Release Date(s)1948 (June 16, 2020)
Studio(s)Michael Curtiz Productions/Warner Bros. (Warner Archive Collection)
- Film/Program Grade: B-
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: C
Romance on the High Seas marked the movie debut of Doris Day, a band singer and recording artist who was hired for the film when songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn heard her sing at a party. The film was originally supposed to be a vehicle for Betty Hutton, but she dropped out when she became pregnant. Doris Day ultimately got the role and became, for the next 20 years, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
This romantic comedy is based on petty jealousies, mistaken identity, and worldwide locations (filmed on the Warners lot). Georgia Garrett (Day) is a singer whose career isn’t making much headway. She spends her spare time at a travel agency, talking to agents about wonderful, exotic places to visit, collecting brochures, and wishing she could afford to take the trips.
Despite being quite wealthy, Mrs. Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) has never had a proper honeymoon because her husband Michael (Don DeFore) always claims to be tied up with last-minute business deals. She suspects he’s having some extra-curricular dealings with other women. When he, for the third time in their three-year marriage, cancels an ocean voyage, Elvira hatches a plan.
She makes a deal with Georgia to take her place on the ship under the name Mrs. Elvira Kent while she stays home to keep tabs on Michael. Meanwhile, Michael has his own suspicions of Elvira and hires private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to go on the cruise and observe her dealings with the male passengers. Peter is to report back to Michael periodically. Georgia is to check in periodically with Elvira. Georgia and Peter meet on board. He becomes attracted to her but, believing that she is Elvira, he is torn between his duty to Michael and his own heart.
The film gives Day plenty of opportunities to sing as the ship makes stops in exotic ports. The Georgia/Elvira mix-up draws upon romantic movie cliches and becomes tiresome after a while, but Day elevates this routine picture with her fresh-faced enthusiasm and youthful energy. Her delivery is far more perky and manic than in later films in which a breathy, soft-spoken manner became a trademark. Apparently urged by director Michael Curtiz, who still had Betty Hutton in mind, Day practically bounces through her early scenes as if she’s just been propelled from a catapult. In later scenes, she becomes better at letting the camera do more of the work and is more subdued. She delivers the best two songs in the film: the ballad It’s Magic, which became a hit and was nominated for a Best Song Oscar, and the upbeat Put ‘Em in a Box. The different tunes show off her range.
Janis Paige gets an opportunity to display some amazing clothes and look terrific as the jealous Elvira. She’s missing for much of the picture, her biggest scenes bookended. During the shipboard scenes, we see her only in fleeting cutaways. An actress and accomplished singer in her own right, Paige clearly takes a back seat to Day and her musical talent remains untapped.
Jack Carson, a reliable mainstay at Warner Bros, is an unlikely romantic lead and is more adept at playing sidekicks. There are a number of opportunities for witty repartee in scenes between Peter and Georgia, but the bland screenplay by Julius and Philip Epstein (with additional dialogue by I.A.L. Diamond) ignores these and underscores Carson’s lackluster screen persona. For a romantic comedy, the comedy is in short supply.
Don DeFore, who would become known to TV audiences as Mr. B on TV’s Hazel, is good-looking and serviceable in what is essentially a supporting role. Pleasant enough, he doesn’t seem to realize he’s appearing in a light romantic comedy and plays every scene with little commitment to the character. Michael is more concerned with corporate acquisitions than with his marriage. Neither an outright cad nor a cuckold, he is merely a plot device to propel the story.
Comic relief is provided by Oscar Levant as Oscar Farrar, Georgia’s piano accompanist and friend, S.Z. Sakall as Michael’s Uncle Lazlo, Eric Blore as a befuddled ship’s doctor, and Franklin Pangborn as a persnickety hotel clerk.
Warner Archive brings the film to Blu-ray with a new 4K restoration from the original nitrate Technicolor negative, featuring 1080p resolution and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.37:1. The lush Technicolor photography is vivid with the color palette tending toward rich hues. Scenes are drenched in brown, teal, pops of bright red, shimmering white, royal blue, and soft blush. The complexions of Day and Paige have a soft peach tone, and Day’s yellow hair makes her stand out among the mostly dark-haired extras. The finale is an explosion of color with a pullback filled with brightly costumed extras and multi-colored balloons falling from above. Costume designer Milo Anderson created several gowns and casual outfits for Day that are elegant without being excessive. The white gown she wears as she sings It’s Magic is especially striking.
The English 2.0 mono DTS-High Definition Master Audio soundtrack does a nice job with both dialogue and musical numbers. Dialogue throughout is clear and distinct. The Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn tunes include Put ‘Em in a Box, It’s You or No One, I’m in Love, and the novelty numbers The Tourist Trade and Run, Run, Run. Day is sometimes accompanied by a small jazz ensemble and other times by a full orchestra. Sound mixing is effective on board the ship when dialogue, crowd chatter, and the occasional foghorn suggest the studio-bound action is taking place on an ocean liner at sea. Though staged by Busby Berkeley, the musical numbers are presented rather routinely and don’t show off the choreographer’s flair for inventive and unusual camera angles. Optional subtitles are provided in English SDH.
Bonus materials include a vintage musical short, a Bugs Bunny cartoon, and the film’s theatrical trailer.
Let’s Sing a Song from the Movies – This short subject features musical excerpts from Warner Bros. films and sing-along on-screen lyrics sung by the Melody Makers. Songs include Am I Blue? (sung by Ethel Waters), By a Waterfall (from Footlight Parade), Some Sunday Morning (sung by Alexis Smith), and A Gal in Calico (sung by Dennis Morgan and Jack Carson).
Hare Splitter – In this Merrie Melodies cartoon directed by Friz Freleng, Bugs Bunny competes with another rabbit for the affections of Daisy Lou. The competition turns comically violent with exploding carrots, large hammers, a sharpshooter bow and arrow, and a dummy booby trapped with a bomb.
Theatrical Trailer – This unusual trailer features Doris Day and Janis Paige singing special lyrics that provide a bouncy preview of what the film is about. Paige’s brief duet makes us wonder why she wasn’t given at least one number in the film. This is followed by the usual coming attractions and an announcer’s ballyhooing.
– Dennis Seuling