Glad to see you, Miss Doris…
Sometimes ya just gotta get away. It’s not exactly doable these days, but the urge is real. We’ll get there, folks. Someday we’ll be able to move around freely again. It may take a while, but we’ll get there. Until then, we do what we can, and last night I made a charming discovery: 1948’s Romance On the High Seas, a tuneful comedy of errors and Doris Day’s film debut.
Elvira (Janis Paige) and Michael (Don DeFore) have been married for three years. Every year they try to take a trip for their anniversary, and every year they have to cancel because Michael has some big business deal or other. Finally, Elvira takes it upon herself to book a cruise to South America, and she hopes this one will stick.
Yeah, no. Elvira’s family business, the Miracle Drug Company, has a chance to merge with another pharmeceutical company. Michael can’t possibly go to South America right now. He’s also got a gorgeous blonde secretary. A very flirty gorgeous blonde secretary. On the flipside, Michael thinks Elvira’s a flirt, too. A clerk brings Elvira her passport photo from the travel agency and Michael thinks they’re kissing.
As the story would have it, the travel agency sends over the wrong passport photo, and it just so happens to be Georgia Garrett (Doris Day), a nightclub singer who goes to the travel agency to plan trips she can’t afford to take. That gives Elvira an idea: She’s going to ask Georgia to travel to South America under her name, all expenses paid plus a thousand dollars in spending money, while Elvira stays in New York and spies on Michael.
Georgia jumps at the offer, and it seems like the perfect plan. That is, until Michael tells Elvira he can go to South America after all, if she’ll only wait until Saturday. Elvira doesn’t want to wait. She’s going, no ifs, ands, or buts.
Michael decides to hire a private detective to tail Elvira on her trip, and finds him in Peter Virgil (Jack Carson), who’s had experience checking up on wayward spouses. From there, things get delightfully snarly. Elvira tells Georgia can’t forget she’s not herself on this trip–Elvira’s reputation depends on it. She needs to stay in her cabin as much as possible and as alone as possible. Oh, and periodically mail fake letters to Michael from each port she stops at. Other than that, Georgia can have all the fun she wants. Okeydokey.
Peter latches onto Georgia pretty quickly, and they become fast friends. Really fast friends. She doesn’t tell him a word about being an impostor. It all goes swimmingly until Georgia’s boyfriend, Oscar (Oscar Levant) shows up, wondering why Georgia walked out on her job and him.
Georgia sees him and runs, holing up in her cabin instead of going to dinner with Peter. She’s about to tuck into some lamb chops and marinated herring when the doctor knocks on her door and gives her a sedative. Then Oscar shows up. Georgia is aghast, or she would be if she wasn’t so sleepy. Meanwhile, Peter sees Oscar go into Georgia’s room, so he goes around to the boat deck and peeks in her window. What he thinks is Georgia rapturously embracing Oscar is Oscar catching Georgia as she falls asleep. Peter’s eyes really pop out when he spies Oscar laying Georgia on the bed.
Funny thing, though, Peter doesn’t see Oscar’s face, and by chance the two of them meet up at a restaurant, where unbeknownst to both of them they’ve each invited Georgia for dinner. While they’re waiting, Peter and Oscar sit down at the bar, where they order drinks that promptly get nipped by the drunk sitting next to them. Neither Oscar nor Peter notice, though, and proceed to get drunk on empty glasses. They finally stagger out of the restaurant and decide to fly to New York on Peter’s dime.
The two of them get on a plane, only it takes them to Rio, where everything works out as comedies are apt to do, with awkward meetups and mistaken identities. Naturally, Georgia sings every chance she gets, too.
Doris Day wasn’t Warner Bros’ first choice for Romance On the High Seas. According to TCM, the film might have starred Judy Garland instead of Doris Day, but when Garland was unavailable, attention shifted to Betty Hutton, who turned up pregnant. Songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn were baffled and not sure what to do, but then they heard Day sing at a party and their radar went up. Day was invited for a screen test and got the part of Georgia right off the bat.
What’s ironic about it is that Day hadn’t wanted to sing at the party in the first place because she was depressed over her divorce. She was even considering taking her son and moving back home to Cincinnati. Now all of a sudden she had a film lined up and a contract with Michael Curtiz.
Curtiz didn’t try to change Day at all. No acting classes, no more glamour than she already had. He just wanted her to be herself, and it paid off. Day’s performance in the film is very natural, and she was obviously having a blast. The film introduced a song, “It’s Magic” which is a motif throughout the film and became hugely popular, garnering an Oscar nomination. Most of all, Doris Day became a star, one of the most popular of the nineteen-fifties.
Romance On the High Seas doesn’t have the most innovative plot and doesn’t get especially deep, but it’s not meant to. What counts is that the movie is a lot of fun and a great bit of escapism. I very much enjoyed it and would definitely watch it again.
For more of the wonderful Doris Day, please see Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood. Thanks for hosting this, Michaela–so glad you brought it back! Thanks for reading, all, and see you tomorrow for the Greer Garson Blogathon…
Romance On the High Seas is available on DVD from Amazon.