On Moonlight Bay is another film about a teenage girl falling in love with an eccentric. Since this movie arrived in the 1950s and was based on a successful contemporary novel, things could’ve become weird. The Penrod stories started during the onset of World War I and carries on for 11 installments. Doris Day plays baseball loving tomboy Marjorie. While she channels more Gabrielle Carteris than Darlene Connor, she pulls off the broad strokes. Naturally, she changes upon meeting an older man.
Literary adaptations are quite strange in this era. Sure, more people were better read. It’s just that the novels were a mix of nostalgia and social sentiment rather than having bigger concepts. Especially the ones that got feature film versions. Throughout all of the channels, so much kept getting lost in translation. But, the goals remained. Keep it happy, stay on studio topic and give the audience a reason to plant their ass in a seat.
Doris Day was becoming quite the box office draw. Young Man with a Horn had just dropped the year prior, so it seemed like Warner Brothers wanted to soften her image. After all, Doris Day was a 17 year old singing superstar that hadn’t let go of the music world for 12 years. Now approaching 30, it was time to figure out how she played on film. Most of what modern audiences know Day from wouldn’t happen until later in the 1950s. Warner Brothers got to do a lot of the hard work figuring out she played on film.
You see that a little in the modern era, but nowhere near at the same level. That’s mainly due to each major release being fiscally loaded to the point of insanity. It’s crazy to think that it would take nearly a decade of movies before studios figured out Doris Day is great in romantic comedies. But, that came later. Right now, it’s let us find ways to get Doris to sing to people and have others sing back.
On Moonlight Bay spawned a sequel that played closer to the film world than the original Penrod stories. Giving the timing and themes of some of these Warner Archive releases, I expect to see it getting announced at any moment. It’s not a good movie. We’re getting into spoiler territory, but it’s more about Bill getting out of the Army and returning home to Doris Day. He talks about World War I for a hot minute and then they’re singing at each other again.
What’s crazy is to see these summer releases that were designed to play to middle of the road 1950s audiences. Especially since they were arriving right at the dawn of the TV era. These big budget dramas were sitcoms in their own way. Not weepy or a laugh riot, but you got a mix of things. It’s kind of ridiculous when you figure out that a solid chunk of the film hangs on an inherited sling shot. But, that’s On Moonlight Bay for you.
It was a difficult time in American life and people wanted corny things like On Moonlight Bay. Every generation dives into nostalgia as a way not to address the very real and pressing issues knocking them down. On Moonlight Bay made people forget about the Korean War and Polio. Ranting and raving about WandaVision makes people forget about the plague, the frailty of money markets and that a chunk of the population is keen on fascism. We trade singing tomboys for magic Olsens. It’s a win!
At the end of the day, what is one supposed to expect from On Moonlight Bay. Warner Brothers was giving hard hitting material to talent like Doris Day. She was supposed to bat her eyes and sing to a leading man. She did the job well, but how many times can you see it? Even in the 1960s, Doris Day got aged up…but the premises repeated a lot. She’s a goofy working mom, Rock Hudson finds her amusing and somehow she can’t get off this Glass Bottom Boat. These were the issues of the times, people. Look it up!
As I get caught up on my classic film dives, I want to say I appreciated my time diving through the Warner Archive and checking out their treasures. While many of these films might not be my choices for getting restored, we should love all attempts to save our shared cultural history. On Moonlight Bay doesn’t speak to all audiences, but it allows to build a further library of Doris Day’s work. After all, what’s more inspiring than seeing a young woman take over Hollywood at the height of the Boys’ Club?
What’s so interesting is that Warner Archive is examining her films around the time before she went to Universal and her work with Hitchcock. It’s rather clever, especially since it seems like no outlet is going to give me a HD version of With Six You Get Eggroll. I’ll manage, but I believe film libraries should be presented in their entirety. On Moonlight Bay isn’t a great film, but it’s a solid look at an emerging talent.
We watch films like On Moonlight Bay to see early choices by our favorite stars. Why did they sing that song in such a way. Could they have played better off a different leading man? Were the source stories really that popular? All these questions and more will never get answered. But, it’s fun to speculate.
Warner Archive brings On Moonlight Bay to Blu-ray with a handful of special features. I love how Warner Archive has been knocking out of the ballpark with special features recently. You get a vintage musical short featuring music from the film. Plus, you get a classic cartoon and a trailer. The A/V Quality is stunning, so we included screenshots for you to check how the disc looks. Plus, that DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is period appropriate yet is properly mixed. I’d recommend a purchase to Doris Day fans.