Doris Day’s last film for MGM – too bad they couldn’t have come up with a winner for her
This was obviously a rush job. The producers did take the time to assemble a very good cast and to affect an interesting opening sequence with able narration by Robert Morse. The premise of the film, New York’s 1965 power failure that threw the entire City into darkness, began with promise. The absolute shock and confusion of the blackout was well depicted via excellent recreations of New York landmarks, traffic jams, confused commuters and the impromptu festivities, which erupted. I went through a similar power failure in the 1970s in The Big Apple and this sequence accurately captured the atmosphere of these historic events.
Doris Day plays Broadway star, Margaret Garrison, who is appearing in a hit show called The Constant Virgin. Her husband, Peter, is a successful architect who feels neglected by his wife and finds solace in the arms of other women – there isn’t very much to this film, really.
After being interviewed by journalist Roberta Lane (Lola Albright), Margaret decides to allow her husband to discuss their marriage with her while she goes off to the theatre. When the City is blacked out, Maggie returns home to find her husband in a compromising position with the journalist and, upset, takes off for their upstate cottage in Bridgeport.
Meanwhile, on the other side of Manhattan, Waldo Zane (Robert Morse), a young investment banker, has absconded with his firm’s cash investments. In the confusion of the blackout, he hails a taxi and ends up in Connecticut. Tired and needing shelter, he enters the home of the Garrisons and carelessly takes a sleeping potion. An upset and angry Margaret arrives and takes some of the same potion and innocently falls asleep in the same bed with Zane, This scenario is very contrived, but there are some funny elements to it, mainly because Miss Day and Mr Morse are true professionals, even with this weak material.
When they wake in the morning, the burning question is, did anything happen? The question is heightened by the arrival of Peter, who shows up to apologise but becomes furious when he finds his wife in bed with another man! This distrust is exacerbated by Latislau (Terry-Thomas), Margaret’s producer, who is trying to get her to extend her contract with the play. He uses the situation to pit Maggie against Peter. After a comic car chase, Maggie is reconciled with Peter and nine months later, like thousands of other victims of the blackout; Margaret Garrison is rushed to the delivery room.
This was not much of a part for Doris Day. It is reported that this is one of the films Martin Melcher rushed her into to pay off mounting personal debts. It certainly did nothing positive to rekindle interest in Day’s crumbling film career.
It was still an honour to appear with her, however, Patrick O’Neal and Robert Morse, both proven actors of distinction, were, in reality, in support of the star. Terry Thomas, his famous spaced teeth, was appropriately sleazy as the peeping tom producer, Lola Albright was good as Roberta and there were amusing cameos by some famous funny men; Steve Allen, Jim Backus, Ben Blue, Pat Paulsen and Robert Emhardt. Even columnist, Earl Wilson made an appearance as himself.
This film gave Doris Day the opportunity to work with another set of fabled character actors. The title tune was breezy and New York, as usual is the best background for any film about big city life. Director, Hy Averback, did the best with what was given to him and the production by Everett Freeman and Martin Melcher was fine.
This was Miss Day’s last film for MGM. Too bad they couldn’t have come up with a winner for her – but, we’ll give that credit for that to Martin Melcher.
Ralph McKnight, New York
This alleged ‘comedy’ was the worst film I ever made.” – Doris Day
Not, on the face of it, a very original set-up; but as played by Miss Day, Patrick O’Neal and Robert Morse, it’s very funny.” – Observer (London)
“Doris Day’s penultimate picture is notable only for the fact that she spent much of its production in traction, having pinched a nerve in her back, and for an excruciating in-joke that had her character starring in a play called The Constant Virgin. Based on Claude Magnier’s stage play Monsieur Masure, it’s a contrived affair from start to finish, relying on blackouts, sleeping pills, embezzled funds and sexual jealousy to bring Doris and architect husband Patrick O’Neal to an inevitable happy ending. Hy Averback directs with little imagination, while only Terry-Thomas, as Day’s Machiavellian agent, seems willing to play it for laughs.” – BBC Radio Times
And one of the least favourable, but kind of funny, from Roger Ebert:
Here is another movie about how Doris Day preserves her virtue. Frankly, I have lost interest in Doris Day’s virtue. Doris Day without doubt has the most threatened virtue in history. Compared to her, Helen of Troy was a registered nurse.
Oh, I’ll confess there was once a time when I was concerned. Once there was a time when I was downright worried about Doris Day’s virtue. Not long ago, Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor and Richard Harris were all hot on the trail of Doris Day’s virtue. But their efforts came to naught, and Doris Day’s virtue, as they say, emerged intact. Now, in Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?, Robert Morse is after Doris Day’s virtue, and I think we can all breathe easy. In every Doris Day movie, the same thing happens. Doris Day accidentally gets into bed with someone she shouldn’t be in bed with. However, it always happens very innocently and by accident, and Doris Day’s virtue always emerges intact, although for a while there it’s touch and go.
In this, movie, Doris Day drinks half a glass of sleeping medicine. Then Robert Morse wanders into the house and accidentally drinks the other half. Then they fall asleep together, but they’re already asleep – get it? Then Doris Day’s husband, Patrick O’Neal, comes home and raises hell. Any husband of Doris Day should know it was only an accident.
Anyway, it is supposed to be very funny that Doris Day got into this embarrassing but really innocent situation by accident – see? I don’t find it funny at all. By this time, it’s taking on the elements of tragedy. If I were Doris Day, and I had accidentally gotten in an embarrassing situation with Rock Hudson and Rod Taylor and Richard Harris and Robert Morse and everyone else in the phone book in 27 straight movies, and my virtue were still intact, frankly I’d start to worry.” – Roger Ebert