It’s been a while since I’ve watched (and reviewed) any of Doris Day’s films, so I’m back today for her 1951 musical Lullaby Of Broadway, also starring Gene Nelson!
Coming Up Shorts! with… Anniversary Trouble (1935)
(available on Blu-ray as part of The Little Rascals: The ClassicFlix Restorations, Volume 5 (1935-1936) from ClassicFlix)
(Length: 19 minutes, 22 seconds)
Spanky (George McFarland) has been elected the treasurer of the Gang’s club (“Ancient and Honery Order of Wood Chucks Club, Inc.”) and the Gang have decided to trust him with the money. However, it’s also his parents’ wedding anniversary, and the envelope containing the Gang’s money has gotten mixed up with his father’s gift to his mother. This one was absolutely hilarious from start to finish! Much of the humor is derived from Spanky being called to go see his father at the office (since his parents thought he stole their envelope) while the Gang waits for their money (since they disbanded the club and want their money back). One of Spanky’s methods in trying to get away is questionable for modern audiences, since he tried to don blackface to disguise himself as Buckwheat in an attempt to get away. Still, the short was an entertaining twenty minutes that I wouldn’t mind seeing again and again!
And Now For The Main Feature…
American entertainer Melinda Howard (Doris Day) has been in Europe for a number of years, but she’s earned enough that she decided to come home to New York City to surprise her mother, Jessica Howard (Gladys George), whom she believes to be the toast of Broadway. When she arrives at her mother’s mansion, Melinda meets the butler, Lefty Mack (Billy De Wolfe), who is also a friend of her mother’s. A surprised Lefty lies, telling her that her mother is on tour with a show, and is renting the place to brewer Adolph Hubbell (S. Z. Sakall) and his wife, Anna (Florence Bates). The truth is that Jessica has fallen on hard times as a result of her alcoholism, and the mansion is owned by the Hubbells. Lefty gives Melinda a place to stay in the servants’ quarters, and lets Mr. Hubbell know what’s going on. Since Mr. Hubbell is throwing a party that many Broadway performers have been invited to, Lefty hopes to get Jessica there to briefly see Melinda. At the party, Broadway producer George Ferndel (Hanley Stafford) tries to convince Mr. Hubbell to invest in his show. Mr. Hubbell refuses to do so because his wife is insisting that he not do so, and because Ferndel won’t let him do anything more than pay for the show. Meanwhile, one of Ferndel’s stars, Tom Farnham (Gene Nelson) (whom Melinda had unknowingly met on the boat to America) tries to spend time with Melinda (who was more open to him at the party than she had been on the ship). Melinda is disappointed when her mother doesn’t show at the party (because she had been hospitalized for drinking too much, although Melinda was told that she had to stay with her “show”), and vows to stay until she gets a chance to see her mother. With the food bills at the Hubbell household rising while Melinda stays, Lefty makes a suggestion that Mr. Hubbell should take her out to a restaurant, where she would be noticed by Ferndel (and also prove that Mr. Hubbell was not too old-fashioned to be involved in show business). As a result, she now has a part in the new show, with the opportunity to spend more time with Tom. Trouble arises when Mr. Hubbell spends too much time with Melinda and everybody else misconstrues their relationship. Things come to a head right before the show opens, when Mrs. Hubbell finds out about Melinda spending so much time with Mr. Hubbell, and she decides to divorce her husband. With everything falling apart, will Melinda be able to see her mother and perform in the show, or will she pack up and go back to Europe?
While actress Doris Day had originally planned to come to Hollywood as a dancer, a car crash ended that dream (resulting in her focusing on her singing instead). However, as she started to become a big star at Warner Brothers, she worked with dancer Gene Nelson and his wife Miriam to get back into dancing shape for her first starring role in Tea For Two (1950). With that film proving to be successful, she was paired up again with Gene Nelson for Lullaby Of Broadway. Gene’s promotion to leading man was mostly the result of him winning the 1950 Golden Globe for Best New Star (in Tea For Two) (that, and his Tea For Two co-star Gordon MacRae was proving to be an uncooperative contract player at Warners). Once again, Doris worked with Gene and his wife on the routines for Lullaby, including dancing on the staircase for the title number, which made her nervous. Onscreen, that nervousness didn’t show, and the film proved to be yet another hit for Doris Day and Warner Brothers.
I’ve had the opportunity to watch Lullaby Of Broadway a couple times this year (hadn’t seen it prior to the recent Blu-ray release), and it’s one that I will gladly admit to enjoying! Most of the fun is seeing a lot of the cast of the previous year’s Tea For Two together again (minus Gordon MacRae, as I mentioned before). The film is full of memorable tunes (culled from the catalog of music owned by Warner Brothers at the time), including the title tune, “You’re Getting To Be A Habit With Me,” “Just One Of Those Things,” “I Love The Way You Say Goodnight,” and several others. Doris Day is in fine voice for all of her songs, and she proves once again that she can dance, whether alone or with Gene Nelson! Honestly, the only complaint I have on her dancing is the slow motion section that ends “I Love The Way You Say Goodnight” (I think Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are great enough as a team to pull it off slow motion dancing in Carefree, but Doris isn’t as good technically, so it shows off her faults a bit more). As for her co-star Gene Nelson, I like him, but I’m not sure he fares as well as a leading man for two reasons: 1) he is fairly obviously dubbed on his singing voice (by Hal Derwin) and 2) compared to his earlier roles in The Daughter Of Rosie O’Grady (1950) and Tea For Two (1950), his dancing here seems “tamer,” lacking some of the acrobatic stuff and lifts he did before (which, in this case, makes him more like your average dancer as opposed to being a standout like he was in those earlier two movies). Apart from those two complaints, I’m good with him. S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall is fun as always, and Billy De Wolfe is funny in what feels like a rare role (for him) as a decent guy, especially when he does the comic routine to the song “You’re Dependable” with Anne Triola as the maid (and his girlfriend) Gloria Davis. I’m not quite as fond of this film as the earlier Tea For Two, but it’s still an entertaining musical with some fun music and dancing! As I said, I’ve already had fun watching it a few times in the time that I’ve had it on disc, and I certainly would recommend it!
What’s Old Is A New Release Again (2021) with… Lullaby Of Broadway (1951)
This movie is available on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Archive Collection. I haven’t been able to find anything specific about what was used for the transfer on the Blu-ray, but it’s still a typical Warner Archive release of a 3-strip Technicolor film. In short, the color looks great, and the picture has been cleaned up of all dust and dirt. However, this is a rare instance where I do have a complaint about the transfer, and that’s with some of the audio. The main problem is that the tap sounds for some of the dances (particularly Gene Nelson’s dance number “Zing! Went The Strings Of My Heart”) don’t quite sound right, as if that part of the audio wasn’t done right (similar to what I’ve heard was the problem on the initial pressing of Kino Lorber Studio Classics’ 2022 Blu-ray release of Blue Skies before that was corrected with a subsequent pressing). Since I only first saw this film through the Blu-ray, I have no idea whether that was something new or whether it’s always been that way. If it is a new problem for the Blu-ray, I wouldn’t say that it’s anything major (and, as far as I know, there has been no movement towards Warner Archive fixing it, which doesn’t surprise me after all the issues that they’ve had behind the scenes throughout the pandemic), so I still think that this release is worth it.
Film Length: 1 hour, 32 minutes
My Rating: 9/10
List Of Actor/Actress Filmographies/Collections
Tea For Two (1950) – Gene Nelson
Tea For Two (1950) – S. Z. “Cuddles” Sakall
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