Tuneful follow-up to the very popular "On Moonlight Bay...
In the annual Quigley Poll of the top ten box-office attractions in America conducted at the end of 1952, Doris Day was determined to be the top money-making female star in films. "By the Light of the Silvery Moon", released in 1953, was her first film release after achieving that honor. "Moon" 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 5th and final on-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 see 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.
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 and 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 Griffin a contract at Warners, which launched his 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.
A warm, good-natured comedy of nostalgia...
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.
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.
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.
Tomboyish Marjorie of "On Moonlight Bay" has now been replaced by a Hollywood star...
"Doris Day doesn't seem too comfortable here, which is surprising considering how manic she appears throughout the early scenes. Reverting to uncharacteristic mugging, the earlier sweet, innocent, yet tomboyish Marjorie of On Moonlight Bay has now been replaced by a Hollywood star who's all too aware that the focus is strictly on her. It's not that Day is offensive in the role, like some Hollywood diva; quite the opposite. She's so determined to be "fresh" and "carefree" and "bright," that she tilts her performance uncomfortably into broadness. MacRae, who has less to do here than he did in the first film, doesn't look especially thrilled to be here, either. DeCamp and Ames are fine, but they merely serve as backdrops in By the Light of the Silvery Moon; they don't feel too integral to the plot. And that's a shame, because most of the delight that came from the first film emanated from that family feeling so carefully crafted in On Moonlight Bay. Whereas that film felt genuine and alive within its fantasy studio recreation, By the Light of the Silvery Moon feels mechanical and rote.
On its own (and if you never saw the first film), the sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, is a pleasant, if totally innocuous, lightweight musical. But in comparison to its predecessor On Moonlight Bay, it suffers quite a bit. Day is strangely off in her performance, and the story is nothing but a retread of the better On Moonlight Bay. Still, if you're going to revisit these nostalgic musicals, you could do worse than By the Light of the Silvery Moon -- and that ending certainly sent people out with a glow. I recommend By the Light of the Silvery Moon." - DVD Talk