Take a sail on Moonlight Bay and 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 were 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 erascible but likeable. It's all tied up with gorgeous technicolor photography and a lot of lovely music. Some critics have carped that it's Warners 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 and we talked about this film among others and she glowed as she discussed the on-set atmosphere and interactions of the cast.
Bill 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 was a lifelong friend. In addition 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 Brogan, December 2001
The result is close to what the arty critics might call 'corn' but it is a prime example of the family picture...
The familiar combination of song and sentiment is given a shiny production polish to make Warner Bros. Technicolor package “On Moonlight Bay” an attractive package. The mood is nostalgic, the setting the comparatively unsophisticated small town American of World War I and the characters wholly uncomplicated. The formula is simple and every ingredient is used-young love, the happy middle class family, the mischievous younger brother, the salty but faithful family maid, moonlight and song, and patriotism and the flag.
The result is close to what the arty critics might call corn but it is a prime example of the family picture exhibitors have been asking for. If simple and enduring values are corn, then this is it. But it’s also proven box office. 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 are 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.
James D. Ivers, Motion Picture Herald
Casting is nigh perfect. Miss Day and MacRae blend well in the romantic leads, both performance and song-wise. "On Moonlight Bay" makes no pretense at being anything other than good, soundly-valued entertainment with popular appeal. - Variety
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.
“This 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 group 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
Pure, unadulterated fantasy nostalgia...
"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 that was the ideal of millions of young men in 1951 America. Her singing is pure and unadulterated, and her thesping has noticeably become 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 MacRea 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