Doris Day Makes Paris, Paree
According to many critics, April in Paris is a minor Doris Day musical. Some felt that her co-star, Ray Bolger, was not a suitable leading man and that Fred Astaire would have been more appropriate. I disagree, not because I don’t think Day and Astaire would have been wonderful together, but because I like Bolger so much. He was one of the five or six best male dancers the movies have ever known. True, he was no Rock Hudson or John Gavin in the looks department, but neither was Astaire.
Released in 1952, this Warner Brothers production was popular with audiences and gained favorable reviews for Day and Bolger. This was the third time that a Doris Day film was the studio’s highest in annual grosses. The picture had a sparkling score, including Day’s heartfelt reading of the classic title tune by Vernon Duke and EY Harburg from 1932.
In Washington, DC, an invitation intended for legendary actress Ethel Barrymore to represent the US at an international festival of in Paris is addressed instead to Ethel Jackson (Day), a chorus girl who is appearing in a Broadway musical. The mistake was made by S Winthrop Putnam (Bolger), a low-level assistant in the State Department. Anxious to right the wrong, he rushes to New York to explain the mistake to Miss Jackson – but she is disappointed that she won’t be going to Paris and throws Putnam out.
On returning to Washington, Putnam discovers that news services have gotten hold of the story that Miss Jackson has been invited to represent the US in Paris. Telegrams from all over America have poured in, expressing approval that a relative unknown is being given this opportunity. Putnam can see his star rising after having spent years in his lowly position. It isn’t easy, but he convinces Ethel to accept the offer of a trip to Paris.
Ethel is traveling with a distinguished group of intellectuals who are mortified at her cultural inadequacies. To impress people, she is given the task of conjugating French verbs and is aided by a waiter, Philippe (Claude Dauphin), who invites her to the ship’s dance. Much to the consternation of the highbrows in her delegation, she accepts his invitation.
Putnam has begun to fall in love with Ethel, which makes for complications since he is engaged to Marcia (Eve Miller), the daughter of his boss. He finds Ethel and Philippe in the kitchen, where the entire staff of Frenchmen is showing her a good time. In this scene, Day and Bolger perform a rousing song and dance number, I’m Gonna Ring That Bell Tonight. Eager to encourage romance, a busboy poses as the ship’s captain and marries Ethel and Putnam. Philippe and a fellow waiter, participants in the deception, then take elaborate steps to prevent the couple from consummating their union.
Arriving in Paris, Putnam is surprised by Marcia, who has been curious about this chorus girl from the beginning. Thinking that he is married to Ethel, and fearing the ruination of his political career, he does not tell Marcia or her father about the marriage. This infuriates Ethel and hostility between her and Marcia mounts. It ends in a slugfest during the festival. Ultimately, thanks to Philippe, Ethel and Putnam are brought back together.
There is simply nothing wrong with this fluffy musical. It is a delight, mainly because of Day’s screen presence. That could make any film more interesting, and it certainly works here. No matter what film, she is mesmerizing to watch. And what a performer! She has a glorious voice and is a graceful dancer. The cinematography by Wilfred M Cline is right on target, and the staging by Leroy Prinz is among his best work. I seem to remember Day and Bolger dancing a ballet, but I think it was cut out in later printings.
Ralph McKnight, New York
Doris Day had this to say about working on April in Paris:
I never worked harder at anything than I did at the dances in the films. Hours and hours and hours. A film dancer does not have the freedom of a stage dancer. She must dance precisely to a mark. Her turns must be exact. She must face precisely in the camera direction required while executing very difficult steps. And to learn those steps!.. I would drag myself home at night, too tired to move another step, but I kept practicing in my head.” – Doris Day, Her Own Story
“As is customary in musicals of this kind, the story structure is of little consequence. Throughout there are dazzling dance numbers by Bolger, and joyous tunes by Miss Day. The proceedings throughout have been spiced with some excellent lines and satiric touches. Among the flock of songs in the picture are, It Must Be Good, That’s What Makes Paris, Paree, Give Me Your Lips, I Know a Place, I’m Gonna Ring the Bell Tonight, and April in Paris. William Jacobs produced and David Butler directed.” – Motion Picture Herald Review
“The score is a treat, with music by the great Vernon Duke and lyrics by Sammy Cahn and EY Harburg. Doris’ singing of the title song has an interesting melancholy note to it, but it is overshadowed by an exuberant and memorable dance number called I’m Gonna Ring That Bell Tonight, in which Bolger’s peculiar brand of humor and athleticism is on bright display. All in all, April in Paris was designed to meet the needs of Doris Day’s ever-growing legion of fans, and it did so, without going above and beyond the call of duty.” – Alan Gleb, The Doris Day Scrapbook
April in Paris boasts an enchanting score and Doris Day’s delicate phrasing of the title song imbues the lyric with a melancholy that is most affecting. The film’s musical highlight, I’m Gonna Ring the Bell Tonight, is a rollicking dance performed by Day and Bolger in the kitchen of the ocean liner. Even LeRoy Prinz seems to have been inspired by Duke’s music; it may well be the best number he ever staged”. – George Morris, Doris Day
In praise of Ray Bolger
“The first stars that come to mind when most people think of classic Hollywood male dancers are usually Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly… Then you have someone like Ray Bolger, one of my favorite hoofers, who is often forgotten or less appreciated.
Bolger is usually remembered as the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz. Another film you can see Bolger’s fancy footwork where he is not made up in so much make-up is April in Paris, which also stars Doris Day. In the film Doris Day plays a chorus girl who is selected to represent the United States at an art exposition in Paris, however, the invitation was intended for Ethel Barrymore, not Day’s character. Bolger plays a member of the State Department that made the mistake and tries desperately to correct it.
Although Doris Day is clearly the bigger star in this film, two of my favorite scenes are song and dance numbers featuring Bolger. One has Bolger imagining himself as President of the United States and in another he is drunk on champagne and dancing in the kitchen of an ocean liner.” – Robby Cress, April in Paris Film Locations