There is simply nothing wrong with this fluffy musical...
"April in Paris", according to most critics, is a minor Doris Day musical. Many 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 that Doris and Fred would have been wonderful together, but because I like Ray Bolger so much. He was one of the five or six best male dancers the movies have ever known. No, he was no Rock Hudson or John Gavin, in the looks department, but neither was Fred Astaire.
This Warner Brothers production was quite popular upon its release in 1952 and gained favourable reviews, personally for Miss Day and not bad ones for Mr. Bolger. It had a sparkling score and an incredible reading of the title tune by Doris Day, who managed a hit record out of the old classic.
In Washington, D.C. at the State Department, a cultural goof has occurred. Instead of sending an invitation to legendary actress, Ethel Barrymore to represent the United States in Paris at the International Festival of Arts, the solicitation is mailed to Ethel "Dynamite" Jackson, a beautiful, blond, chorus girl who is appearing in a musical on Broadway! The mistake was made by S. Winthrop Putnam, the Assistant Secretary to the Assistant to the Under-Secretary of State. His most recent task has been to retain Frenchman, Philippe Fouquet (Claude Dauphin) in America until the Treasury Department can figure out his back taxes. A stickler for details and regulations, it comes as quite a catastrophe when Putnam's mistake with Barrymore and Jackson is discovered.
Putnam, anxious to right the wrong, rushes to New York to explain the mistake to Miss Jackson (Doris Day). When he arrives at the Knickerbocker Theatre, "Dynamite Jackson" is centre stage singing "It Must Be Good". Putnam, a rather square, egghead type, is mesmerised by her performance and heads backstage after the show. The chorus girls throw a surprise going-away party for Dynamite during which, she cries and makes a speech which touches even Winthrop Putnam.
Putnam tells Ethel that a mistake has been made; that the letter meant for her concerned a work permit for her to appear in Canada and that the letter to represent the U.S.A. was supposed to be delivered to Miss Ethel Barrymore. Disappointed, Ethel berates and then throws Putnam out. She sings the plaintive ballad, "April in Paris" to express her sorrow.
On his return to Washington, Putnam is not prepared for the reaction from the Secretary of State about his mistake. Somehow, news services have gotten hold of the story regarding the invitation to Miss Jackson and telegrams from all over American have poured in expressing their approval that "one of the rank and file of citizens is being given this opportunity". Secretary Sherman (Paul Harvey) calls it a "stroke of genius". Upon hearing the news, Putnam can see his star rising after having spent 10 years in his lowly position. He sings and dances up a storm on the number, "Life Is Such A Pleasure". Now, Putnam has to return to New York to convince Ethel to re-accept the offer to fly to Paris. At first, she balks and threatens to burn him with a hot iron, but the thought of Paris and the sheer adventure changes her mind.
Travelling with Ethel is a distinguished, high brow group of intellectuals who are mortified at her cultural inadequacies. The Secretary insists that she learn etiquette so as to impress the French people. On board, she is given the task of conjugating French verbs and learning to behave properly. This bores Ethel who feels that she is being deprived the glory of this adventure. She is aided by Frenchman, Philippe, who, still out of funds, is working his way back to Paris as a waiter aboard the liner. "Working" is a euphemism for making love with various women aboard ship. You see, Philippe is "very French" and very married, but you would never know it by his behaviour. At dinner, Ethel's table manners are criticised by the Secretary, which infuriates her. When she is invited to the ship's dance by Philippe, the Secretary is appalled that she would entertain the thought of attending the dance with a waiter! She explodes by telling him, "That does it! Look, I didn't ask to come on this trip, I was invited. As a matter of fact, I was almost shanghaied. Well, I'm sorry if I'm lowering the tone of this pallbearer's convention, but I'm sick and tired of taking orders. And I'm not going to finish my dinner and I'm not going to go to my room, either!" Instead, she goes to the ship's dance with "waiter" Philippe, much to the consternation of her fellow delegation.
Putnam has begun to fall in love with Ethel, which brings on complications since he is engaged to the Secretary's daughter (Eve Miller). Sorry that he did not stand up for Ethel during the Secretary's verbal assault, he finds Ethel and Philippe in the kitchen where the entire staff of Frenchmen decide to show Ethel a good time. Ethel proceeds to sing "I'm Gonna Ring the Bell Tonight". Later joined in the kitchen by Putnam (who is tipsy) and "friendlier" and less formal (he even kisses Philippe) and proceeds to sing and dance like a hurricane. After the dance, he proposes to Ethel. They are "married" but cannot consummate their union due to the handy work of Philippe and a fellow waiter who know that the "captain" who married them was only a busboy.
Arriving in Paris, Putnam is surprised by his fiancée, Marcia, who has been curious about this chorus girl from the beginning. Still thinking that he is married to Ethel, he panics and does not tell Marcia or her father about the marriage for fear of ruining his political career. This, infuriates Ethel, of course, who has to stand silent while Marcia is all over Putnam. Hostility between Ethel and Marcia mount and ends in a slug-fest during the Festival.
Philippe informs Ethel that she and Putnam are not really married. Undaunted, she vows that she "came to Paris to have a good time and boy am I gonna have it". Sitting at a windy sidewalk cafe drinking wine, Philippe tries to console her by singing a comic, "April in Paris". Ethel confides in Philippe that she still loves Putnam and he promises her that she will not leave Paris without him. His plan is to obviously make S. Winthrop jealous. He arranges for Ethel to star at his nightclub and invites Putnam and party. To Putnam's surprise, "Dynamite" Jackson is the star attraction. It is her performance that convinces him to tell the truth to his fiancée. Ethel plays hard to get and leaves the theatre in hopes that he will follow her. He does, right to the door of Philippe Fouquet.
All is forgiven and we have the end of another Warner musical. There is simply nothing wrong with this fluffy musical. It was a delight mainly because of the screen presence of Doris Day. No matter what film, she was mesmerising to watch. And, what a performer! At the nightclub, she does a terrific number, "That's What Makes Paris, Paree" with Claude Dauphin. It's a good song, which showcases her glorious voice and features her grace as a dancer. The staging by Leroy Prinz was among his best work and the cinemaphotography by Wilfred M. Cline was right on target.
Doris Day's rendition of "April in Paris" was heartfelt and she sang it like she was living the lyric. I may be wrong, but I remember Doris and Ray dancing a "ballet" during "I Know A Place", but I think it was cut out in later printings. Also fun was "I'm Gonna Rock the Boat" during the kitchen scene. Doris got the opportunity to dance with one of the greats, Ray Bolger. Previously, of course, she danced with the marvellous, Gene Nelson. And, yes, it would have been historic if she had danced with Fred Astaire. During "Tunnel of Love" Day got the chance to dance with director, Gene Kelly.
This picture is not nearly as weak as critics would have you believe. Photoplay Magazine said "The warm presence and musical gifts of Doris Day and Ray Bolger breathe life into a flimsy farce plot and it's done so spontaneously that even the waits between numbers are easy to take". Variety said, "Miss Day's winning personality and pipes aid her character.." BoxOffice called it "bright and breezy fare" while The New York Times commented that "Miss Day puts her skill at rhythm singing to frequent and favourable use." A "bad musical?" Have you watched any of those awful 20th Century Fox or RKO disasters? As I said before, the presence of Doris Day could make any film more interesting, and it works here.
Ralph McKnight, New York, 2001
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
April in Paris Reviews
The title is derived from an international festival of the arts to be held in Paris. Through some State Department error a chorus cutie, Miss Day, received an invitation to the festival. Poor Bolger, the meek assistant secretary to the assistant to the Under-Secretary of State, is petrified by the error. However his boss considers it a calculated stroke of the pompous US officials and thus farcical complications develop. 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. As an added comic touch there is woven into the story the plight of Claude Dauphin. As a Parisian entertainer who has gone broke in the U. S. he finds himself in the embarrassing position of having to work his way back to France as a ship's waiter.
In time Bolger falls in love with Miss Day. But here lies the problem, since he already is engaged to the boss' daughter, Eve Miller. Jealousy flares fitfully and turbulent between the two women. Complications go on and on, nip and tuck, until finally Bolger and Miss Day marry. As scriptwriters Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson have worked it out, this marks the second time the pair goes through the marriage ceremony. Previously, George Givot, a prankish busboy who was in the captain's quarters stealing liquor, performed the wedding rite in order to carry through his disguise. The proceedings throughout have been spiced with some excellent lines and satiric touches. Among the flock of songs in the picture, besides the title one, 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." William Jacobs produced and David Butler directed. - Motion Picture Herald Review
"From the studios of the Warner Bros. Have come, down through the years, a lengthy parade of sparkling romantic musicals, a substantial proportion of which have done right well as popular and profitable box-office attractions. This one-boasting such assets as Technicolor, toe-tapping tunes and the marquee garnishment supplied through the teaming of Doris Day and Ray Bolger is ably equipped to exert appeal to those customers for whom mirth-and-melody offerings as prime draws. Under David Butler's expert direction, the feature unfolds as bright and breezy fare. The title, score and Day-Bolger teaming should provide a solid anchor for merchandising the film, and there are other obvious exploitation possibilities which can be put to use in stimulating trade-among them, of course, the femme topliner's current rating as one of the nation's most popular recording thrushes. Produced by William Jacobs." - BoxOfffice Magazine review
"The score is a treat, with music by the great Vernon Duke and lyrics by Sammy Cahn and E. Y. "Yip" Harburg. Doris's 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 humour and athleticism is on bright display. All in all, April was designed to meet the needs of Doris's ever-growing legion of fans, and it did so, without going above and beyond the call of duty." - From the Doris Day Scrapbook, by Alan Gelb
"April in Paris" boasts an enchanting score by Vernon Duke, with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and Sammy Cahn. 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 for his performance as the Scarecrow in the 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 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."