Christmas Musical Monday: On Moonlight Bay (1951)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
On Moonlight Bay (1951) – Musical #118

Studio:
Warner Brothers

Director:
Roy Del Ruth

Starring:
Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Leon Ames, Rosemary DeCamp, Billy Gray, Mary Wickes, Jack Smith, Ellen Corby

Plot:
Starting in 1916, the film looks at a year in the life of the Winfield family. The films starts when the family moves to a new neighborhood hoping to refine their tomboy daughter Marjorie (Day). Marjorie falls in love with college student William Sherman (MacRae), whose has college ideas have him saying he doesn’t believe in marriage and that banks are parasites. These ideas don’t please her parents (Ames and DeCamp), so Marjorie dates several other young men, but she is preoccupied with thoughts of William. The film is filled with antics of her younger brother (Gray).

Trivia:
-The film is followed by the sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)
-The fourth pairing of Doris Day and Gordon MacRae. The two starred in five films together.
-Loosely based on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod story
-The movie Wesley sees, “The Cure of Drink,” is based on “Ten Nights in a Bar Room” (1910).
-In her autobiography, Doris Day wrote that of the films she made at Warner Brothers, she enjoyed the nostalgic films the most, like this one and it’s sequel.
-Doris Day won the Photoplay Gold Medal award for this film for Favorite Female Performance

Highlights:
-Doris Day and Gordon MacRae performing together

Notable Songs:
-“Merry Christmas All” performed by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae
-“Moonlight Bay” performed by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae
-“Cuddle Up a Little Closer, Lovey Mine” performed by Gordon MacRae
-“Tell Me” performed by Doris Day
-“I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” performed by Jack Smith
-“Love Ya, Honey” performed by Doris Day and Jack Smith
-“Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!” performed by Gordon MacRae
-“Till We Meet Again” performed by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae

My review:
Doris Day said in her autobiography that her nostalgia films at Warner Brothers are among her favorites that she made. And they are also some of my favorite Doris Day films too, particularly this one: “On Moonlight Bay.”

In a similar vein as “Meet Me in St. Louis,” the film tells the story of an American family at the turn of the century and looks at their life in one year: starting in the summer and ending in the following summer. Doris Day is a tomboy and her parents want to make her more refined. We start off the film as the family is moving into a new home in a new neighborhood (but the same town). Again, like in “Meet Me in St. Louis,” Leon Ames’ family is giving him grief for making them move (though they are only a mile and a half from their old home).

At the start of the film, Doris Day is a tomboy dressed in a baseball uniform and finds a group of kids playing baseball where she shocks them by running a home run. But she begins to shed some of her tomboy tendencies (though they glimmer through occasionally) when she meets neighbor William, played by Gordon MacRae. The two are smitten and sing beautiful songs together. While Day’s mother, played by Rosemary DeCamp, is pleased, her father, played by Leon Ames, feels MacRae has too many wild, philosophical ideas, like hating money and marriage.

I’m sure this has been dubbed Warner Brothers’ answer to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s “Meet Me in St. Louis.” And “St. Louis” may have inspired this homespun tale, but I feel this stands on its own two feet rather than feeling like a carbon copy.

The cast is excellent. I love Gordon MacRae and Doris Day together. They are one of my favorite (and the most underrated) film couple.

Doris Day and Gordon MacRae in “On Moonlight Bay”

Rosemary DeCamp and Leon Ames, as usual, make a great pair of doting parents. Mary Wickes is hilarious as the wisecracking housekeeper. I legitimately was laughing out loud at some of her lines. Billy Gray does a good job of playing an annoying little brother (though that cough he has throughout the film is horrifying. Should he see a doctor?) Also, you get to see Ellen Corby as Gray’s shrew of a teacher. Radio singer Jack Smith also is in the film as Gordon MacRae’s competition, though Day doesn’t like him. Smith is the boring piano teacher who just can’t seem to take no for an answer, and you love to dislike him.

The only issue with the film is that halfway through, the focus shifts from Doris Day and Gordon MacRae and goes to Billy Gray’s character of Wesley and his antics. We see him stealing his sister’s love letter to read in class for an assignment, itching up a storm in dance class, and having a fit about being dressed up as an angel in his sister’s old petticoats. Also, inspired by a silent film he sees, to get out of trouble at school Gray tells his teacher that his father is a drunkard who beats his mother and sister. What a terrible kid!

Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp

To me, the highlight of the film is the Christmas scene (and it helps get the plotline away from Billy Gray for a bit). Doris Day hurt her leg and can’t go to a Christmas dance with Gordon MacRae. But she doesn’t dare tell him that she hurt herself while throwing snowballs from a wall, because she wouldn’t seem ladylike. MacRae hear’s the rumor that Leon Ames is a drunk and goes to the Winfield home in a rage. The scene is pretty hilarious, and once the family antics calm down, Day and MacRae sing the lovely “Merry Christmas to All” while Ames and DeCamp smile out the snowy window. It’s a cozy scene and it sticks with you once the film is over.

The film ends with MacRae graduating from college and joining to fight in World War I, which leaves Day sad, but hopeful that they will marry when he returns.

This is one of those movies that you hate for it to end. And in a way, this one doesn’t end because it’s followed by “By the Light of the Silvery Moon” (1953). But true with most sequels, “On Moonlight Bay” is my favorite of the two.

If you only know Doris Day from her films later in her career, give this one a try. You will see that Rock Hudson wasn’t Day’s only leading man with great chemistry.

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3 thoughts on “Christmas Musical Monday: On Moonlight Bay (1951)

  1. Pingback: Christmas Musical Monday: By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) | Comet Over Hollywood

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