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Doris Day debuts in “Romance on the High Seas”

Updated: Feb 13, 2021


Band singer Doris Day made her Hollywood debut in the musical comedy Romance on the High Seas.

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Blu-Ray; 1948; Not Rated

Best extra(s): “Hare Splitter,” a Bugs Bunny cartoon; and a Vintage Musical Short

THERE’S NO DOUBT Doris Day is the star of Warner Brothers’ light-hearted musical comedy “Romance on the High Seas.

It was her film debut. The role was originally offered to Judy Garland, but negotiations fell through. Next up was Betty Hutton who had to drop out when she learned she was pregnant. Filming was about to begin and directors Michael Curtiz and Busby Berkeley (musical numbers) were frantic. According to TCM, the film’s songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn nominated band singer Doris Day, 23, having heard her sing at a Hollywood party.

“The one radio voice I listened to above others belonged to Ella Fitzgerald. There was a quality to her voice that fascinated me, and I’d sing along with her [on the radio] trying to catch the subtle ways she shaded her voice, the casual yet clean way she sang the words.” — Doris Day describing her style as per biographer A.E. Hotchner

Day, in the middle of her second divorce, was going through a rough time. But she had a name of her own as a recording star with the success of “Sentimental Journey.” She had also worked with Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Les Brown, an American jazz musician and bandleader. She arrived at her audition without fanfare or fuss with her young son, Terry, but broke into tears during “Embraceable You.” Told the director wanted a girl who could bounce around and sing, she replied, “I don’t bounce around. I just sing.” Curtiz, director of “Casablanca,” “White Christmas,” and “Yankee Doody Dandy” among other favorites, hired her on the spot. He said he liked that “she was honest” and “looked like the all-American girl.”

(1) “Romance on the High Seas” was filmed in the three-strip Technicolor format. (2) Newlyweds Michael and Elvira Kent, played by Don DeFore and Janis Paige. (3) Band singer Georgia Garrett (Doris Day) just happens to be at the travel agency when Elvira Kent books her cruise to Rio de Janeiro. (3) Mrs. Kent questions Mr. Kent's new secretary.


Co-star Jack Carson, character actor and the film’s romantic lead, befriended Day. He played – and was known as – the Hollywood “nice guy,” who worked in dozens of films and TV episodes including “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (1958), “Arsenic and Old Lace” (1944), “Mildred Pierce” (1945), and “A Star is Born” (1954).

“Whenever I remember Doris Day’s roles … it is as one of the few movie heroines who had to work for a living.” — Molly Haskell, Village Voice critic

Ohio-born Day became a huge star. “It’s Magic,” the film’s Oscar-nominated hit, became her signature song. She became America’s sweetheart with a string of hit films, “The Glass Bottom Boat” (1966), “Pillow Talk” (1959), “Calamity Jane” (1953) and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” (1956), directed by Alfred Hitchcock and co-starring Jimmy Stewart. Her TV series, “The Doris Day Show,” ran from 1968 to 1973. She became the top female box office draw of the 20th century and was awarded a Career Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association in 2011. Her films of the 1950s-60s were among the top-grossing movies of the time. Still, most of the Hollywood elite considered her a lightweight.

Not so, critic Molly Haskell wrote in Variety for her obituary. Haskell considered Day, who died at 97, “ahead of her time as an often underappreciated feminist trailblazer.” She was as good at drama as comedy. Yet despite her sunny film image – a persona Day worked hard to achieve – her personal life was often tragic. She married four times. Her third husband left her bankrupt at his death; Day always insisted he had been duped by his partner. Her son, music producer and songwriter Terry Melcher, died of melanoma in 2004. She made headlines in 1986 when she welcomed her friend and frequent co-star Rock Hudson on her CBN show, “Doris Day’s Best Friends.” A closeted gay man, Hudson showed the first public symptoms of AIDS, known then as the Gay Plague, on television. He put a face on the disease and, embraced by his friend, began to help remove its stigma. Day later said, “He was very sick. But I just brushed that off and I came out and put my arms around him and said, ‘Am I glad to see you.’” Despite the series’ popularity, CBN canceled her show. Hudson died a year later.

(1) Oscar Levant could do it all: Concert pianist, composer, comedian, and actor. He plays Georgia's friend and piano player, Oscar Farrar. (2) Elvira and Michael Kent kiss goodbye before her cruise to South America, while Uncle Lazlo Lazlo (S.Z. Sakall) looks on. (3) Georgia is paid handsomely to be Mrs. Kent. She meets private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) at first night dinner. (4) Georgia sings with the Page Cavanaugh Trio.


Eventually, despite film offers from directors such as Clint Eastwood, Doris Day retired from film, and concentrated on her interests as an animal welfare activist. A posthumous auction of her belongings in April 2020 earned $3 million for the Doris Day Animal Foundation.


Newlyweds Michael and Elvira Kent, played by Don DeFore and Janis Paige, who would go on to co-star with Doris Day in “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies” (1960), love each other, but have roving eyes. Michael’s head turns for good looking women, while Elvira checks out handsome men. Each doubt the other’s fidelity, although Uncle Lazlo Lazlo (S.Z. Sakall of “Casablanca”) is fairly certain each are faithful.

Three years later after no honeymoon, Elvira books an ocean voyage to Rio de Janeiro. Michael again begs off for business reasons. Angry Elvira decides to go without him. Each hoping to catch the other in an indiscretion, Michael hires private detective Peter Virgil (Jack Carson) to check on his wife. Meanwhile, Elvira convinces band singer Georgia Garrett (Day) to pose as herself on the ship, while she secretly remains behind with Uncle Lazlo to investigate the relationship between Michael and his gorgeous new secretary.

Georgia becomes immediately attracted to Peter, and vice-versa. Meanwhile, Georgia’s friend Oscar Farrar (Oscar Levant of “An American in Paris,” 1951) follows her on board. Along with “It’s Magic,” songs include “I’m in Love,” “Put ‘em in a Box, Tie ‘em with a Ribbon (and Throw ‘em in the Deep Blue Sea),” “It’s You or No One,” “The Tourist Trade,” “Run, Run, Run” and “She’s a Latin from Manhattan.”

Everyone ends up with who they’re supposed to be with after 99 minutes of daffy musical comedy romance.

(1)Trinidad performer Sir Lancelot sings and dances for "The Tourist Trade" during aport of call. (2&3) Georgia quickly becomes attracted to Peter, and vice-versa. Her singing talent is a hit during the cruise.



The Warner Archive Collection provides another picture-perfect 1080p (aspect ratio 1.37:1) disc. Sourced from the original nitrate three-strip Technicolor negatives was remastered to a new 4K restoration. Technicolor is a classic Hollywood bonus, with its vivid color from soft blush to brilliant blues, reds and white, and exacting detail. Contrast is very good, and skin tones natural showing fine lines and freckles, but maintaining the look of Hollywood glamour. Milo Anderson, costume designer for the 1938 “The Adventures of Robin Hood,” “Captain Blood” (1935), and “To Have and Have Not” (1944), provides lots of fashionable eye candy from suits to gowns.

The film is said to be shot on location in Colombia and Brazil, but mostly appears to be filmed at Stage 28, Warner Brothers Burbank Studios in California. There’s no genuine sense of location, but that’s all right. “Romance on the High Seas” is more fantasy than reality.


A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack delivers clear dialogue, effects, and musical numbers. It’s a fine showcase for songwriters Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, Doris Day, the Samba Kings and specialty singer Sir Lancelot. Instrumentals were composed by Ray Heindorf and Oscar Levant, who plays Oscar Farrar in the film. SDH subtitles are also provided.


In addition to the trailer which shows the outstanding upgrade, find “Hare Splitter,” a Bugs Bunny cartoon; and a vintage musical short, “Let’s Sing a Song from the Movies.”

Described as a “pastel pleasure cruise,” “Romance on the High Seas,” originally titled “Romance in High C,” is a ball. Doris Day shows off what will become her trademark gifts; an ability to create great chemistry with co-stars, a talent for delivering laughs and charm, and her winning singing voice. Everyone in the film looks like they’re having a great time. Chances are, you will, too.

— Kay Reynolds

(1-3) Elvira loses her cool, and so does Michael. But both enjoy a happy new beginning by the end of the cruise. (4) In the tradition of classic movie musicals, so do Peter and Georgia. 




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