‘Day & MacRae complement each other like peanut butter and jelly’ – NY Times
In 1950, Warner’s featured its rising star, Doris Day, in a musical comedy called Tea For Two, the film version of the 1924 Broadway hit No, No, Nanette. The movie marked two firsts for Day: It was the first time she got top billing and the first time her fine dancing talent was shown on the screen. With dance numbers staged by Leroy Prinz, a cute screenplay by Harry Clork, musical direction by Ray Heindorf, and the able direction of David Butler, it was one of the Top 10 films of the year. It was also the best-grossing movie of 1950 for the Warner Brothers studio.
This is a flashback story, told by Max Bloomhaus (S Z Sakall) to his grand-niece and -nephew, taking us back to the stock market crash of 1929. Uncle Max was the guardian of his wealthy niece’s estate back then, but had made some unwise investments on her behalf. His niece, Nanette Carter (Day), an aspiring singer/dancer, has her hope set on the Broadway stage. The first time we see her is in a rehearsal hall, singing and dancing. Jimmy Smith (Gordon MacRae) is accompanying her on the piano, and dancing great Tommy Trainor (Gene Nelson) is her partner in an energetic tap routine.
Nanette’s two-timing boyfriend, Larry Blair (Billy DeWolfe), is producing a Broadway show but has no money and is trying to induce her to finance his production, which will star his other girlfriend, Beatrice Darcy (Patrice Wymore). Jimmy has written the songs for the musical and Tommy is the choreographer. Larry is a hustler and, by playing on Nanette’s sympathy, schemes to convince her to back his show. He tells her that Jimmy is depending on the success of the show because he is responsible for his sick, invalid sister.
Falling for the story (and for Jimmy), Nanette asks Uncle Max for the money to back the production. Instead of confessing to his generous niece that he has temporarily lost her millions, Max tells her to stop saying yes to everybody and to learn to say no for a change. Nanette bets her uncle that she will say no to everything for 48 hours if he will give her the money to invest in the show. He reluctantly agrees, and then begins trying to trick her into losing the bet.
To keep them from leaving the show during those two days, Nanette invites the entire cast and crew to her Westchester estate for the weekend. Pauline Hastings (Eve Arden), Nanette’s wisecracking assistant, sticks close by to see if Nanette will slip and say yes to something. Arden, an expert in this type of role, is a delight to watch.
During the weekend at the estate, rehearsals are in full swing and we get to hear some great music from composers such as Vincent Youmans (the title tune), George Gershwin, and Harry Warren. Nelson’s skill as a dancer is one highlight of those scenes. Nanette wins the bet, only to discover that she has no money to invest. Max’s lawyer, William Early (Bill Goodwin), was not ruined by the stock market crash and Pauline charms him into backing the show – which opens on Broadway with Nanette in the lead role.
This is a fun picture. Day is her usual fresh, bubbly self and is in wonderful voice, as is MacRae. Nelson, who proves once again that he was one of the best dancers in Hollywood, won a Golden Globe award as most promising newcomer. Sakall, jowls and all, and is very funny. DeWolfe, though funny, was a strange choice for the part of Day’s boyfriend!
Ralph McKnight, New York
Doris Day said about her Warner musicals:
In those Warner Brothers years, the pictures I enjoyed the most (not the scripts but the fun I had making them) were the nostalgic musicals, Tea For Two, Lullaby of Broadway, On Moonlight Bay, I’ll See You in My Dreams, By the Light of the Silvery Moon, Calamity Jane. I liked the old songs, and the good old times that those films captured. I guess I’m really an old-fashioned girl at heart, even though I look so contemporary that I always seemed misplaced in those period costumes.” – Doris Day, Her Own Story
“Doris Day’s playing had become more consistent, and her level of energy was more controlled and assured. With each successive film, Day was perfecting and refining her prodigious resources which would develop into the unabashed joy and self-assurance she would exude in her greatest musical films.” – George Morris, Doris Day (book)
“With her second film of 1950, Doris became an unequivocal star. The vehicle was not a distinguished one, but the public loved it, despite the shortcomings of the Warner production system. Doris emerged with her charm intact. She managed to come across as more natural, relaxed, and persuasive than ever before.” – Alan Gelb, Doris Day Scrapbook
“Day and MacRae complement each other like peanut butter and jelly… and if Warner Brothers is interested in rolling up dividends in the future they ought to do something about getting (them) together again. Day and MacRae would make five pictures together, and she would make four with Nelson. This was her second appearance with Arden and her third of four with Sakall.” – The New York Times
“The big news also is that Doris Day dances for the first time on the screen and shows even greater potentialities as one of the top film entertainers.” More praise came from Photoplay, which noted, “Doris Day dances for the first time on the screen, and brings down the house with her I Know That You Know number with Gene Nelson.” – The Independent Film Journal
Doris Day sings Tea for Two:
Black and white images above from Gracenote.