Take a sail on Moonlight Bay – you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy the trip
By 1951 Doris Day had become one of the most valuable assets at Warner Brothers. She was their number one female box-office draw and as a follow-up to her hugely popular 1950 musical with Gordon MacRae, Tea for Two, the pair was teamed up again (their 3rd teaming in fact) in the technicolor On Moonlight Bay. Loosely based on the Penrod tales by Booth Tarkington, Bay is a nostalgic, lovingly created look at small town Americana, a world that might not have existed quite as it is depicted but a place we’d like to believe really was.
Doris Day is a tomboy, more at home on the baseball field or fixing a car than in a dress. The arrival of the boy next door changes some of that, though not all. Her precocious brother Wesley is the devil incarnate. Mom and Dad spend a lot of time scratching their heads in bemused wonderment at their youngsters’ antics, and the family maid is irascible but likeable. It’s all tied up with gorgeous technicolor photography and a lot of lovely music. Some critics have carped that it’s Warner’s version of Meet Me in St. Louis but On Moonlight Bay can stand on its own merits thanks to a great cast and some genuinely sweet and funny moments.
Doris is perfect as Marjorie, effectively balancing the tomboy and blossoming young lady elements of her character and singing in that gorgeous voice that is distinctly her own. Gordon MacRae is stalwart as the object of her affection and it’s obvious that the two have a genuine feeling for one another. They remained good friends until his untimely passing. Their rendition of Till We Meet Again is outstanding.
It’s easy to believe that the cast is really a family. Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp as the parents are warmly winning. In 1984 I had the pleasure of joining Miss DeCamp and her husband, a retired California judge at an awards dinner. We talked about this film, among others, and she glowed as she discussed the on-set atmosphere and interactions of the cast.
Billy Gray (of Father Knows best fame) is delightful and funny as Wesley, and who could have played the family maid better than Mary Wickes? This was the first of four on-screen roles opposite Day who would become a lifelong friend. Wickes did a very funny guest shot on Day’s CBS Television series in 1969.
On Moonlight Bay was such a huge success for Warners that two years later they reteamed most of the cast for an equally popular sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon. Take a sail on Moonlight Bay and you’ll be surprised at how much you enjoy the trip.
Paul E Brogan
“December 2012 sees London’s BFI Southbank pay tribute to a true cinematic icon and all-round American sweetheart, Doris Day. The actress (now in her 90th year) was the quintessential girl next door of the age, and enjoyed an unparalleled run of hits for a female star in the fifties and sixties, even causing the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock, to cast her against type in his classic 1956 thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much. Her star was firmly on the ascend, however, when she starred in Roy Del Ruth’s ultra homey coming-of-age musical romance On Moonlight Bay, all the way back in 1951… Over 60 years since its initial release, On Moonlight Bay remains a fun and charming snapshot of classic Hollywood, and more than adequately illustrates why Day is deserving of this retrospective.” – BFI London
“Doris Day perfectly portrays her character’s try-hard efforts to come off as a “proper lady” when she’d much rather be playing baseball. It’s easy to forget that she’s Doris Day and instead see her as a girl who is completely out of her element when she goes on a date with William for the first time.
Doris also does a great job of squashing her chemistry with the other actors who portray her “gentleman callers” in the film. She seems completely preoccupied by William, which certainly adds to the film’s believability, making her chemistry with MacRae stand out and in turn making the viewer become emotionally invested in them as a couple.
The film’s sense of fun is bolstered by the use of a silent black and white portion around the 50 minute mark followed by a kooky dream sequence. The short, silent portion of the film is an unexpected and clever inclusion to what would have already been a highly enjoyable film, making me like On Moonlight Bay even more.” – The Motion Pictures Net
“Outstanding performances by Doris Day and Gordon MacRae as the boy and girl, Leon Ames as the father and Billy Gray as the irrepressible 12-year-old, keep the somewhat episodic plot moving. The story is based partly on Booth Tarkington’s Penrod stories. It is concerned principally with the young girl’s emergence to womanhood with her first beau, the college lad from across the street, obstacles to the romance, including father and younger brother, and the final triumph of young love when the boy goes off to war.
Festooned around the simple story is a series of episodes, which create authentic pictures of small town family life of the era. The mood and the authenticity are maintained by Roy del Ruth’s direction and in particular by the careful and completely detailed settings. Production was by William Jacobs.” – Motion Picture Herald
Doris Day sings Till We Meet Again:
“Doris Day’s third film that year, On Moonlight Bay, is one of the movies for which she is most fondly remembered. Extremely successful at the time of its release, it confirmed Day’s popularity with moviegoers. She won the Photoplay Gold Medal Award for her role in the film, an award bestowed at that time by the readers of Photoplay magazine who would cast their votes annually for their favorite male and female star performances.” – Derald Hendry
“The passage from carefree tomboy to boy-crazy young girl connected with female adolescents in the audience. Day may have been the girl next door, but even the girl next door had to grow up, leave home, and get married. There is a kernel of truth in the romanticized puberty rites Day undergoes in On Moonlight Bay. The very fact that she suffered through this transitional period in a girl’s life separates her immediately from the sex goddesses with whom she was contemporaneous.” – George Morris, Dons Day (book)
“Day and MacRae are a magical pairing. Day, literally bursting with vitality on the screen (she’s so damn healthy-looking here!) looks almost like a poster for the wholesome, fresh all-American girl-next-door who was the ideal of millions of young men in 1951 America. Her singing is pure and unadulterated, and her thesping has become noticeably more matured and skilled. MacRae, handsome and energetic, strikes just the right note of contrariness that attracts Day, as well as the leading man qualities and smooth singing style that’s required of the role.
Enough can’t be said about the supporting actors in the Winfield household. Billy Gray, nicely effective as the boy’s boy Wesley, provides a lot of the comedy relief in On Moonlight Bay (his wheezing bit is quite humorous), as does Mary Wickes as the waspish, nosey housekeeper Stella. Worthy of a film of their own, pros Leon Ames and Rosemary DeCamp are the perfect loving father and mother, with excellent chemistry together. The songs, including the title theme, are lovingly recreated and smoothly delivered by Day at the peak of her singing powers.
For pure, unadulterated fantasy nostalgia, On Moonlight Bay is about as perfect a musical vehicle as you can find. Doris Day and Gordon MacRae are an inspired teaming, and the smart, witty script makes sure to wink at you now and then, and let you in on the joke. I highly recommend On Moonlight Bay. “- DVD Talk