Born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1922, Doris Day aspired to be a professional dancer but a car accident forced her to reassess her career as she spent part of her teenage years in a wheel chair recovering. Taking to singing on radio instead it wasn’t until 1948 that Doris made her first movie as Miss Georgia Garrett in “It’s Magic” (originally known as “Romance on the High Seas”). And so her movie career began which would span 20 years and 39 movies before she left the big screen and went to the small screen with her TV show “The Doris Day Show” which ran from 1968 – 1973.
Often regarded as the “eternal virgin” thanks mainly to a series of movies where the subject of sex was taboo, Day was in fact a very accomplished actress capable of delivering comedy, romance as well as heavy drama and of course was able to sing and dance as well. A seriously well rounded star who was top box-office star for 1963 and is often regarded as the ‘all-time’ top female box office star.
During her career she starred opposite some of Hollywood’s major stars such as Gordon MacRae, David Niven, Clark Gable, Kirk Douglas, James Stewart, Gig Young, Howard Keel, James Garner, Jack Lemmon and of course Rock Husdon whose trio of movies that they made together are some of her most popular.
Whilst it’s fair to say that some of Doris Day’s movies were remarkably similar with a recurring theme of being either a career minded young woman or duped by a man they worked well and made for some marvelous movies made memorable usually by at least one musical scene showcasing Day’s wonderful singing voice.
From out of her 39 movies it is actually quite difficult to narrow it down to just 10 but here is my personal choice for the “Top 10 Doris Day Movies”.
#10 Teacher’s Pet (1958)
The first movie to see what would become a very familiar storyline as Doris Day plays a career minded woman duped by a man pretending to be someone else. Here we watch Doris Day play Erica Stone a lecturer in journalism who ends up being duped by James Gannon (Clark Gable) a bit city newspaper editor who initially wants to give Stone a piece of his mind but ends up falling for her. The trouble is he pretends to be someone else when they meet and you know it will cause a problem when his true identity is revealed.
Although “Teacher’s Pet” would be the first of these romantic-comedies which featured very similar storylines it was noticeable for the fact that Doris Day played things straight, whilst still delivering that charming and lovable performance which would fill many of these romantic comedies. Instead, we had Clark Gable delivering the comedy as James Gannon with a wonderful array of face pulling with makes “Teacher’s Pet” a hugely enjoyable movie.
#9 Young Man With a Horn (1950)
In all fairness “Young Man With a Horn” or “Young Man of Music” as it is also known is not really a Doris Day movie rather than a Kirk Douglas movie with Doris Day in a supporting role. But the story of Rick Martin (Kirk Douglas) who learns to play the trumpet from legendary musician Art Hazzard and goes on to become a troubled star musician is a brilliant movie full of drama, emotion, and music as well as a little comedy.
It is a brilliant performance from Kirk Douglas in the lead role but Doris Day is equally as good even in the lesser role of songstress Jo Jordan who ends up becoming a close friend to Rick. Although she only gets to sing 4 songs in the movie each one is beautifully done and in between each of these songs, Day shows what a talented actress she is, so natural in every scene.
#8 It Happened to Jane (1959)
In the same year that Doris Day would make her first movie with Rock Hudson, she also made another romantic comedy, this time with Jack Lemmon and Ernie Kovacs. In “It Happened to Jane” Doris plays Jane Osgood a career minded mother who breeds and sells lobsters who finds herself taking on the might of Harry Foster Malone (Ernie Kovacs) the owner of a train line which cost her a lot of money in dead lobsters. With the help of her best friend, lawyer George Denham (Jack Lemmon) she battles Malone in any way she can but despite her troubles things may turn out alright in more sense than one.
With the exception of “Teacher’s Pet” prior to “It Happened to Jane” the majority of Doris Day’s romantic movies had largely been largely musicals. But here we had Day showing her ability in a more straightforward romantic comedy with barely a musical scene in sight, except for one heavily manufactured one featuring “Be Prepared”. What makes this movie feature in my “Top 10 Doris Day Movies” is the combination of Doris Day and Jack Lemmon who between them light up the screen with a perfect amount of comedy.
#7 The Thrill of It All (1963)
“The Thrill of It All” would be the first of Doris Day and James Garner’s 2 movies together and see once more Doris Day taking on a familiar role of a housewife and mother. During a dinner party Beverly Boyer (Doris Day), wife of obstetrician Gerald (James Garner), regales the hosts with a tale about how she used ‘Happy Soap’ to wash her children’s hair, as it happens her hosts are the owners of ‘Happy Soap’. Before she knows it Beverly is the new face of ‘Happy Soap’ making adverts, appearing on billboards and being wined and dined at big socials. All of which ends up annoying Gerald who barely sees his wife causing a rift in their happy marriage.
Although their second movie together, “Move Over, Darling” would end up a bigger box-office success I prefer “The Thrill of It All” out of Doris Day and James Garner’s 2 movies together. It’s for the most rather routine with Doris Day playing that beautiful and slightly kooky housewife to James Garner’s tall dark and handsome husband but it’s full of memorable, funny scenes. The fake posing for the billboard and the swimming pool full of suds are two of just many innocently amusing moments in a movie full of them.
#6 On Moonlight Bay (1951)
In her 20 year movie career and despite making several movies which used the same sort of storyline Doris Day only made one sequel which was “By the Light of the Silvery Moon”. The predecessor to it was the beautifully titled “On Moonlight Bay” which saw Day take on the role of Marjie Winfield a tomboy who falls for Bill Sherman (Gordon MacRae). The trouble is that Bill has some unorthodox views on relationships and marriage and also on a few other things which end up annoying Marjie’s father George.
Although “On Moonlight Bay” has a storyline, in fact it has a few storylines it is very much a musical with numerous musical moments featuring either the wonderful Doris Day or the equally wonderful Gordon MacRae and often together. But it is the way everything comes together to make a thoroughly pleasant and charming movie, completely innocent and a lot of fun.
#5 The Pajama Game (1957)
This would be the last of Doris Day’s movies which were firstly musical and drama second but it is surprisingly good fun. Set in the Sleeptite Pajama Factory Doris plays Babe Williams a union rep who finds herself coming up against new superintendent Sid Sorokin (John Raitt) who falls head over heels for her, except business and pleasure start to make things rather messy especially as Babe’s fellow workers want a rise.
“The Pajama Game” has it roots as a Broadway musical and what makes the screen version work is that it feels like you are watching a stage musical. With many of the Broadway cast reprising their roles for the movie and with a vibrant styling which really brings it to life it is a very entertaining movie. And of course it features Doris Day at her feisty best as she plays up against John Raitt whilst delivering plenty of cheerful musical numbers.
#4 Love Me or Leave Me (1955)
During her career Doris Day performed in a few movies which were based or inspired by real people, in “Love Me or Leave Me” she stars as Ruth Etting in a fictionalized account of the jazz singer’s life. Having been spotted by Chicago hood Marty Snyder (James Cagney) Ruth goes from a wannabee singer to a major star, but with Snyder controlling her life the public image Ruth presented was vastly different to her unhappy private one.
What makes Doris Day’s performance in “Love Me or Leave Me” so brilliant comes in hindsight of information that Doris Day revealed in her autobiography. Day herself suffered an unhappy marriage to Martin Melcher who basically controlled her life and much of which almost mirrors what you watch in “Love Me or Leave Me”. As such there is a real sense of pain and emotion in many of the scenes in the movie where Snyder inflicts his rage and control over Ruth. Plus of course being a movie about a singer means we get plenty of brilliant musical moments including renditions of “Ten Cents a Dance” and “I’ll Never Stop Loving You”.
#3 By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)
As already mentioned “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” is the equally beautifully titled sequel to “On Moonlight Bay” and follows a very similar storyline with Marjie Winfield still having relationship issues with Bill who having agreed to marry her before heading off to war returns not quite ready to walk down the aisle. And that’s not the only problem as other member’s of the Winfield household are having a few issues.
To many “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” is inferior to “on Moonlight Bay” and basically just rehashes the whole storyline, which in all fairness it does. But to me it has a lot more charm especially with the wintry setting and memorable ending on the frozen pond with a wonderful family sing-a-long. It also helps that Day is at her cutest best as Marjie easy on the eyes and easy to fall in love with.
#2 Pillow Talk (1959)
It may come as a surprise to some but Doris Day and Rock Hudson only made 3 movie together, although it often feels like more because Day made several similar movies all of with quite similar handsome stars. Their first movie together was “Pillow Talk” with saw Day playing Jan Morrow who shares a party phone line with Brad Allen (Rock Hudson) much to her annoyance as he hogs the line with calls to and from various women. But when Allen finds himself in the company of Morrow he has a bit of fun pretending to be an out of town Texan called Rex Stetson, except what started as a bit of fun turns into more when they genuinely fall for each other.
As already mentioned Doris Day made several similar movies and here again we see her being duped by a man pretending to be someone else. It is the best version of this type of storyline thanks to the amazing chemistry between Doris Day and Rock Hudson making it extremely funny and quite romantic, which in an ironic way is quite funny thanks to certain revelations about both of the stars. And despite the concept of Day being duped by another man had already been done it is the one most people remember with Day delivering her kooky, face pulling comedy to the max whilst Hudson charms his way through every scene.
#1 Calamity Jane (1953)
And finally my number 1 Doris Day movie in my list of “Top 10 Doris Day Movies” and it has to be the award winning “Calamity Jane”. In “Calamity Jane” Doris Day stars as Jane a feisty Indian tracker in the town of Deadwood who likes to boast a little too much. When the owner of the local saloon is desperate to get someone to perform, Jane boasts she can bring back acclaimed stage performer Adelaid Adams from Chicago to perform on their small stage. But having headed off to Chicago Jane mistakes Adelaid’s maid Kate for the big star and returns with her instead. Well it all comes out that Jane didn’t bring back Adelaid but her and Kate become friends leaving to a bit of unexpected rivalry in the romantic department.
From the opening scene with the lively “The Deadwood Stage (Whip-Crack-Away)” right through to the credits “Calamity Jane” is an out and out classic musical full of big musical song and dance numbers which makes the storyline almost unimportant despite not being that bad. But why “Calamity Jane” is my number 1 movie is because it showcases everyone of Doris Day’s wonderful talents from dancing, singing, comedy as well as a touch of drama and alongside solid performances from Howard Keel, Allyn Ann McLerie and Philip Carey there is not a single dull moment in it’s entire length.