Miss Day is back…
Doris Day didn’t spend her entire career at Warner Bros. She also made a few movies at MGM, and one of them was 1966’s The Glass Bottom Boat. Oh golly, this is a good movie for April first, although it’s not Miss Doris’s best. Strangely…appropriate.
Jenny Nelson (Doris Day) works for a Los Angeles aerospace company, but she also plays a mermaid on the weekends for her dad’s glass bottom boat tours off the coast of Catalina Island. She’s a widow with a dog, Vladimir, tropical fish, a toucan, and a myna bird who works so much that she calls home just to give her dog some exercise (He runs around barking like mad when the phone rings and it drives the neighbors crazy.).
Her main thing in life is keeping busy. Jenny’s a widow and not ready to move on, so she works like fury and takes night classes. Then one weekend she’s doing her mermaid gig when she gets caught by a fishing hook and has a few awkward minutes with a guy on a boat before swimming off without her mermaid tail.
That might seem like the end of things, but in a movie like this it never is, and, funny thing, the fisherman turns out to be Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor), the president of NASA division she works for. He’s developing an anti-gravitational device called GISMO. He needs a biographer, and Jenny, as a member of the public relations department, fits the bill nicely. Well, that and Bruce wants to be with her, a scheme he secretly nicknames “Operation Venus.” He’s very scientific about the whole thing, including a Venn diagram, so yeah, he’s done this before.
Bruce and Jenny get along swimmingly, and even drive his remote control motor boat out to see Janny’s dad, Axel (Arthur Godfrey), and her stepmom out on Catalina, where Axel plays his ukelele and they have a grand singalong (including a bit of Doris Day’s signature song, “Que, Sera, Sera.” Jenny starts to think there might be life after her sainted husband.
Then CIA agents show up because there are security risks associated with GISMO. Certain people want the equation that makes it work. Bruce keeps the equation in his head and in two different vaults, but these CIA agents insinuate that Jenny might be after the formula. Bruce is tortured by the idea of Jenny being a spy, and pictures her as Mata Hari, up to her dramatic execution.
Things will come to light, or at least appear to, and there may or may not be a certain amount of trolling. Put it this way: When Jenny gets mad she doesn’t take anything lying down.
The Glass Bottom Boat has a lot going for it. It’s got the classic mistaken identity trope. It’s got Paul Lynde, George Tobias and Alice Pearce of Bewitched fame, it’s got Arthur Godfrey, a talk show host who found and trained potential stars. It’s got Dom DeLuise playing handyman-with-a-secret Julius. It’s got tons of gadgets, including an automatic vacuum that picks up everything in sight. It’s got the Soviets looking foolish because Cold War. And of course it’s got Doris Day, who is her usual wonderful self. She doesn’t do a whole lot of singing in the movie, but she gets to flex her comedic muscles and seemed to be having a good time.
The film wasn’t Day’s first at MGM, or with Rod Taylor, but it was her first with director Frank Tashlin, who, according to TCM, loved skewering current culture. His biggest claim to fame was working with Jerry Lewis, a guy who’s impossible to forget.
Rod Taylor enjoyed working with Day. In an interview, he said, “I’ll tell you this much about Doris Day: I love that girl! She’s one of the greatest pros I’ve ever worked with…The studio seems to think we have a sort of… chemistry. Anyway, they’ve thought enough of us to team us in another picture called The Glass Bottom Boat.”
It might seem odd, seeing as this is for a Doris Day blogathon, but I prefer Miss Doris’s other films (especially The Pajama Game). The Glass Bottom Boat is a fun movie that doesn’t quite come together, and one reason is the schtick can get repetitious. There are a lot of scenes when someone gets wet, or gets their foot caught in something, or loses an article of clothing. Like poor Jenny. She loses her mermaid’s tail and then loses two of her shoes.The first time something happens it’s cute and all, but after a while it gets old. Jenny’s award-winning banana creme cake never gets eaten, just thrown or stepped on or burned.
I started groaning about halfway though. I couldn’t help it. I enjoyed The Glass Bottom Boat, Doris Day is a fun lady, and her wardrobe is fabulous, but I liked it better when they kept things simple instead of resorting to too many sight gags. The verbal comedy in the movie is on point. Some of the nicest scenes were when Bruce and Jenny were just talking and getting to know each other.
It could be my Americanism talking, though, because even in the sixties, Americans were meh about Boat, or anything remotely connected to Jerry Lewis, even by association. The French, on the other hand, who are famously avid Jerry Lewis fans, went at the film like cats to tunafish, and The Glass Bottom Boat turned a healthy profit for MGM.
The key with this film seems to be to not take it too seriously at any time. Just let it roll its way along and try not to question too much. It might not be Day’s best, depending on who’s asked, but there’s enjoyment to be had.
For more of the wonderful Doris Day, please see Michaela at Love Letters To Old Hollywood. Thanks again for hosting this, Michael–it was a blast! Thanks for reading, all, and see you on Wednesday with a new Page To Screen…
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