Doris Day has always fascinated me, since, when it comes to the preforming arts, I’m a big sucker for confidence. Not arrogance, but confidence. And Day was an extremely confident performer. She had it all – the voice, the musicality, the movement, the face, the body (hers was maybe the greatest athletic body of any major female star), stage intelligence and a natural, fine acting ability. Yet, once Day became a Hollywood star, this awesome performance apparatus was confined, thanks - most probably - to that despicable hack Marty Melcher, to many variations of sentimental schlock.
For some reason, she did have a run of better films from ’55 to ’57. She was fun in The Pajama Games – not surprisingly the material was not written especially for her. (Was it the only film adaptation of a Broadway musical she ever did? The fact she was not cast in South Pacific is a huge loss). The Man Who Knew Too Much is usually considered her best film (at least her most prestigious one), and she is good in it, but it’s more about smart casting than great acting (and Que Será, Será is the kind of schmaltzy song Day was famous for nicely put on its head in the context of the film).
And then there’s Love Me or Leave Me. This is the one film which suggests what her career might have been like had she been allowed to truly explore her talent. Acting wise, she matched the very fine formed Cagney step by step. And musically she had a field day stepping outside of the Guy-is-a-Guy to Everybody-Loves-a-Lover puddle she was usually cutesying in. Again – the material was not written for her to match that carefully manufacture persona. And allowed to sing not as “Doris Day” but in character, as (a rather fictional, but still tough) Ruth Etting, she killed it.
Speaking of confidence, Shaking the Blues Away is a glorious showcase number the way Garland’s Get Happy is. She is great singing quite a few other songs, but I’d mention the scene in which she sings Sam The Old Accordion Man. A corny, old fashioned song, but watch her juggling so many balls in this short clip – she makes it perfectly believable she’s singing live the pre-recorded song, her experience as a big band singer is evident in the way she effortlessly communicates with the backup singers and the accordion player and all while acting the deep distress her character is in in the way she interacts with Cameron Mitchel, and still managing to be totally natural in the way she improvisingly setting an unruled string of pearls. Confidence.
So, in retrospect, my take on her is a frustrated one. With all the unequal success she had, I see her career a case of an unfortunate missed opportunity.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c93j_6oExoE