Doris Day – The Queen of sixties slapstick
The people who created the Production Code in 1930 destroyed it in 1966. Times were a changin’ and more daring films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf were being produced. Surprisingly, the general public was receptive to this metamorphosis toward strong language and explicit visual content. The Glass Bottom Boat, however, was an exception to the new norm and is good family fare. Released by MGM in 1966, it opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York to favourable reviews and became the studio’s third best grossing film of the year.
This was the second time that Rod Taylor had shared the screen with Doris Day, Hollywood’s Golden Girl. Their first attempt had been panned by critics, but the two stars redeemed themselves in this film. The picture is very funny and imaginative, thanks to the wacky but creative mind of director Frank Tashlin, veteran of Jerry Lewis movies and the director of such films as The Girl Can’t Help It, Susan Slept Here, and Say One For Me.
With the cold war and the popularity of James Bond in full swing, spy films were all the rage and so were comedy spoofs on the subject. Day plays Jennifer Nelson, a weekend mermaid on her father’s glass bottom boat. During the week she works at a space lab where Bruce Templeton (Taylor) is the director. A brilliant engineer, he has created GISMO, a device which will overcome weightlessness in space. While collaborating on a public relations project, he and Jenny fall in love.
The Russians are in hot pursuit of GISMO’s formula and will stop at nothing to get it. They have spies at every turn, and the Americans are suspicious of anything “red”. Jenny becomes a suspect after Homer Cripps (Paul Lynde), the facility’s security guard, overhears her phoning her dog, Vladimir. Soon her every move is being watched.
When Jenny, a patriotic American, accidentally overhears a phone conversation among Bruce, his business partner, an FBI agent, and Homer in which she is accused of being a nymphomaniac Russian spy, she decides to turn the tables on them by heightening their suspicions with a special act of her own. This is a highlight of the film and reminds me of the climactic scene in Lucky Me when Candy wreaks havoc at a party. Here, Jenny bamboozles everyone by flirting with General Bleecker (Edward Andrews) and Bruce’s business partner, Zach (Dick Martin).
Along the way, Jenny encounters some real spies. One is Julian (Dom DeLuise), who poses as an electrician to bug Bruce’s house and accidentally ruins a cake which Jenny has baked for Bruce. This a brilliant slapstick sequence, the type for which Lucille Ball is famous; only she could have done this scene as well as Day. There was quite a bit more slapstick in the film, too. Jenny has a tumultuous time in the modern kitchen when everything goes haywire, as well as in a chase scene when the spies come after her in pursuit of the GISMO formula. Tashlin, who always used gimmicks in his pictures, has a field day with Glass Bottom Boat.
The film’s supporting cast is exceptional. Paul Lynde is wild as the security guard so dedicated to his job that he goes undercover, in drag, to keep an eye on Jenny. Alice Pierce and George Tobias, who were borrowed from the Bewitched TV show, are very amusing as Jenny’s neighbours. Edward Andrews delivers another of his deft comedic performances as the General. Dick Martin as Bruce’s business partner is funny, and Eric Fleming is appropriately menacing as the crooked FBI agent. Arthur Godfrey, the veteran radio and TV star, plays Jenny’s father, and Elisabeth Fraser – Young at Heart and The Tunnel of Love – is his lady friend. Also notable is Ellen Corby as Bruce’s housekeeper.
Day sings the title song, as well as Soft As the Starlight. Both are Joe Lubin tunes, the latter from her 1956 album, Day by Night. She looks youthful throughout the picture with a Dutch-boy hairdo and in a smart wardrobe, created by Ray Aghayan.
Lucille Ball was once asked who her favourite comedienne was. She paused and said, “Well, I believe in Doris Day.” What a compliment coming from television’s queen of comedy.
Ralph McKnight, New York
“Doris Day shows a surprising affinity for satire in this Cold War spoof, starring as a publicist in a space laboratory who’s falling in love with engineer boss Rod Taylor while writing a biography of him. Various governments are interested in Taylor’s work and, as Day has a dog called Vladimir, she quickly becomes a Soviet suspect. Director Frank Tashlin was a former cartoonist and packs the film with sight gags, but Day rises above the slapstick”. – Radio Times
“The ever-popular Doris Day, whose name is a guarantee of box-office success in cities and small towns alike, latches onto the current craze for spy-spoof films in this entertaining and fast-moving Martin Melcher-Everett Freeman production which has already been set as the summer attraction at Radio City Music Hall.
The star gets to wear a mermaid outfit and a glamorous Mata Hari costume and sings Softly As the Starlight, a pleasant ballad, while Arthur Godfrey warbles the title tune. Some particularly funny moments are contributed by Paul Lynde while disguised as a society matron, and newcomer Dom DeLuise, as a worried Hi-Fi installer also suspected of espionage. As indicated, it’s wild and wacky – but always good fun.” – Motion Picture Herald
“Strong points of this picture are its highly polished production, its easy performances, and the science-fiction complexity of the slapstick. Miss Day and Mr. Taylor both shine.” – New York Post
“Day acquits herself admirably while she undergoes an unusual amount of physically strenuous comedy. Her natural athleticism has never been better utilized than under Tashlin.” – George Morris, Doris Day
“Worn by Doris Day, as Jennifer Nelson, when she is working as a mermaid and Rod Taylor hooks her tail in The Glass Bottom Boat. The mermaid outfit consisting of a peach lace bra adorned with plastic leaves painted in varying shades of salmon and yellow. Bottom is made of scuba diving material painted in a scale pattern with matching fins”. The costume was sold for $4,250.00 at online auction.
Rod Taylor had this to say about working with Doris Day:
“I’ll tell you this much about Doris Day: I love that girl! She’s one of the greatest pros I’ve ever worked with. I’ve been going to the rushes every day on this picture [Do Not Disturb], which is something I never did before; all I can say is that I haven’t recognised myself because of her. I can’t put my finger on it, but whatever it is, Doris brings out great things in a man.
We play a happily married couple who fight like mad, but make up like crazy, and I’ll think you’ll agree that she has all the warmth and sex and charm in the world. The studio seems to think we have a sort of… chemistry. Anyway, they’ve thought enough of us to team us in another picture called The Glass Bottom Boat.” – Rod Taylor Read more at Rod Taylor’s website