Doris Goes to West Point (and meets Gordon)
The West Point Story should have been shot in color, is all I can think when I watch it. Somehow the black and white photography detracts from the energy of the picture. From the opening sequence, filmed at the West Point Academy (still going strong) with the cadets singing and marching around the campus, one thinks how much better it would have looked in color.
The third of three Doris Day films released by Warner Brothers in 1950, The West Point Story provided an opportunity for her to be featured with two of the studio’s most popular stars, Virginia Mayo and James Cagney. It was Cagney’s first musical since winning his Academy Award in 1942 for Yankee Doodle Dandy, and it also reunited him with Virgina Mayo, with whom he had shared the screen in the scorching melodrama White Heat.
The tale concerns Elwin ‘Bix’ Bixby (Cagney), once a successful choreographer and producer on Broadway, now washed up and working in a rundown New York club and playing the horses. His fiancée, Eve Dillon (Mayo) is desperately trying to get him to do something about his situation before it’s too late. Bix has an offer from rival producer Harry Eberhart (Roland Winters) to go to West Point and stage a show which was written by Harry’s nephew, a talented cadet named Tom Fletcher (Gordon MacRae). Assured that the show will be a hit, Eberhart wants Bix to convince Tom to leave West Point and pursue a career on the stage. Tom is dedicated to the Army and has resisted all of his uncle’s efforts to lure him away from the Academy
There is a feud between Eberhart and Bix that stems from a previous tug-of-war over a young singer, Jan Wilson (Day). She had been buried in the chorus of an Eberhart show, and Bix secretly helped her get a Hollywood contract when he felt she was being misused. This caused Eberhart to fire Bix and get him blackballed on Broadway, leading to his current sad state of affairs. Afraid that Eve will leave him if he refuses to accept Eberhart’s offer, Bix reluctantly goes with her to West Point.
The rules and regulations at the Academy are a hindrance to Bix. Having earned a formidable reputation as a hellion during his former military service, now he is causing havoc once again. After striking a cadet, he is first barred from West Point and then gets a second chance to return to the campus – as a cadet himself. He agrees, and the rehearsals resume. We are treated to Doris Day and Gordon MacRae’s wonderful singing and Gene Nelson’s dynamite dancing. Mayo sings and dances, too, but just intermittently.
Bix’s attempts to lure Tom away from the Academy for a career on the stage fall on deaf ears, because Cadet Fletcher is determined to stay in the military after his graduation from West Point. Bix is no quitter, though, and decides to change his strategy by asking Jan to be Tom’s date at an upcoming party. Jan agrees because she owes Bix; without him, she’d still be dancing in the chorus of Eberhart’s show.
Bix wants Jan to appear with Tom in the West Point show to give him a real taste of show business. To change Tom’s decision about staying at the Academy, Bix’s plan is to make Tom fall in love with Jan. It succeeds, but after she accepts his marriage proposal, the studio orders her to call off the marriage and return to Hollywood. The scene when Jan tells Tom why she must decline his proposal is very tender. She says,
At 15, I was singing in a band, making one-night stands when other girls were going to high school dances. At 17, I had a Hollywood contract. I’m a commodity now.”
This poignant dialogue could have been taken from Day’s own bio, and it is some of her best acting. Tom, deeply in love with her, goes AWOL to be with her.
This is a very entertaining picture and the production is first rate. It includes some fine songs by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, one of which is a clever ditty sung by Day called 10,432 Sheep. Ray Heindorf’s musical direction brought him an Academy Award nomination. Director Roy Del Ruth must be commended for keeping the believability alive, even though much of the script is improbable. Cagney, the centerpiece of the film, is superb as Bix. Although the movie runs almost 45 minutes before Day makes her first appearance, she is given the opportunity to shine and her star quality is evident in every scene she plays. The West Point Story was an indicator of greater things to come: Five years later, Day and Cagney appeared together again, this time at MGM in the superb Love Me or Leave Me.
Ralph McKnight, New York
Doris Day said: “Although a movie song is filmed on the set during its performance, the song itself is prerecorded in a recording studio under ideal conditions before the picture ever starts. In the solitude of a room with perfect acoustics, I could record a song as many times as possible to get it right. Of course, when you film a song it is necessary to sing the song in perfect synchronization with the way you recorded it so that your lips move at precisely the right time.” – Doris Day, Her Own Story
“Doris Day and Gordon MacRae make a fine pair of lovebirds. Dancing cadet Gene Nelson taps out some neat numbers. Put ‘em all together and you have a bright, brisk show.” – Motion Picture Magazine
“The tunes are top notch, catchy, and plentiful, with Doris Day and Gordon MacRae cooing the lyrics exceptionally well. The story is overlong and dated with corny situations that make the running time seem twice as long. Doris Day and Gordon MacRae register well as a singing team and help put a spark into the music.” – Film Bulletin
“The plot is as old as the hills. Although the score was by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, there are no memorable musical numbers in the film, and the story, as one can see, was primitive, but the cast was valiant. Cagney, of course, is forever worth watching, and he did have a certain chemistry with Doris that would later bloom in the admirable Love Me or Leave Me. The West Point Story is one of the most forgettable movies in the Doris Day canon.” – Alan Gleb, The Doris Day Scrapbook
“Fresh treatment and new twists to the musical formula make The West Point Story worthwhile entertainment.” – Variety
The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Scoring of a Motion Picture.