Jack Carson and Doris Day have a... Romance on the High Seas (1948)

In 1948, Doris Day wasn't yet a star. At age 23, she had found success with the Les Brown Band thanks to her hit recording of "Sentimental Journey" and she became a regular on Bob Hope's radio show. Oddly enough, though, her career was also coming to a stall. She had divorced her violent first husband Al Jorden in 1943 and she would be divorced from her second husband, George Weidler, by 1949. Day was ready to give up and leave Los Angeles when her agent Al Levy persuaded her to go to a party at composer Jule Styne's house. Styne and his partner Sammy Cahn loved Day's voice and urged her to audition for the movie they were working on: Romance on the High Seas.

Warner Bros. had been having difficulty in finding their leading lady for the film. Their first plan had been to borrow the queen of musicals, Judy Garland, from MGM. When that didn't work, they tried to get Betty Hutton from Paramount, but she had to opt out due to pregnancy. In a wonderful 2012 video for TCM, Day recalls auditioning for director Michael Curtiz -- she claims, though, that at the time she thought she was just helping another actor audition for a part! Other sources say that Curtiz had the singer perform something to convince him she could carry a musical. When she broke down midway through "Embraceable You" due to the issues in her personal life, Curtiz was won over by her fresh looks and authenticity.

Romance on the High Seas is an important part of Day's career because it was her debut and because it introduced the gorgeous classic "It's Magic," a song that became one of Day's signature tunes. It was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song, ultimately losing to "Buttons and Bows" from The Paleface. Over all, Romance has a pretty impressive pedigree. Not only was it directed by the great Michael Curtiz with a superb score from Styne and Cahn, it also has a screenplay by brothers Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein and I.A.L. Diamond, special effects by Michael's brother David Curtiz, and musical numbers created and directed by Busby Berkeley, although they may be the most tame sequences he ever made.

Romance's cast isn't full of slouches, either. Janis Paige and Don DeFore get top billing here, although I think it's clear once you watch the film that that honor should have gone to Doris and Jack Carson -- this movie is all theirs. The supporting cast includes Oscar Levant and his sour wit and one of my favorite character actors, S.Z. "Cuddles" Sakall. I must admit that this film is one of my favorites, so this could get a little lengthy. Don't say I didn't warn you.

 
We begin at a big church wedding. This is just the first time that we'll see how fabulous this film is at character introductions. Elvira (Paige) and Michael (DeFore) are the bride and groom, but we can already tell that it won't be smooth sailing for the two of them. While walking up the aisle with her uncle Lazlo (Sakall), Elvira believes Michael is giving the eye to one of her bridesmaids. Up at the altar, Michael suspects that Elvira is doing the same to one of the groomsmen. We then get a montage of the next two years, which don't go well -- every anniversary, Elvira writes down in her journal about their upcoming celebratory trip, only for it to be cancelled every time because of some business of Michael's (which Elvira suspects is monkey business).

On the third anniversary, it looks like things may finally go off without a hitch. Elvira goes to the travel agency to check on their plans, not noticing the adorable blonde staring at the display in the agency's window. This is another interesting character introduction because that blonde is Doris Day, but audiences back then wouldn't have known that, especially because her back is to the camera. It's a quick shot, but I really enjoy it -- Day straightens one of her stockings, never taking her eyes off
of the display, and a small piece of the melody from "It's Magic" drifts onto the score. So good. Anyway, Elvira is speaking with a travel agent when Georgia Garrett (Day) enters. Elvira learns from the agent that Georgia often comes in and plans big trips, only she never goes because she can't afford it due to her job as a small-time nightclub singer. Elvira takes a liking to the girl, but she has to go take her passport photo before they can meet. (Georgia also decides to get her photo taken, although she already has seven! "Yeah, but not as a blonde!") Watch the sequence here.

With her trip settled, Elvira drops in on Michael at his job at the Miracle Drug Company, where he and Uncle Lazlo are executives. The husband and wife are still wildly suspicious of each other. It doesn't help when Michael's new secretary can only type with one finger, hinting that she wasn't hired for her skills. Things get worse when Michael tells her that he can't go to South America with her. Elvira goes to Lazlo's office to see if he could take over Michael's deal to free him up, but he
says he can't. Frustrated, Elvira looks at her passport photo only to discover that she was given Georgia's. Lamenting her husband's wolfish ways, Elvira hatches a plan: she'll pretend to go on her vacation, but she'll actually stay behind and try to catch Michael in the act. Knowing Georgia's wanderlust, Elvira figures she is the perfect person to play "Elvira Kent" during the trip.

That night, Lazlo and Elvira go to the club where Georgia works. Introducing
the blonde to the stage is pianist Oscar Farrar (Levant), a friend of Georgia's and the man who claims to have discovered her. Day's first number of the film is "I'm in Love," which is almost the sole lyric in the entire song. It's a cute number, though, and demonstrates the perky persona that would define Day for her whole career. The best part is when she finishes and Lazlo seriously asks Elvira "What's the meaning of that song?" She only said it a hundred times, Lazlo. Watch it here.

On the stage, Georgia and Oscar talk between numbers. For the millionth time, he proposes to her and for the millionth time, she turns him down, which really doesn't deter the guy. A waiter tells Georgia that she's wanted at Elvira's table. The differences between the two women are considerable -- Elvira is a somewhat stiff society woman who takes her position for granted, whereas Georgia is a gum-chewing, slang-using, wisecracking gal who has to dream instead of actually doing things because her money isn't unlimited. When Elvira offers her the South American trip with all expenses paid, Georgia accepts in amazement. I always feel so happy for her in this scene, partly because I know what it feels like to want to travel but your bank account keeps you firmly at home.

As Elvira and her maid pack at home, Michael arrives with the news that he will have the merger done sooner than he thought -- rather than embark tomorrow, they can go together in four days! Although you would think that this is what Elvira would want to hear, she also really wants to catch her husband cheating and refuses to postpone the trip. Naturally, this makes Michael wonder what his wife is up to and inspires him to hire private detective Peter Virgil (Carson). This gives us our
third great intro, which is a fun shot of Peter lifting the blinds on the window that touts his business. Similar to Elvira and Georgia, Michael and Peter are opposites, and you can tell that Michael isn't totally comfortable with the detective's lower social class. Anyway, Michael hires Peter to follow his wife during her trip, but he makes a glaring mistake: he doesn't show Peter a photo of Elvira. He doesn't even describe her!

On the ship, Elvira and Michael are telling each other goodbye in her cabin while Oscar and Georgia are doing the same on the deck. Oscar isn't too thrilled with Georgia's sudden trip, especially because she is being so evasive about the details of where she got the money for it, but there's really not much he can do about it. In Elvira's cabin, she gives Georgia her last-minute instructions, such as over-tipping everyone (a funny running gag), staying in the room as much as possible, sending pre-written letters to Michael at every stop, and, most importantly, not doing anything to soil the good name of Mrs. Elvira Kent. You can't fault Georgia for the exasperated look on her face when Elvira finally leaves.

That evening, Peter arrives at the dining room to ask for the number of Elvira's table only to learn from the snobby maître d' that on the first night of the voyage, no one dresses formally for dinner, making Peter feel foolish in his lovely tuxedo. Georgia didn't get the memo either and heads to the dining room in a shimmering blue gown. Happy to share in the embarrassment, Peter tells the gorgeous lady about the unspoken rule and they get to chatting. The best part about this scene is
that Day and Carson both affect these funny upper-class accents that quickly melt away the longer they talk. A pageboy soon interrupts their conversation by yelling for Mrs. Kent; when Georgia answers to the name, Peter believes he has met Elvira. She accepts his dinner invitation, but wouldn't you know it, the dining room just closed, forcing them to eat their weight in pretzels in the cocktail lounge.

It isn't so bad, though. Georgia and
Peter have a wonderful time getting to know one another. She tells him that she has always secretly wanted to be a singer and shows him just how talented she is by joining the lounge band for the number "It's You or No One" (that band, by the way, is the Page Cavanaugh Trio). After her performance, Peter asks for a dance, leading Georgia to slyly let him know that "Anything above the third rib, I consider formal." Peter's hand goes from her shoulder to out of the frame entirely as he slides it down -- how risqué! When he asks to see her to her cabin, however, Georgia remembers Elvira's words and decides to go back alone, leaving Peter to make this very official report in his notebook:


The ship makes its first stop in Havana, allowing the passengers to shop and inspiring performer Avon Long to pop up for the song "The Tourist Trade." This tune is super catchy and Long's energy is so infectious. Taking a break from buying souvenirs, Peter makes a call to Michael at his office to let him know that nothing has happened so far. In the phone booth next to him, Georgia is speaking to Elvira, who hasn't caught Michael doing anything yet. Don't you hate it when your spouse
won't cheat on you like they're supposed to? Anyway, Georgia and Peter head into a bar for drinks where they are briefly serenaded by a trio of musicians. When Georgia expresses interest in their song, they give her the English lyrics and we're given our first rendition of "It's Magic." Peter is understandably enraptured -- the plot is thickening!

As Georgia, Peter, and the other passengers stand on the ship deck waiting to set sail again, Georgia gets a
surprise when she spots Oscar coming up the gangplank! After giving Peter a weak excuse, she hurries to her cabin, where she pretends to be sick for the rest of the evening in order to avoid being seen by Oscar. Ever thoughtful, Peter brings the ship's doctor (Eric Blore!) to check her out, although the man proves to be the one who is ill. Back on the deck, when Oscar can't find Georgia's name on the passenger list, an employee is able to identify her as Mrs. Kent from a picture Oscar has. He goes
to her room and tells her that he missed her so much, he flew to Havana to join her for the rest of the trip. Their conversation is cut short, however, because Dr. Blore gave Georgia a shot to make her sleep. Having noticed Oscar entering the cabin, Peter pulls a Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and looks in the window just in time to see Georgia pass out in Oscar's arms. When he lies her on the bed (!), a wide-eyed Peter turns away and cables Michael that "the other man has appeared."

The next morning, Peter is gruff with Georgia and soon asks who that man was in her cabin. She retorts that he didn't mind her being with another man when that man was him (true) and they part ways angrily. Georgia heads to the cocktail lounge to get drunk, but then she decides to sing out her frustration with "Put 'Em in a Box, Tie 'Em with a Ribbon, and Throw 'Em in the Deep Blue Sea," "'em" being romantic feelings. I love this song and Day's haughty attitude during it. The lyrics are pretty
clever too, with references to "Frankie boy or Mr. C" (Sinatra and Bing Crosby) and "Tea for Two": "You know what you can do with good old tea for two, and the girl for you, the boy for me / Put 'em in a box, tie 'em with a ribbon, and throw 'em in the deep blue sea!" At the end of her song, Oscar appears and finally hears the whole story. Georgia feels stuck -- she can either tell Peter who she really is and be called a fraud or she can continue the charade and be considered a cheater. To her, it's a lose/lose.

Out on the deck that night, a lonely Georgia looks out over the ocean and reprises "It's You or No One," this time as a ballad. This scene is so beautifully shot. The lighting is exquisite -- soft, warm, and pink to match Day's dress. It's so unrealistic and I love it. Unaware that Peter is also on the deck smoking, Georgia tries to light her cigarette but can't get her lighter to work, leading Peter to supply her with a match. No longer angry, they talk about how they wish she wasn't married. When their embrace starts to become steamy, Peter stops it to remind her that she has a husband. "You have principles," Georgia sighs. Still dutiful to Michael, Peter goes to write another cable to his employer:


When the ship docks in the final destination of Rio, Georgia gets messages from Oscar and Peter to meet at the same cafe. While Peter waits for her, he becomes friendly with a calypso group who teach him how to sing in their style. (Drinking game: take a shot every time musicians come up to one of the characters.) Unhappy about his situation with Georgia, Peter advises the guys to "Run, Run, Run" "when you see a pretty woman." I find Jack Carson's singing to be quite lovely. This song is
comedic so it's not the best example -- if you want to hear a better showcase for his voice, I highly suggest "Hankerin'" from Two Guys from Texas. Back to the film, though. Peter goes inside to have a drink and meets Oscar. They both try to drown their sorrows as they bemoan their woman troubles. Not only are they unaware that they're talking about the same girl, they're also oblivious to the drunkard who keeps stealing their drinks before they can even taste a drop. This doesn't stop
them from believing that they're getting sloshed, however, as they act more and more intoxicated. Georgia sees them together and has a waiter deliver them notes saying that she has been detained. Feeling exasperated, the men decide they might as well go back home to New York. You can watch the hilarious bar scene here.

In the morning, Georgia knocks on Peter's door to no avail. A passing porter lets her know that Peter sent a
cablegram asking for his and Oscar's luggage to be sent to New York. On the plane, the guys wake up to find out that they're landing in Rio -- something went wrong there! They go to the hotel where Georgia is staying and Peter excuses himself to answer a call from Michael. Their conversation doesn't get very far, though, when Peter puts his boss on hold to speak with newly-arrived Georgia. He tells her he has realized that she doesn't love her husband and they share their first kiss. When Oscar walks up, he is shocked to discover who Peter's girlfriend is, but he doesn't spill the beans. Remembering that Michael is still on the phone, Peter gives his resignation, much to Michael's confusion.

Back in New York, Elvira, Lazlo, and Elvira's private eye are spying on Michael across the street from his office. There's a great shot where the camera enacts what they're seeing through the telescope -- it's almost similar to the infamous gun barrel framing shot from the James Bond films, actually. Anyway, instead of being relieved that she can trust her husband, Elvira is irritated that she gave up her great trip for nothing. (This woman is ridiculous.) Lazlo advises her to go to Rio and wire Michael to join her so they can have their anniversary celebration after all. Lazlo then visits Michael and finds out that he's leaving for the airport to go to Rio. Peter's recent vague reports are driving him crazy -- he's just got to figure out what's going on. Sensing disaster, Lazlo joins him.

At the hotel, Oscar is auditioning for the band, but the conductor says he needs to hire someone with name recognition ("I need someone with a name." "What do you think my mother gave me, a number?"). As if on cue, Georgia's voice drifts in as she sings a short reprisal of "It's Magic" to Peter on the beach. Oscar tells the conductor that Georgia is Elvira Kent, a society dame from New York and exactly the type of person the conductor is looking for. He quickly offers Georgia a lucrative deal. She tries to get him to agree to a lower salary if she uses a different name, like maybe Georgia Garrett, but he refuses so she accepts the original offer.

Before long, Michael and Lazlo arrive. While gaping at a sign advertising Elvira's singing engagement, Michael spots Peter and demands to know what is happening -- Elvira has a horrible voice, for one thing (which is funny because Janis Paige actually could sing, as evidenced by Silk Stockings). Attempting to be noble, Peter tells Michael that his wife is in her room, believing that there is a chance that maybe it just the distance between the Kents that made "Elvira" fall for Peter.
In quick succession, one thing after another occurs: Michael keeps going to Elvira's room, only to find Georgia or Oscar instead; Lazlo alerts Georgia to Michael's presence; Elvira shows up; Peter checks out of the hotel and admits to Michael that he and "Elvira" are in love. It all comes to a head when Michael confesses that Peter is a detective, surprising Georgia. She runs downstairs to talk with him, but he's already gone.

That evening, the hotel is throwing a wild party that will act as the debut of Elvira. In a weird move, the real Elvira is determined to follow through with the performance, despite Michael's begging and her lack of talent. Meanwhile, Oscar is hoping to convince Georgia to go on the stage, although she believes that her contract is invalid since she isn't Mrs. Kent. Plus, Georgia can't stop wondering where she stands with Peter. Will she ever know how he really felt? After all, he was in love with Elvira, not Georgia. At that moment, Peter arrives at the party in time to see the conductor call Elvira to the stage, making him realize that he was mistaken the whole time. Elvira gives the stage to Georgia and for the final time, we hear "It's Magic" in all its splendor. Once the song comes to its close, our film does too as Elvira and Michael kiss and Peter and Georgia reunite.

Soon after Romance, Doris Day became Warner Brothers' biggest female musical star, which meant that they no longer had a need to borrow from other studios when they wanted to make a musical. For her first three films, Day was partnered with Jack Carson and they make a phenomenal team. They were dating during this time and throughout her life, Day would credit Carson with helping her adjust to performing for cameras. Carson was often used at Warners as the goofy and self-absorbed sidekick to the more conventional leading man, such as great pal Dennis Morgan. He excelled at this part, but if you ask me, he was at his best when he was allowed to be vulnerable and sweet. I absolutely adore him in this movie. He was a verifiable romantic lead, yet I feel like he wasn't often given that chance. Maybe it was because he was so good at playing bumblers and heels -- he's downright cruel in 1954's A Star is Born, for example. Check him out in his work with Jane Wyman, though, who was another magnificent partner for him. Carson was certainly one-of-a-kind.

Romance's cast is just filled to the brim with talent. In addition to Eric Blore as the doctor, the film also boasts the talents of Grady Sutton and Franklin Pangborn. Sutton plays a radio operator who enjoys the juicy cablegrams that Peter sends to Michael, and Pangborn is delectable as the hotel desk clerk at the end of the film. The look he gives Elvira at one point as she walks away never fails to make me laugh out loud. Wasn't he a genius?

The last thing I want to mention is the costuming. The outfits here are so fascinating, and sometimes not in a good way. Let's start with Doris Day. Her first outfit is simple, but adorable. I love the pops of red and her little beret, a French touch that ties into her desire to travel abroad. When the camera comes in for a close-up, you can see that her lapel pin is a musical note, which is definitely fitting.



Day's next outfit is way too much for me. The cutout, the necklace, the hair accessory, the brooch -- but hey, she looks happy.


This shade of blue shows up again later and with good reason -- it pairs well with Day's blonde locks and blue eyes.



Doesn't Doris look like Jasmine from Aladdin? These PJ's are so great.


This is the last outfit Day wears and I gotta be honest, it might be my least favorite. There's just way too much going on and I have no idea why there's just the one tie on one sleeve rather than on both sleeves.


Janis Paige's outfits are more intense. Elvira's signature piece is an outrageous hat, some of which you have to see in action to fully appreciate it:




My favorite accessory of Elvira's, though, is her green handbag with the giant plastic handles.



Beautifully and expertly filmed in Technicolor by Michael Curtiz, Romance is a bubbly romantic comedy with terrific people behind and in front of the camera. If you don't have fun watching this, I can't help but feel sorry for you.

















































With love,
Michaela

__________________

This is my contribution to the O Canada! Blogathon. Dedications to Canadian imports like Jack Carson, Canadian films, and productions set in the country can be found here.

Also, to include my personal shameless plug, if you're a fan of Doris Day, I'd love to invite you to join my blogathon celebrating the triple threat in April. It promises to be a good time!

Comments

  1. Great review, great images!! I agree with you; it is so sweet to see Jack Carson as the romantic lead in this one. It was a shame he did not get to do it more often.

    And those hats of Elvira's! The one looks like a flying saucer landed on her head. I don't think I ever noticed the giant plastic handles before, though. It's quite something. :)

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    1. Elvira's hats make me giggle. I always wonder when I see clothes like that in these old movies if women really dressed like that or if it was just a creation of the costuming department.

      Thanks for reading!

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  2. Michaela, I know I'll love this film. From the looks of your review and screenshots, it has fabulous wardrobe and sets and an intriguing storyline. But the cast! I adore everyone in this film, especially Jack Carson. Can't wait to see this!

    About Jack Carson, I agree that he could have had a good career as a romantic lead. He was really talented.

    Thanks for joining the blogathon, and for bringing Mr Carson with you! :)

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    1. Thanks for having me! I'm sure you'll enjoy this film -- it's really a lot of fun. It also perfectly demonstrates Jack Carson's many talents.

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  3. I love how much you love this movie. I love it too. Jack is top-notch. It's Magic makes me cry. Plus, one of my favourite groups, the Page Cavanaugh Trio. It's like a box of chocolates with every piece the one you want.

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    1. Great description! The last version of "It's Magic" gives me goosebumps every time. Doris Day's voice is just breathtaking. Thanks for stopping by!

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  4. I must watch this film! What really bewitched me were the gowns in the pictures, in special the blue shiny dress - that's quite impressive!
    Kisses!

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    1. I have a feeling you'd love this film. The fashion certainly catches your eye. Thanks for reading!

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  5. Wonderful post on a movie I love too. Jack is so fun to watch and a great co-star for Doris. Thanks so much for taking part in the blogathon and featuring such a nice movie.

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    1. Thanks! Doris Day and Jane Wyman made me realize what a nice leading man Carson could be. He was more versatile than I knew!

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  6. This is a favorite movie that my whole family enjoyed. Doris Day was one of my dad's favorites (mine too!). And Jack Carson was so underrated. If you've never seen "The Hard Way" you should; he'll break your heart. As kids we were "shocked" to hear the word "chooch" thrown around, knowing it meant "jackass" in Italian. Hearing it in the movie gave us license to use it around the house for years! Lovely screen shots. I felt like if I scrolled my mouse fast enough I would have viewed the entire movie. Wonderful job!

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    1. Thank you! I've been trying to see The Hard Way for a year now -- guess I need to try harder! I'm glad you enjoyed the screenshots. I can get a little overzealous in the amount I take, so it's nice to hear that you enjoyed them.

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  7. Hi Michaela! You make this sound like such a fun film, and since I'm a fan of Doris Day, AND with that incredible writing team, I figured it was a no-brainer to track down and watch. And then, I went 'hmmmmm' and checked my Day TCM set...and there it was! So, I'm watching it tonight! (And yes, I skipped over your plot synopsis, so nothing will be spoiled!)

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    Replies
    1. Wonderful! I have that TCM set too. I think I had it for a year until I finally gave this movie a chance -- so glad I did. Enjoy!

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