can’t say the same thing about people.”– Doris Day
I can definitely relate to that. And on that note, I am going fire up my Doris Day playlist and celebrate her immortal voice. Godspeed, Ms. Day.