Bright Lights Film Journal

Happy Birthday, Doris Day! (b. April 3, 1922) All Her Films, Ranked and Annotated

Doris Day, circa 1960

When I wrote my piece in praise of Doris Day for Bright Lights back in December 2015, I had seen about half of her thirty-nine movies. Now that I’ve seen them all, my appreciation for her talent has only grown – which is not so say that I’ve never met a Doris Day movie I didn’t like. On the occasion of Day’s ninety-fifth birthday, here’s my annotated list of her films, ranked from worst to best. Note that I’m evaluating the films themselves rather than Day’s performances in them because that would be pointless: when was she not marvelous? – Nell Beram

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Starlift, with Gordon MacRae

39. Starlift (1951): This Korean War–era musical salute to U.S. Air Force flyers has the flimsiest of plots not worth reporting here, as it doesn’t concern Day: she plays herself, one of several Hollywood stars – including frequent duet buddy Gordon MacRae – who have signed on to entertain the troops. About halfway through the movie, after Day sings “’S Wonderful,” she scrams, and you should too.

38. The West Point Story (1950): In 1975’s Doris Day: Her Own Story, an as-told-to put together by A. E. Hotchner, Day calls this movie “a real idiot picture.” Don’t argue with her. James Cagney plays a Broadway director who’s putting on a show at West Point, so he recruits Day’s character, a Hollywood movie star with pipes. The script is clichés galore – lines include “Don’t ‘sweetheart’ me!” – and some of the actors are so bad that they seem to be reading off cue cards. If you must watch this movie, do so for the dancing, tantruming James Cagney’s killer James Cagney impression.

The Winning Team, with Ronald Reagan

37. The Winning Team (1952): In her second film with Ronald Reagan, whom she romanced for a time, Day plays wife to his Grover Cleveland Alexander, who had to overcome a debilitating injury and health problems on his path to the Baseball Hall of Fame; although Day gets top billing here, hers is strictly a supporting role. The movie plays like the basis for all biopic parodies: there’s expository dialogue, earnest pep talks, and the requisite comeback. The most remarkable thing about the film is Reagan’s abundant slicked-back hair, which gives him a strange passing resemblance to David Bowie in his Thin White Duke period.

36. The Tunnel of Love (1958): One of the many satisfactions of watching Doris Day movies is that her characters are typically as strong as their male counterparts, even if the roles weren’t especially written that way: she made it so. Here, the script won’t let Day’s character equal her mate, played by an egregiously miscast Richard Widmark, who may or may not have been unfaithful to her while in a tranquilizer haze courtesy of a lecherous married friend played by Gig Young at his slimiest. There’s something mean-spirited about all this, which might have been interesting if the story wasn’t played as lighthearted comedy.

Caprice

35. Caprice (1967): Day plays an industrial designer for a cosmetics company turned secret agent out to get her hands on the formula for a water-repellent hairspray. Don’t expect Richard Harris, Day’s leading man, or even her ultra-mod wardrobe to get you happily through this bore. In her book, Day says that she knew Caprice had a “terrible script.” We can blame Marty Melcher, her third husband, for this misstep. When they married in 1951, Melcher, who had been Day’s agent, became her manager, and once her Warner Brothers contract was up, he started accepting film roles for her without her consent (along with a producer credit for himself).

34. Lucky Me (1954): Day says in her book that she hated this script so much that she considered taking a suspension on her Warner Brothers contact to get out of doing the movie. Its first twenty-odd minutes would have made a decent sitcom pilot: a team of four vaudevillians are scrambling to keep their careers alive in Miami. Alas, Day and veterans Phil Silvers, Nancy Walker, and Eddie Foy Jr. can do only so much with cobwebby material and novelty-grade songs. Meanwhile, Day’s character is such a superstitious twit that you want to pull aside the Broadway composer besotted with her (Bob Cummings) and tell him not to bother.

The Ballad of Josie, with Peter Graves

33. The Ballad of Josie (1967): “I don’t want a man. And I don’t need a man!” Day goes full libber, albeit with an Alexandre de Paris coiffure. She plays a Wyoming widow who, having been acquitted after accidentally killing her abusive drunk of a husband, defies convention and the exasperated menfolk in her midst and commits to earning a living by sheep ranching. This is a simpleminded and lusterless yarn, although it’s mildly enjoyable to see Day in her element: wearing jeans and frolicking with sheep with more enthusiasm than she shows for her leading man, Peter Graves. In her book, Day describes this one as “nothing more than a second-rate television western that required me to get up at four-thirty every morning.” Marty Melcher strikes again.

32. I’ll See You in My Dreams (1951): Danny Thomas plays Gus Kahn, who made his name as a lyricist of popular songs in the early 1900s (“It Had to Be You,” etc.). Day plays Grace, wife to this biopic’s main attraction, although unlike in The Winning Team, she’s no mere helpmeet: Grace discovered Kahn, set his early lyrics to her music, and argues with her husband, who considers her pushiness to advance his career emasculating. There’s little else to recommend this one: the expository dialogue is writ laughably large, it’s horrifying to watch Day sing one of Kahn’s songs in blackface, and it’s impossible to watch the wisecracking, pudding-cheeked Thomas, in his first big movie, without being reminded of Buddy Hackett.

31. Lullaby of Broadway (1951): When Day’s aspiring entertainer meets Gene Nelson’s character on a ship bound for New York, he doesn’t tell her that he’s a big Broadway star; she learns the truth at a party at the townhouse that she believes to be owned by her (supposedly) off-on-tour stage-star mother (Gladys George), whose alcoholism has reduced her to tragic circumstances: she has to sing at a Greenwich Village club. If this smells like an excuse to patch together a pile of song-and-dance numbers, that’s because it is, but a couple of them justify the film’s existence. Lullaby also holds the distinction of presenting the first example of a Doris Day character getting seriously snippy when someone questions her virtue.

30. My Dream Is Yours (1949): Jack Carson plays Doug, a manager who tries to make singer Martha, a widowed mother played by Day, into a star. The stakes get higher when Doug realizes that he’s in love with her; meanwhile, Martha is smitten with a self-admiring crooner (Lee Bowman). Warner Brothers had re-paired Day and Carson in hopes of creating another wonder like 1948’s Romance on the High Seas, and it didn’t happen. Carson is better playing a buffoon – he’s no good at sincerity – and Day has nothing interesting to do, unless you count singing a “Wiki waki woo” song in a Hawaiian getup and dancing in a rabbit costume with Bugs Bunny in a dream sequence (you shouldn’t). Worth noting are Day’s warm exchanges with Duncan Richardson, who plays her young son, forecasting other affecting performances with children later in her career.

Do Not Disturb, Japanese poster

29. Do Not Disturb (1965): Much has been made of Day’s multiple screen partnerings with Rock Hudson and James Garner; why no mention of the able Rod Taylor, who did two movies with her during which he had the added challenge of hiding his Australian accent? Maybe in part because Do Not Disturb isn’t very good. Day and Taylor play American marrieds Janet and Mike, whose job brings them to England. Instead of getting a city apartment, Janet rents a country house, leading to a series of problems for which Mike spends much of the movie in a rage at her, which doesn’t make for happy viewing. But do tune in for the last twenty minutes, when a shimmying Day does for a backless orange sequin gown what Marilyn did for a white dress.

28. On Moonlight Bay (1951): In this nostalgia-glazed bakery item, the Winfield family moves to a new house within their Indiana suburb: Mr. Winfield hopes that a fancier neighborhood will convince his tomboy daughter, Marjorie (Day), to grow up. Set in the early 1900s, this mild movie’s central drama concerns whether Marjorie’s high-minded suitor, Bill (Gordon MacRae), will abandon his principles (“I think that marriage is slavery for the woman and prison for the man”) while he’s off at college. It’s interesting that when she sings on film, Day seems to mean every word, whereas MacRae and many other male singers of his generation have the full-throated-baritone sincerity of The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s Ted Baxter.

27, By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953): Anyone left hanging by On Moonlight Bay will welcome this sequel, which is slightly more entertaining than the original: while the goings-on aren’t remotely plausible, the filmmakers have abandoned the silly notion that they’re offering something more than an ensemble comedy. This time around, Gordon MacRae’s Bill returns from the army to discover a rival (Russell Arms) for his affections for Day’s Marjorie. (Although Marjorie is eighteen, Day, quick to brandish her choppers and wearing a platinum wig, somehow pulls it off at practically thirty.) The rivalry doesn’t last, so the story resorts to high jinks from Marjorie’s kid brother (Billy Gray) and withering jabs from the Winfields’ housekeeper (Mary Wickes, indispensable here).

26. April in Paris (1952): Ray Bolger plays a stiff American diplomat intending to send an invitation to Ethel Barrymore requesting that she represent her country at a cultural event in Paris; the invite ends up in the hands of New York chorus girl Ethel “Dynamite” Jackson (Day). Day says in her book that she didn’t like this film, but her comedic chops make her the capable agent of its many welcome digs against snobbery. (Day also says that there was trouble on the set: while she got along with Bolger, director David Butler kept catching him upstaging her.) That the caricaturish Bolger was no leading man neutralizes the story’s romance a bit, but he’s probably the best dancing partner Day ever had.

Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? with Robert Morse

25. Where Were You When the Lights Went Out? (1968): In her book, Day calls this one an “alleged comedy,” but it has its Love, American Style–style charms. When her Broadway show closes midperformance on the night of the Northeast blackout of 1965, Margaret (Day) returns home to find her husband, Peter (Patrick O’Neal), with another woman. She flees to their country house, where she guzzles a sleep-inducing concoction. Corporate treasurer turned embezzler Waldo (Robert Morse) stumbles upon the house with the loot, drinks Margaret’s drink, and conks out on the couch beside her. Peter shows up, after which the film is devoted to the semi-tawdry question of whether Margaret and Waldo have had sex. A better question: if you’re going to give pros like Day and Morse top billing in a movie, why not give them more scenes together, ideally ones in which their characters are awake?

24. Teacher’s Pet (1958): Clark Gable plays Jim, a veteran newsman who pretends to be a novice in a night school class taught by Erica (Day): he’s seeking revenge on her for mocking his writing in front of her students. This could have – should have – been a Hepburn-and-Tracy-like outing, and the sparring about whether experience is more important than education for an aspiring journalist should sizzle, but Erica is one-dimensional and largely humorless, tipping the film’s balance toward charismatic live wire Jim. Love between the two threatens to blossom, of course, but before it can the script has to make short work of an eggheaded shrink (Gig Young) and a nightclub performer (Mamie Van Doren) who insists, in song, that she’s the girl who invented rock and roll. (She isn’t.)

It’s a Great Feeling, with Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson

23. It’s a Great Feeling (1949): Jack Carson plays himself, stuck directing a Warner Brothers musical because every other director approached refuses the project after learning that Carson is starring in it; most of the film’s other jokes, and some are fine, come at Carson’s expense via Dennis Morgan, also playing himself. Carson thinks he has found his leading lady in looking-for-her-big-break commissary worker Judy, played by Day, who says in her book that “It’s a Great Feeling wasn’t much of a picture.” It’s true, substance-wise: the meta premise is just an excuse to get Hollywood royalty to do a batch of self-aware cameos. Still, a few of them are grand. Who knew that Joan Crawford had a sense of humor?

22. Storm Warning (1951): When Marsha (Ginger Rogers) comes to the town of Rockpoint to visit her sister Lucy (Day), she stumbles upon Ku Klux Klan activity, and it looks as though Lucy’s new husband (Steve Cochran) is involved. While it’s tempting to dismiss this film for its risibly melodramatic execution, it’s heartening, especially in the current political climate, to see a movie of this era take a proud stand against bigotry, particularly when the movie’s mouthpiece is a district attorney played by Ronald Reagan. The film isn’t of particular artistic consequence, but Day’s performance was. In her book, she tells of the time, shortly after the movie’s release, when she found herself cowering in a corner at a Hollywood party beside Alfred Hitchcock, who told her, “I saw you in Storm Warning.… I hope to use you in one of my pictures.”

Julie, with husband Marty Melcher

21. Julie (1956): Louis Jourdan plays Lyle, the psycho-jealous new husband of Day’s Julie, whose first husband committed suicide – or did he? From the nail-biter opening scene forth, the film is devoted to Julie’s attempt to escape from Lyle. There’s suspense, yes, but also something cheap and easy about the premise, especially as the threat of danger is mainly physical. (This movie secured the first onscreen producer credit for Marty Melcher, who signed up Day for the part even though she didn’t want it: as she says in her book, she had had enough dealings with jealous men in her real life.) Julie’s last-act heroism, carried out on an airplane in scenes unquestionably raided by the writers of the 1980 disaster-film parody Airplane!, toggles the genre switch from “thriller” to “ridiculousness.”

20. Young Man with a Horn (1950): In this serviceable treatment of a novel by Dorothy Baker loosely based on the life of cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, Kirk Douglas plays the troubled Rick, who found salvation in a trumpet. Rick prefers to play free-form jazz with black musicians, but to earn a living, he joins a bland (white) dance orchestra featuring singer Jo (Day), whose affection for him endures throughout his marriage to miserable rich girl Amy (Lauren Bacall) and his ensuing alcoholism. (In her book, Day makes clear that Jo’s feelings for Rick didn’t reflect hers for Douglas.) As in The Winning Team, Day’s character is defined by her love for a man; the viewer who knows that Amy – Bacall’s role – is gay in Baker’s novel will find her not only a more interesting character but a less gratuitously incomprehensible one.

Billy Rose’s Jumbo

19. Billy Rose’s Jumbo (1962): For a daughter-father team, a circus is the family business: she (Day) does tricks on horseback, and he (Jimmy Durante, at his Durante-est) walks a tightrope, after which he gambles away the day’s profits. Now the circus owes money to creditors and can’t pay its employees, who are fleeing just as dishy performer Sam (Stephen Boyd) arrives. There’s a sweet unspoken message here about the dignity found in even the most unconventional work, but the whimsy that the film is going for, complete with stunts by professional circus performers and a clowning finale by the principals, is missing a key ingredient: kids. The milieu fights with the adult-centrism in this, the Doris Day family film that could have been.

18. Love Me or Leave Me (1955): Day does another biopic, but this time she’s the subject – sort of. With her cleavage prominent and her makeup tarty, she plays Ruth Etting, who became a singing sensation in the 1920s; James Cagney plays Marty “the Gimp” Snyder, a small-time gangster who, as Etting’s manager and, later, husband, took equal delight in helping and hurting her. Cagney got an Oscar nomination for his performance; for hers, Day didn’t. It was a solid, against-type portrayal – in her book, Day says that she received hate mail for playing a drinking, smoking vamp – but what’s compelling isn’t her character: it’s Etting’s skewed relationship with Snyder, whom Cagney spends two hours slow-building into a pint-size maniac. This is a Doris Day movie, but it’s Cagney’s picture.

Young at Heart, with Frank Sinatra

17, Young at Heart (1955): Day, Elisabeth Fraser, and Dorothy Malone play unmarried sisters who live with their father (Robert Keith) in suburban Connecticut. The movie follows their quests for men, resulting in not a love triangle but a love pentagon. One new prospect is a struggling composer visiting from New York; he’s played by Frank Sinatra, who makes what was clearly shot to be a knee-weakening entrance at the thirty-five-minute mark. Occasionally a character breaks into song in a naturalistic way, but otherwise it’s all drama, and it’s a good one until near the end: in her book, Day says that Sinatra forced the filmmakers to change the movie’s original ending to the truly asinine one here.

16. The Thrill of It All (1963): Suburban housewife and mother Beverly (Day), invited to appear in a television commercial for Happy soap, klutzes her way through it – and becomes a TV-viewer favorite due to her lack of polish. Her doctor husband, Gerald (James Garner), doesn’t like having a wife who works. Carl Reiner’s first screenplay is part endearingly antic parody of consumerism and part debate about working wives. (For context: The Feminine Mystique came out five months before this movie did.) Because of the debate’s conclusion, this film hasn’t aged well. At one point Gerald admits to “acting like a Victorian fool” regarding his attitude toward Beverly’s career, but don’t get your hopes up: the movie still has another twenty-five minutes to go.

15. Send Me No Flowers (1964): In the last of their three collaborations, Day plays Judy, suburban housewife to Rock Hudson’s George, a hypochondriac who overhears his doctor on the phone discussing the grim test results of another patient. Convinced that he’s dying, George decides to spare Judy the news and enlists his friend Arnold (Tony Randall) to help him choose a replacement husband for her. Randall’s reliable on-screen appeal is lost in Arnold’s coping-through-alcohol shtick, and the story is a bit slow to build up steam – or maybe it’s just that the first hour is so Rock-centric. Highlights include a few moments of Day’s groovy dance moves, the distractingly stunning midcentury interiors, and Paul Lynde’s turn as an unctuous funeral home director who takes George’s “reservations.”

14. The Pajama Game (1957): Poor Janis Paige: if Frank Sinatra had accepted the male lead in this film, he would have provided enough drawing power to allow her to reprise Babe, the role she originated on the stage. Instead, Day was cast as Babe, the battle-ax-like head of a pajama factory’s grievance committee; John Raitt plays Sid, the company’s new supervisor who hounds her for a date. The modern viewer will register his grope-y behavior as workplace harassment; conversely, Babe’s prioritization of work over romance seems forward-thinking, and she calls out Sid’s dismissal of her cause as the infantilizing that it is. The ensemble scenes, brought to you by the Broadway cast, are relentlessly engaging, especially the fifties-style bacchanalia of the company picnic.

The Glass Bottom Boat, lobby card

13. The Glass Bottom Boat (1966): How did this one, yet another misunderstanding-fueled midcentury romantic comedy, end up being any good? Day plays Jennifer, a widow who works in PR at a NASA research lab; Rod Taylor plays Bruce, the boss, who develops a crush on her, and unlike in Do Not Disturb, they have a chance to be scrumptious together. (Jennifer’s widowhood, which serves no narrative purpose, was likely written into the part for fear that viewers would see a fortysomething woman who had never married as defective.) The joint starts hopping at around the movie’s midpoint, when Bruce receives intel that Jennifer is a spy. The film’s MVP is Paul Lynde, who gives a tour de force performance as the lab’s extravagantly incompetent security chief.

12. Pillow Talk (1959): New York interior decorator Jan (Day) shares a telephone party line with composer Brad (Rock Hudson), who monopolizes it with his sideline as a lothario. They exchange tongue-lashings by phone, but when Brad finally meets Jan, who’s unaware of who he is, he’s sufficiently lovestruck to assume a false identity in order to woo her. The whole thing runs like clockwork, assuming “clockwork” can accommodate a couple of preposterous coincidences. Pillow Talk brought Day her sexy-virgin tag, the revitalization of Day’s and Hudson’s careers, and the promise of two more splashy films together. Day received her only Oscar nomination for playing Jan, who begins the film as a grouch (she does the single working woman’s image no favors) and ends it with one of cinema’s best retaliative acts: revenge by décor.

Midnight Lace, screenshot

11. Midnight Lace (1960): American heiress Kit (Day) and her new husband, English financier Tony (Rex Harrison), move to London for his work. Once there, Kit receives anonymous threats on her life – or is she making it up? Myrna Loy, Roddy McDowall, and John Gavin are part of the A team supporting this icy-glossy thriller. The film doesn’t quite achieve Hitchcockian heights (Kit is too dunderheaded – here a plot necessity – for a Hitchcock blonde, and viewers may well figure out the ending), but Day certainly commands the male gaze, with a major assist from Irene Lentz’s glorious outfits (including the titular one). In another Hitchcock nod, the film uses two actors who appeared in 1954’s Dial M for Murder: Anthony Dawson and the sublime John Williams, who never met a scene he didn’t steal.

10. Move Over, Darling (1963): Nick (James Garner) has his wife, Ellen (Day), declared legally dead – she’s believed to have drown five years earlier – so that he can marry Bianca (Polly Bergen), and he does. If you’ve seen 1940’s My Favorite Wife, on which this film is based, you’ll guess correctly that Ellen returns home very much alive. Due to the morbid subject matter, this is the rare midcentury romantic comedy that requires a wide range of emotions of its principals; we knew that Day could pull off teary-eyed tenderness, but Garner? Two more perks not expected of a film of this ilk and era: it presents a problem with an elusive solution, and in Bianca we have a woman who is unapologetically determined to get her man into bed – not the reverse.

Tea for Two, with Billy De Wolfe and Gene Nelson

9. Tea for Two (1950): Day plays Nanette, who needs $25,000 to buy her way into starring in her boyfriend’s Broadway show; her rich uncle gives her the money on the condition that she answer every question she’s asked in a twenty-four-hour period with the word “no” – all the more challenging when Gordon MacRae is trying to seduce you. Set in the roaring twenties and based on the stage smash No, No, Nanette, this gem has a bonanza of Midas touch actors: there’s the expertly weaselly Billy De Wolfe as Nanette’s two-timing beau, Eve Arden in the Eve Arden role, and, best, as Nanette’s uncle, S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, the multi-chinned Hungary-born character actor who costarred with Day four times, which wasn’t nearly enough.

8. It Happened to Jane (1959): When lobsters that widowed mother and Maine lobsterwoman Jane (Day) shipped by train die in their crates due to railroad incompetence – the result of budget cuts made by a mercenary executive (Ernie Kovacs) – she wants restitution. She enlists the help of George (Jack Lemmon), her longtime lawyer friend, and the fight escalates exponentially through a series of clever plot points. Cute as Lemmon is, with his bumbling emotional transparency (George is in love with Jane, whose mind is understandably elsewhere), Kovacs steals the show as a big-city megalomaniac who may or may not have a heart. Incidentally, you’re not the only one who never heard of this movie: in her book, Day and Lemmon blame the film’s title for its unfairly dismal box office.

Lover Come Back, with Rock Hudson

7. Lover Come Back (1961): Day plays Madison Avenue advertising executive Carol, who loses an account to Rock Hudson’s underhanded Jerry (“Give me a well-stacked dame in a bathing suit and I’ll sell aftershave lotion to beatniks”). As in Pillow Talk, Day’s character doesn’t know who Hudson’s character is when they meet, after which he self-interestedly assumes a different identity, here posing as a chemist developing a product that Carol is eager to represent before Jerry can get his mitts on it. This second Day-Hudson collaboration is their finest: it keenly spoofs corporate greed while delivering the required combative, roundabout love story. Likewise expanding on his Pillow Talk character is Tony Randall, playing another poor little rich boy who is overdependent on his psychiatrist; this time, he’s underdependent on his spine.

6. Calamity Jane (1953): Day plays the title character – the legendary cross-dressing frontierswoman – who bets Wild Bill Hickok (Howard Keel) that she can travel all the way from Deadwood, South Dakota, to Chicago and recruit the gorgeous singer that the menfolk desperately want to entertain them back home at their saloon. Here Day is a triple threat and then some, using broad dramatic strokes (she calls the city “Chicagi” and sticks her tongue out the side of her mouth when she lines up her gun for a shot) to improbably terrific effect. In her book, Day says that the movies she most enjoyed making during her Warner Brothers years were the nostalgia musicals, and this is the best of them.

With Six You Get Eggroll, with Brian Keith

5. With Six You Get Eggroll (1968): This time, the widow Day runs the family lumberyard and insists that she’s perfectly happy without a mate – until she meets up with a hunky widower played by Brian Keith. Despite various setbacks (a wig in the oven can never end well), the romantic deal is sealed by the film’s midpoint; its second half is devoted to the newlyweds’ efforts to win over each other’s begrudging offspring. Eggroll came out a few months after the like-premised Yours, Mine, and Ours, but it’s superior: unlike Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda, Day and Keith generate real heat, and Day’s facility with delivering sexual innuendo shows what we missed out on across the two decades of her film career, which concluded winningly here.

4. That Touch of Mink (1962): New York career gal Cathy (Day) wants romance; wealthy womanizer Philip (Cary Grant) – a Mr. Big prototype – wants to get into her knickers. In her book, Day says that she later turned down the role of Mrs. Robinson in The Graduate because “it offended my sense of values,” but apparently she had no qualms about taking this part, perhaps because it sat better with her that the predator is male, or maybe because the sex that Philip is after is never spoken of directly. So … will they or won’t they? It’s all rather distasteful, yet the movie works because Day and Grant are at their most luminous and yeasty and because it’s a beautiful Eastmancolor fantasy populated by the character actors (Audrey Meadows, John Astin, Richard Deacon, and so on) that you would invite into your midcentury dreamworld if you could. (Just watch out if Grant shows up: he’s a little handsy in this one.)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, with David Niven

3. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960): David Niven plays Larry, a top New York film critic married to Day’s Manhattan housewife, Kate. They’ve agreed to relocate to the country with their four young children, but once there, Larry insists that he can’t work in the midst of a renovation and kid-generated chaos, so he spends his weekdays in Manhattan, which exacerbates the movie’s primary concern: will Kate and Larry ever again share a bed, much less one that hasn’t been taken over by a kid or a dog? The health of a marriage would seem a slight premise for a film – it’s hard to imagine a screenwriter trying to sell it today – but you won’t object because Day and Niven are so adorable and the secondary players so top-drawer, especially Janis Paige as a stage actress who first wants Larry’s head on a plate and then wants him in her bed.

2. Romance on the High Seas (1948): She had me at “Greetings, chum” – Day’s first line in this, her star-making celluloid debut. She plays Georgia – “just a singer in a honky-tonk,” one character calls her – whom wealthy socialite Elvira (Janis Paige) treats to a South American cruise on the condition that Georgia assume her name: Elvira wants to remain in New York so that she can spy on her husband (Don DeFore), whom she suspects of cheating. The plot gets more curlicue still, but everything works: Day is hilarious as Georgia, putting on what she thinks are high-society airs, and the chemistry between her and Jack Carson as a slow-to-catch-on private detective bubbles over (as in true life: they dated during filming). Day’s other impeccably cast costars include musician-wit Oscar Levant, who may be best remembered for his perfect line about her: “I knew her before she was a virgin.”

The Man Who Knew Too Much, with James Stewart

1. The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956): This is a Hitchcock picture before it’s a Doris Day picture, but she’s one reason it’s among his best. Day and Jimmy Stewart play Jo and Ben McKenna, an American couple who are vacationing in Morocco with their young son when Ben learns of an imminent assassination attempt on a diplomat in London. Day is shattering in her big scene – Ben must break it to Jo that their son has been kidnapped – and she’s thoroughly convincing throughout the film, no thanks to Hitchcock, whom she says in her book unnerved her with his lack of direction. (She didn’t understand until she confronted him that if Hitchcock didn’t communicate with an actor, it meant that he liked his or her work.) For once Marty Melcher made a good pick: Day was so wary of traveling to London and Marrakesh (she had never been outside the United States) that he had to talk her into taking the role. Another off-key call on Day’s part: she didn’t think that “Que Sera, Sera” – the “kiddie song” that she sings in the film – would be a hit.

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Unless otherwise indicated, all images are courtesy of Photofest.