The film that made Doris Day a household name
By the time of this film’s release in 1951, moviegoers were assured that a Doris Day film would be good family fare. Day’s voice was part of her tremendous appeal, and her ability to be both sexy and a regular gal appealed to both men and women. Day was different from most screen actresses: she was independent and portrayed women who were ambitious, employed, and self-sufficient.
In Lullaby of Broadway she plays Melinda Howard, an aspiring singer-dancer who arrives in New York after a long absence to pay a surprise visit to her mother. Having received deceptive letters over the years, Melinda doesn’t know that her mother, once a top Broadway star, is now an alcoholic has-been singing in a Greenwich Village dive. Gladys George brilliantly portrays the mother, Jessica Howard, who has tried to protect her daughter from her own misfortune.
Melinda is befriended by Lefty Mack (Billy DeWolfe) and Gloria Davis (Anne Triola), and by their employer, Adolph Hubbell (S Z ‘Cuddles’ Sakall), who also conspire to protect her from learning the truth about her mother. Although Hubbell is the real owner of a huge home, Melinda is led to believe that he is merely renting it while her mother is on tour. He takes an instant liking to Melinda and, unbeknownst to his wife, allows her to stay in the servants’ quarters.
At one of Hubbell’s parties, Melinda and dancer Tom Farnham (Gene Nelson) entertain the guests and she subsequently falls in love with him. The two begin rehearsals for a show, Lullaby of Broadway, which Hubbell is producing. Hubbell’s wife, gruffly portrayed by Florence Bates, is unaware that Melinda is staying in the house, but becomes suspicious that her husband is seeing another woman. Rumors of an affair between Hubbell and Melinda become public and lead to misunderstandings that are finally sorted out by the film’s end.
This is a musical comedy in which Doris Day is a delight, but she gets the chance to do some dramatic acting as well. The reunion scene with her mother is very touching. Day looks spectacular in Technicolor and has big close-ups in this tender scene. Gladys George breaks your heart when she tearfully tells Day’s character, “It’s tough being a mother after all these years. I guess I need a couple more rehearsals.”
Day, in top hat and tails, opens the picture with the wonderful Cole Porter song Just One of Those Things. What a great number! The number she and Nelson perform at the party to the Harry Warren/Al Dubin song, You’re Getting to be a Habit with Me, is charming and showcases the dancing talents of both Day and Nelson.
At rehearsals for the Broadway show, they sing and dance to Somebody Loves Me (music by George Gershwin) and to I Love the Way You Say Goodnight. The latter routine is partially shot in slow motion, an interesting touch rarely seen in musicals, and is beautifully edited. It allows one to see how flexible and acrobatic Nelson and Day are. Nelson does a high-stepping, high-kicking routine of Zing Went the Strings of My Heart, which shows why he was the Gene Kelly of Warner Brothers. The best is saved for last. The great title tune is sung and danced on a steep flight of stairs by Nelson in tails and Day in a gold lame gown and mink stole. It’s one of the best musical numbers in Warner history.
Although the later Calamity Jane is the picture credited with making Day a film superstar, Lullaby of Broadway must be credited for helping to make her a household name. Around the period of the film’s release, she was constantly on the record charts with big hits like A Guy is a Guy, When I Fall in Love, and Shanghai. When she wasn’t in front of the movie cameras, she was in the recording studio or posing for fan magazine photos. Immediately after the release of this film, she married her agent, Marty Melcher, and he became her manager.
Ralph McKnight, New York
I thought this movie was fabulous. Have never seen it before. Am a big Doris Day fan and never even knew she was a dancer. Especially loved the dance sequences and the beautiful clothes she wore. Of course in most of her movies she was impeccably dressed. Such a beautiful lady.” – Evie, TCM
“Miss Day, it might be added, is a pert performer, who, at this point, does not have to prove her right to sing a song. Though she is no Eleanor Powell, Miss Day, who wears a resplendent set of clothes, has learned to dance effectively too. And, she very competently cuts several neat capers with Nelson. He, too, is engaging as a singer and the pair make the finale, Lullaby of Broadway, an eye-filling event. S Z Sakall is on hand as the millionaire, who likes to invest in such insecure things as a Broadway musical called, oddly enough, Lullaby of Broadway. Although he has few bright lines to utter, his face does continuously quiver and his eyes do roll with excitement. And, some people like that.” – New York Times
Most musicals live or die by their musical numbers, and this is especially true with The Lullaby of Broadway. Not that Lullaby doesn’t have a story; there’s plenty of plot here, but not really any plot development. Instead, the details of the plot are dispensed within as few lines as possible, to make room for the next big socko number.
This skimpy approach also leads to a lack of character development, which would be less of a problem if the songs were geared toward filling in the blanks. Instead, they’re mostly geared toward entertaining the viewer – and Lullaby is lucky that the songs do this so darn well! From the title song to Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone to Somebody Loves Me, there’s nary a clunker in the bunch.
And since they’re performed by the delectable Doris Day and the affable Gene Nelson, most viewers will be willing to forgive Lullaby its many shortcomings. Certainly Day is in top form, loaded with charm and innocence and full of delightful voice, and Nelson, Gladys George, S Z Sakall, and the rest of the cast provide wonderful support. For totally mindless entertainment, Lullaby is choice! – Craig Butler – allmovie.com