Bathing in nostalgic warmth and a technicolor glow
In the annual Quigley Poll of the top 10 box-office US stars at the end of 1952, Doris Day was named top money-making female star. By the Light of the Silvery Moon, 1953, was her first film release after achieving that position. The film was a deserved success and certainly worthy of Day’s position within the industry at that time.
By the Light of the Silvery Moon is the tuneful follow-up to the very popular 1951 hit for Warner Brothers, On Moonlight Bay. Like its predecessor, it recalls another time and place in America, directly after World War I, bathing it in a nostalgic warmth and glow in stunning technicolor and reassembling most of the cast from the earlier film.
The characters and story are very loosely based on the Penrod series of stories written by Booth Tarkington. Marjorie and Bill, the sweethearts of the piece, are played by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae, in their fifth and final screen pairing. They harmonize beautifully and play their scenes with genuine and totally unaffected warmth and believability. Watching Day, it’s easy to see why she held the lofty position within the industry that she held for so long. Her natural likeability and never cloying manner are soothing and when she sings, as she does frequently, one is transported to a safe and comfortable haven. The songs include the title tune, If You Were the Only Girl in the World, and Ain’t We Got Fun to name but a few.
Doris Day sings Ain’t We Got Fun:
The remaining members of Marjorie’s family are back from the earlier effort and seem to be more a family than ever before. Leon Ames is part bluster/part patriarch, while Rosemary DeCamp, as usual, is better than much of the material Hollywood generally gave her to work with. Billy Gray is appropriately rowdy but skillfully avoiding the obnoxious elements as Wesley. Mary Wickes, as she is prone to do, shines in every scene she plays, a natural treasure as one of the most unique character actresses in film history.
If you look quickly in the beautifully staged skating sequence near the film’s conclusion, you’ll spot Merv Griffin talking through a megaphone and urging everyone to skate with their sweetheart. Doris Day was responsible for getting band singer Griffin a contract at Warner’s, which launched his film career. In 1970, she made her first ever talk show appearance on his program.
By the Light of the Silvery Moon is as substantial as a Hallmark Card brought to life but thanks to a fine cast headed by Day, who smoothly mixes the various facets of her character, some great tunes, a lightweight plot that never gets in the way of the music, and some fine Warner Brothers production values, it works.
By the final credits you care so much about these characters that you almost wish Warner Brothers had done one more chapter to the story. The light in this moon certainly becomes everyone involved.
Paul E Brogan
Hollywood Reporter: By the Light of the Silvery Moon is a warm, good-natured comedy of nostalgia that pleasantly combines charm, music and humour to an entertaining degree. Miss Day is thoroughly charming in the feminine lead and seems to sing better than ever, which is saying a lot for the always good singing star.
Film Bulletin: The story of young love, complicated by a bringing-up-father theme, is routine, and has been given the tried-and-true domestic treatment. But by setting it in the convivial atmosphere of the era following World War I, and sprinkling it with tunes from the good old days, a pleasing musical resulted. Doris Day gives her typical bright and refreshing performance, and, as always her vocals are mighty pleasing to the ear.
Wesley is their second child. If he had been the first, there never would have been a second!” – Stella (Mary Wickes)
“It’s Billy Gray who provides most of the laughs in this one, and he’s pretty good. Unable to bear the thought of eating his pet turkey for thanksgiving, Wesley steals the turkey of his father’s boss and hides his own, only for it to come flying into the dining room during the meal. It’s quite a funny incident but, worryingly, we never see the bird again. Wesley also likes to play detective, and wrings some honest laughs out of the scene in which he pays a visit on a French actress he believes is having an affair with his father.
Doris Day provides the music and the perky energy. She’s quite exhausting at times, but looks fairly cute in that your-best-friend’s-older-sister way that she played on until she was well into her thirties. MacRae, as her fiance, has a strong voice and clean-cut looks to match, but his features are a little bland and, outside of a handful of musicals, he never really carved out a career for himself in Hollywood. Today, he’s almost forgotten as a 50s movie star. Leon Ames, who plays the kindly father who never quite seems to know quite what is going on in his household, always provided value for money and, while he isn’t given too many opportunities to shine, makes the most of the chances he does get.
You don’t have to have seen the first film to watch this sequel, but if the first film is as good as or better than this one then they would make a pretty good double bill. After you’ve watched them you can gather your family around the piano and sing By the Light of the Silvery Moon, and If You Were the Only Girl in the World – like Doris and Gordon.” – 20/20 Movie Reviews
Movie reviewer Leonard Maltin: Ames is wonderful as father thought to be romancing French actress, and Wickes is delightful as family maid. Blockbuster Entertainment Guide to Movies and Videos (1997) describes the film as a nostalgic family musical with cheerful Americana, nicely served by adorable leads and excellent supporting cast.
New York Herald Tribune: The movie is a spun-sugar musical, prettily pink to go with the season of bunnies, lilies and new bonnets, generous-looking in Technicolor. The blonde and energetic Miss Day is at her best when she winds up for a song, and she certainly does justice to the musical material in between the romantic tiffs which are her role in this movie.
Variety: The entertainment is excellent, the star names of Doris Day and Gordon MacRae good. Miss Day and MacRae make a strong pairing to put over the romantic, comedic and musical moments of the film.
Screenland: As harmless as tiddly winks and as gay as its Technicolor lensing, this Doris Day-Gordon MacRae starrer continues the small town Americana pattern established in On Moonlight Bay. Lots of fun, with a spoof and a song evident in David Butler’s directing.