DORIS DAY COMEDIES
As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, screwball comedy is my favorite film genre. So, it wouldn’t be hard to guess that the Doris Day comedies of the late 1950’s and 1960’s also rank among some of my favorite comedies. Though, they aren’t labeled screwball, they do have many of the same elements.
Day’s comedies weren’t ground-breaking and were often silly. But, they were always quality pictures with great dialogue, costumes and talent. They featured Day along side popular leading men like Cary Grant, David Niven, James Garner, Jack Lemmon, Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor. Day’s comedies also gave her the opportunity to showcase the talent for which she first became a star -her voice. And while I am particular about musical films, her singing never becomes the focal point of the story, which is something I can appreciate.
Doris Day is probably best known for her three comedies opposite actor and friend Rock Hudson, with good reason. They had fabulous rapport onscreen. But as much as I love this pairing, there is another one which just edges them out in my mind. That is why today, I am focusing on one of her films with Rod Taylor, The Glass Bottom Boat.
In The Glass Bottom Boat, Day plays widow Jennifer Nelson who works at important aeronautics company run by Bruce Templeton. Bruce happens to be a highly intelligent, forward thinking scientist who is working on a top secret project for the U.S. government which he has nicknamed G.I.S.M.O.
Jennifer catches the eye of the young scientist bachelor. Needing an excuse to get to know her better, Bruce assigns her to write a (fake) biography of him. This requires her to spend many hours with him, stuck like glue as he takes her along with him through his work day.
But this is the age of the space race and the secret of GISMO is highly desired by the Russians. Fear that it may be stolen, makes Bruce’s direct subordinates nervous and paranoid. It also leads to a CIA agent being assigned to the company for GISMO’s protection.
When one of the security guards witnesses what he believes is suspicious behavior on Jennifer’s part, he raises the alarm. Suddenly, all those involved in protecting GISMO believe Jennifer is a Russian spy, sent to steal it. Everyone but Bruce, whose romantic interest in Jennifer may or may not be blinding him to her real intent.
Though it is hard to definitively choose my favorite Doris Day comedy, this one is definitely in the running for my top choice. And here are some of the reasons why.
WHAT MAKES THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT SO GREAT
- THE MEET CUTE -I adore a good meet cute and this has my favorite of any film I’ve ever seen. Before Bruce and Jennifer realize that they work at the same company, they run across each other in their leisure time. This meeting sets up a great misunderstanding and sets up some funny jokes later in the film.
- ROD TAYLOR -I admit Doris Day and Rock Hudson together are pretty hard to beat. But I absolutely love Rod Taylor in this film. He plays the straight man against all the craziness and comedic characters around him. His acting is so natural. Not to mention, he is the sexiest space scientist I’ve ever seen. I mean, did you see that bronzed chest in the clip above? Though he’s still a ladies man, he’s much less of a player than Hudson was in his comedies with Day. His Bruce is both logical and a romantic. He’s a genius without arrogance. The Glass Bottom Boat is the film which introduced me to this Australian import and I’ve always been grateful.
- QUALITY COMEDIANS -Doris Day was multi-talented, not only as a singer, but also as an actress. She played both drama and comedy well. But it never hurts to increase the film talent pool with comedians like Dick Martin, Paul Lynde and Dom DeLuise. Day’s scenes opposite these men are some of her funniest in the movie. I love the use of Lynde as the overly zealous company security officer who dons some surprising disguises in his pursuit of Jennifer’s secrets. In fact, Lynde in drag does one of the best jobs I’ve ever seen of a man pretending to be a woman. Fans of the children’s classic Charlotte’s Web, will recognize Lynde by his voice alone -he played Templeton the rat. DeLuise is hilarious as the cowardly dupe of Russian agents who is threatened into doing his job. I also loved seeing Alice Pearce pop up in her final film as Jennifer’s nosy, judgy neighbor.
- THE 1960’S VERSION OF SPACE AND SCIENCE -I’ve always enjoyed watching classic films tackle the issue of the future. It’s fun to see what they imagined what is now our present might look like. Bruce’s company is on the cutting edge of space research, which honestly doesn’t come across as dated as one might think fifty years later. His company campus is modern. But it is his home where we really get a taste of the sixties version of advanced science. The Templeton kitchen is supplied with technology and gadgets which aren’t even on the market. It’s automated to the push of a button -an egg beater pops out of its hiding place. Another push and the beater rotates to the sink for an automatic rinsing. The oven shrinks the baking time of a cake to mere minutes. And then there is the automatic vacuum which detects spills on the floor and then cleans them up before retreating back into storage. Though it looks nothing like today’s Roomba, it operates in a remarkably similar manner.
- QUE SERA, SERA -This song is one of Doris Day’s signature songs. It appeared in two of her previous films. But The Glass Bottom Boat is where I first heard it. Outside of actual film musicals, it is very rare that I remember or even sing a song from movies I watch. But the Bing! Bang! Bong! song sung by Sophia Loren in Houseboat is one. This is another. Not only is it softly catchy, but always a good reminder not to sweat the small stuff. Whatever will be, will be.
- THE COMEDY -I don’t mind a good drama or even tragedy from time to time that challenges me and makes me look at things outside of my comfort zone. But the world is so full of bad news, tragedy and chaos, that comedy has always been my decompression method. Day’s comedies always showcase her characters’ sunny personality, but one with a side of backbone. They give me the freedom to unwind, laugh and wallow in their silly and idyllic Americana. The Glass Bottom Boat is chock full of all kinds of comedy, visual, situational, dialogue and one-liners and more. I never get tired of watching it and I never escape without several good chuckles. I love a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Bruce Templeton: Hey! You’re the mermaid
Jennifer Nelson: Yes, I’m the mermaid
Bruce Templeton: Didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.
- RUSSIA IS EVIL! -Well, as the saying goes, “there is nothing new under the sun.” This film is proof that Russia has been America’s favorite antagonist/villain for decades. And most classic film fans can tell you that films even older than this one were already portraying the evil Russian villain. I love that The Glass Bottom Boat acknowledges the enmity between America and Russia while also spoofing it so well. Russia wants our space secrets! The All-American Jennifer may be a Russian spy! The evil Russian henchman threaten Dom DeLuise with the ends of their cigars. Gasp!! Such shockingly funny behavior, particularly when the actual villain is finally revealed.
- COSTUMES -Aside from Audrey Hepburn, I honestly think Doris Day was the best dressed woman in film in the 1960’s. Her comedies always have her dressed in such perfectly matched and accessorized ensembles. In this movie, her outfits are much less tailored and elegant, but they are still very much carry all the details of a perfectly matched wardrobe. As the girl next door, Jennifer wears a lot of white and cheerful colors, not to mention, very American feeling prints like polka dots, stripes and gingham. Then, there are the brief, outrageous costumes she wears when Bruce imagines her as a spy.
So there you have it; my argument as to why The Glass Bottom Boat just may be my favorite Doris Day comedy. If you haven’t seen it, what are you waiting for? Of course, you can’t go wrong watching any of Day’s films, but this one is just extra special in my book. To learn more about Day and her films please stop by Michaela’s website Love Letters to Hollywood to read entries for the Doris Day blogathon this year. And if you have extra time, don’t forget to check out last year’s entries as well.