Doris Day: the Queen of sixties slapstick...
The people who created the Production Code in 1930 destroyed it in 1966. Times were changing and more daring films like "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" were being produced with stronger language being interwoven into scripts and, surprisingly, the general public was receptive to this metamorphosis. The United States was in serious, social upheaval. The civil rights movement was in full force and television screens were dominated by the controversy. Hollywood attempted to do its part by opening up opportunities for a more diverse group of actors, both in the movies and in television.
The change could even be observed in some of Doris Day's films. She was never co-starred with Sidney Poitier, but people of colour were popping up in her films in bit parts. Doris Day was like an uprooted tree, swirling through the eye of a tornado. Her career was in turmoil, for, her type of film was being jeopardised by the turn of events. She had toppled from her Number One position at the box office, but was still in the coveted top ten. Only a few months before, Miss Day was the Number One lady on the list but now had fallen to eighth place and had been replaced by Julie Andrews as the box-office champion.
"The Glass Bottom Boat" is good family fare. It was released by MGM in 1966 and opened at Radio City Music Hall in New York to favourable reviews. This was the second time that Rod Taylor had shared the screen with Hollywood's Golden Girl. Their first attempt had garnered scorn from moviegoers because of Day's overly "cute" shenanigans in which, like Bette Davis, she seemed to be imitating her harshest imitators."Boat" gave the two stars the opportunity to right the wrong of "Do Not Disturb". This was a very imaginative and funny film, thanks to the warped, 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 in full force and the popularity of James Bond, spy films were all the rage and so were comedy spoofs on the subject. "The Glass Bottom Boat" is a fun picture. Doris Day plays Jennifer Nelson, a mermaid on her father's glass bottom tourist boat. After an encounter with Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor), who is fishing in restricted waters, the two later meet again under different circumstances, he as the space scientist who has created GISMO, a device which will overcome weightlessness in space and she as a tour guide at the think tank where he is employed. Jennifer has heard of the brilliant scientist, but is unaware that he is the culprit with whom she had an earlier, unpleasant experience.
The Russians are in hot pursuit of GISMO (Gravity Inertial Stabilisation Man Observatory) and will stop at nothing to get it. They have spies at every turn. The Americans are aware of their infiltration and are suspicious of anything "red". Jennifer becomes a suspect after she is overheard calling her dog, "Vladimir", who goes wild at home when he hears the ringing of the phone. You see, it gives him exercise while "mama" is at work. Paul Lynde, a security guard named Homer Cripps, overhears Jennifer calling the furtive 'red spy' and keeps a close eye on her activities around the plant. He becomes convinced that she is definitely spying for the Soviets when he discovers that she has a short-wave radio system in her home and that she is taking classes in map making. Even more revealing, she burns her secret notes, tears up small pieces of paper and makes those covert calls to 'Vladimir'. Soon, Jennifer's every move is being watched. Jennifer is very attractive and becomes the object of Dr. Bruce Templeton's affection when their paths cross again. He assigns her to write his biography, which gives him an excuse to see more of her. During their interview sessions, Jennifer reluctantly falls in love with him.
Nelson is a patriotic American, who after discovering that a background check on her is in progress, surmises that she is being investigated because of her close interaction with Gismo's inventor, whose position is highly sensitive. By chance, at a swank party thrown by Templeton, Jennifer overhears a combative telephone conversation among Bruce, the FBI, Gen. Wallace and Zach, which seemingly accuses her of actually being a Russian spy, a nymphomaniac, who will stop at nothing to get GISMO. Angry and hurt, she decides to fight fire with fire. She plays up the scenario and heightens their suspicions with a special act of her own. This is, of course, the highlight of the film and reminds me of the climatic scene in "Lucky Me" when Candy decides to wreck havoc at Martha Hyer's party. Here, Jennifer bamboozles everyone by flirting with the General (Edward Andrews) and Bruce's partner, Zach (Dick Martin), giving them the impression that they are spending the night with her later. What happens is that they end up in the same bed, sans Jennifer. The look on Rod Taylor and Paul Lynde's faces when they turn on the lights and see the two men in bed is priceless.
Along the way, our heroine encounters some of the real spies. One, Dom DeLuise, who poses as a Public Address installer (he's actually bugging Templeton's house) accidentally ruins a banana cream cake which Jenny has baked for her boss. What follows is a brilliant slapstick sequence, the type for which Miss Day is famous. Only Lucille Ball could have done this scene as well as Day. Jennifer attempts to help Pritter (DeLuise) get his cake-covered foot and her's out of an umbrella holder. Icing, ladders, indoor pools and total chaos turn this into a slapstick classic. Tashlin, who always used gimmicks in his pictures, has a field day with "Glass Bottom". Templeton's kitchen is state of the art and completely electronic with fun gadgets that, to this day, we still don't have. It did, however, have remote control and microwave, which is pretty standard in our time.
Paul Lynde was wild as the security guard Cripps. He was gung-ho and completely dedicated to his job. So much so, that he goes undercover, in drag, to keep an eye on Jennifer at Bruce's party. His target? No man's land: the ladies room. His scene with Doris in the powder-room was side-splitting and well directed. Alice Pierce and George Tobias were borrowed from the "Bewitched" TV show to play Doris Day's next door neighbours. They were very amusing. Edward Andrews delivered another of his deft comedic performances, as did Dick Martin as Zach Molloy. TV's Eric Flemming was appropriately menacing as Edgar Hill, the crooked FBI agent working for the enemy. Arthur Godfrey, the veteran radio star, played Jennifer's father, Axel Nordstrom and Day film regular, Elisabeth Frasier ("Young at Heart" and "Tunnel of Love") played Axel's girlfriend.
There was quite a bit of slapstick here. Day has a tumultuous time in the modern kitchen when everything goes haywire. She also has a death defying, but comic, episode with a runaway speed boat's remote control, and later, a genuine cloak and dagger chase scene when the spies, led by Edgar Hill, come after her in the pursuit of the GISMO formula. Doris gets to sing the title song and "Soft As the Starlight" which was taken from her album, "Day by Night". The melody was the basis for "The Glass Bottom Boat" tune.
The star looks wonderful throughout the picture with a Dutch-boy hair cut which gives her that younger-than-springtime look and wears a smart wardrobe, created by Ray Aghayan. In one sequence, Bruce, bothered by the accusations against Jennifer, imagines her as the characters she's been described as: Mata Hara, a female James Bond and a Russian Spy facing a firing squad. Day plays them all with an authority that proves she could have played anything. Once, Lucille Ball was asked, who her favourite comedienne was and she paused and said, "Well, I believe in Doris Day." What a compliment coming from television's queen of comedy. Other notable appearances were made by Ellen Corby, as Bruce's maid, Dee J. Thompson as Donna, Jennifer's co-worker and Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo.
Ralph McKnight, New York, November 2000
The ever-popular Doris Day, whose name is a guarantee of boxoffice success in cities and small towns alike, latches onto the current craze for spy-spoof films in this entertaining and fast-moving Martin Melcher-Eerett Freeman production which has already been set s the summer attraction at Radio City Music Hall.
Rod Taylor, Doris’ co-star in “Do Not Disturb,” and Arthur Godfrey radio-TV favorite in his first screen role, are other marquee names. As directed by Frank Tashlin, the screenplay including Catalina Island, is slow in getting under way, being loaded with rocket-testing verbiage, but it picks up speed steadily through a furious chase sequence involving government agents and generals all after the suspicious (but actually innocent) Doris.
The star get to wear
a mermaid outfit and a glamorous Mata Hari costume and sings “Softly
As the Starlight,” a
pleasant ballad, while Godfrey warbles the title tune. Some particularly
funny moments are contributed by Paul Lynde while disguised as a society
matron, and newcomer Dom De Luise, as a worried Hi-Fi installer also
suspected of espionage. As indicated, it’s wild and wacky but always-good
Motion Picture Herald - Released July, 1966 MGM (637) 110 Minutes
“Doris plays a childless widow living in Florida who doubles as a tour guide for a NASA complex and as a mermaid on hand for tourists to ogle from the glass bottom boat of her father (Arthur Godfrey). While on a tour of NASA, she attracts the eye of resident scientist Rod Taylor. With her inevitable lack of luck with men, Doris is duped by Taylor into believing that he is working on something called Project Venus. Taylor hires Doris to be his biographer, and the seduction begins. But not without a lot of interruptions. Security agents come to believe that Doris is a Russian agent, and there’s much fun about the CIA and James Bond….For sheer comedy there are some priceless moments in the film, but as a sustained and feeling piece of cinema, it doesn’t quite work.” (Alan Gelb, The Doris Day Scrapbook)
Additional material: Derald Hendry
"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".
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."
Modern Screen, July 1965