Thursday, October 3, 2013

#41: On Moonlight Bay

Starring: Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Billy Gray
Dir: Roy Del Ruth (1951)

Dear friends. What better way to return to you than with an absolute confection of joyous, pastel-colored, wholesome Midwestern musicality more blatantly designed to repeat the success of Meet Me in St. Louis than that same film's blockbuster sequel Meet Me in St. Louis 2: I Know What You Did At the Fair Last Summer? That's right, I'm talking about On Moonlight Bay, a movie so unremarkable you wouldn't even be hearing about it from me were it not for the presence of Gordon MacRae, aka Pudgeface MacHott, and I guess Doris Day too, who is much maligned as a Wonderbread starlet in my family but since I think she is actually VERY NICE I feel compelled to defend her whenever the opportunity presents itself. Which it has. For two hours. In On Moonlight Bay. Doris, you're welcome.

We begin in Indiana, 19somethingearlyteens. The Winfield family, helmed by wealthy banker George Winfield (played by Leon Ames, yes, THE Leon Ames, the guy who played the crotchety dad in Meet Me in St. Louis - this is like getting Ugly Naked Guy to carry the weight of your FRIENDS reboot), moves into a new neighborhood with unconvincingly-cast "teenage" daughter Marjorie (played by 27-year-old Doris Day), eleven-year-old son Wesley (Billy Gray), and wife Alice (Rosemary De Camp). It is important at this juncture to note that Marjorie is a total tomboy and her character arc throughout this movie will obviously be Salvation Through Feminization. When we meet her she is wearing a baseball cap and TROUSERS!
Anyway, the Winfield wife and offspring are totally poo-poohing the new arrangements - too far from old friends, etc. - and it doesn't help that they now have a snotty staring neighbor boy who creeps on them through their new front window.

Optimistic Banker Dad is in denial though so he's like, Wesley, go make a friend you whiny butt. That little punk outside seems like an excellent prospect. Run along now. "IDONWANNA" says Wesley. "HOLLER" hollers Dad.
Wesley goes outside to meet this kid and the kid is like, "I own a gun!" WTF, early19teens! What are you doing giving kids guns?!? Wesley's little face lights up though so I get a red flag for him like right away. What a scamp. Neighbor kid and Wesley go off to find said gun because that's how little dudes bond, Marjorie runs away to find some boys to play baseball with, proving that she's really UNFEMININE and ATHLETICALLY GIFTED, enough to steal home base and get dirt and dust all over her face and be like "TOMBOY DON'T CARE!" When she spies Wesley sneaking off next door with the gun, though, she frantically abandons the baseball game and tries to stop him shooting it off. Fail. It blasts through a barn door and nearly kills... a VERY ATTRACTIVE MAN!
(Who also happens to be Ugly Neighbor's older brother.)
Hot Guy does what any normal older brother would do and immediately storms into the barn and, when his actual sibling has fled, simply grabs the nearest nameless rascal and begins walloping. The rascal in this case is Marjorie. Apparently he can't tell she's a girl because Pants and Dirt (not Boobs and Ponytails, though?).
Who doesn't love a good walloping. Of course he is SO embarrassed afterwards and, by way of reparation, asks Marjorie out on a date.
Do not try this at home.

And, just so we're clear, YES this arrangement means Marjorie is falling for "The Boy Next Door." Hollywood you have no shame. Hot Neighbor (real name William Sherman) rings the doorbell and Marjorie's mother cautions her, "Try not to walk like a first baseman!"
Marjorie is soups excited for this date but also terrified that Hot Neighbor will not find her FEMININE enough, as (obviously) is her awesomely supportive Mom, who was scared this whole time that Marjorie was a lesbian (oops!). She proposes to fix the problem with a little boob doctoring. Thanks, Mommy Dearest! Say hello to five years of Marjorie's body dysmorphic disorder.
"All's fair in love and war!" says horrible mom. "Stop being so FLAT, Doris!" says subtext.
Everything goes fine though and, apart from Marjorie's embarrassingly breathless enthusiasm and her HILARIOUS faux pas - walking on the outside, when of course the gentleman must walk nearest the street! - they're off to a rollicking start with little Bill promptly emasculated and Marj blissfully oblivious.
"I've made a huge mistake."
To Moonlight Bay they go! Somewhat jarringly, we are given a portrait of Bill as a very radical, cranky guy who likes to rant about institutions and puff out his chest. The song playing in the background as they paddle along Moonlight Bay is called, appropriately, "On Moonlight Bay," and Bill recites the lyrics aloud scoffingly because he is an awesome first date. "That must have been written by a guy with a glass of beer in one hand and a rhyming dictionary in the other." Bill, you're hilarious! But also kind of a downer. Stop being so intense, Bill.

Marj don't care though! She is ALL OVER IT! They go inside and dance (she can't dance - what a useless, mannish woman - and her powderpuff boobs fall out) and then wander along the boardwalk/whatever it is to play some carnival games. Here I experience State Fair deja vu because we have a slimy salesman and a rigged game and a cranky self-righteous customer all in one place, except this time it's not nasty donkeyface Dick Haymes, it's adorable pudgyneck Gordon MacRae!
Bill tries to win a doll for Marj by knocking over some bottles ("Five cents a turn? You have to BUY happiness these days!") but the bottles are weighted and he fails to win. He gets pissy and rants about the injustice of the world again. "It's a fake! Just like everything else in this world! IN YOU RUNS THE BLOOD OF ATILLA THE HUN AND GENGHIS KHAN!" Okay Billy so you are kind of hilarious but I'm starting to worry that you're serious, and maybe I should go home now...
Fun part is where slimy salesman is like "Why not let the LADY try *nyuk nyuk nyuk*" and Marjie gets to wind up her baseball arm and go SLAMMO!
YEAH! And she takes the doll and they go home.

On the porch, she asks him to come in. This is one of the cutest parts of the movie. Puffing his chest out importantly, Bill says, "In all fairness, I've got to tell you something. I don't believe in marriage."
Marj: "I just asked you in for a glass of buttermilk!"
Bill: "I didn't want to take it under false pretenses."

(Not gonna lie, all I can think when they say this is how gawd-awful disgusting buttermilk kisses would be. Bleeeyyyyaaaeccch.)

Okay Bill, I was too hard on you. Your annoying philosophical garbage is kind of endearing.
Once inside, the conversation about marriage continues.
"Marriage is slavery for the woman and prison for the man. I think if two people are truly in love, they needn't be bound by convention." Marjorie agrees, which surprises Bill and ingratiates her to him, and when the electric lights unexpectedly switch off, Bill suddenly gets a funny feeling in his pants place and Marjorie leans in like "Yes?"
Walk slowly to front door lights go on and KISS BOOM!

So obviously they're dating now. The parents are kinda pleased that Marjorie likes dudes but also not sure how they feel about this *particular* (bleeding-heart liberal) dude. "All Marjorie knows about men are their batting averages!"
"In case you were wondering, this one's batting a thousand," says sassy helpful housemaid Stella.

Sure enough, Marjorie is head over heels but when Wealthy Banker Dad decides to ask Bill about his views on working in the corporate world - in, for example, the banks - Bill goes on a rant about federal corruption and the complicity of the banks and mid-rant very violently tears up a bunch of money before Marjorie can shush him and be like "BOOOO, my dad's a VP! Of a BANK! So SHUT UP!" So Bill gets super embarrassed and tries to put the bill together again like this, which is adorable, but it's also too late because Marjorie's super-reactionary dad has gotten offended and banishes William from his house, which is totally fair and also helps us care about their relationship more.

"It's just something they teach William at college! Right, William?"
A few weeks after this happens, Bill has gone to college and Marjorie is pining for him but can't keep the other neighborhood boys away now that she's so Feminine and Sedentary. "Boys have been buzzing around here like flies since you gave up baseball. This place is starting to look like the YMCA on a rainy afternoon!" says Most Helpful Mom in the World. Retreating to her room, Doris sings a really beautiful song about loneliness while staring "lovingly" at the Kewpie doll she won with Bill, but doesn't she actually look kinda creepy doing it?
That's about to be a Kewpie voodoo doll.
Now we jump into the truly annoying Wesley subplots, which are too exasperating for words. Here's the gist of the first one - Marjorie is writing a love letter to Bill -
- and Wesley, whose homework was to write a letter "of general interest" to a friend and bring it to class, has of course not done his assignment because he is an Adorable Scamp, so, in a manner befitting his station, he steals Marjorie's unfinished letter from her desk and carries it with him to school instead. OH NO OH NO OH NO!
Of course he is called upon to read it in class and here is a snapshot of one of many of Wesley's uncomfortable faces as he realizes what he's done.
Okay ha ha ha ha fun for the whole family moving on.

One of Marjorie's many annoying suitors is the hopelessly square Hubert Wakely, a music teacher who loves the sound of his own voice and thinks Marjorie loves it too. His idea of a date is inviting himself over to her house and playing songs for her on the piano. To my mind this is like a Betsy-Tacy high school novel gone horribly, horribly awry.
What I don't get is why Marjorie has to hang out with him anyway, but she apparently does, although she makes faces the whole time and gives him not a lick of encouragement. 

Again we are offered a Rascally Wesley Subplot but I'm gonna give it the heave-ho. Basically we have a few more red flags concerning Wesley's character. When harassing Marjorie's dates, he can be given money to go away. But if Marjorie gets mad at him and lectures or swats, he swears revenge very vehemently. I am convinced that Wesley is a troublesome little bastard and this film will bear me out.

In other more pertinent news, adorable Marjorie is now taking secret dance lessons so she can invite Bill back home for a charity/war relief dance. She wants to party like a real girl and do the TURKEY TROT!
You give your heart to Fred Astaire, your body to Gene Kelly, and surrender absolutely nothing to this guy.
Sadly this is promptly cut short when Marjorie falls in the snow and sprains her ankle. Too embarrassed to tell Bill (why?!), she cancels his invitation to the dance and says she doesn't want him to come visit anymore. Okay, Marj. If being melodramatic is part of you feminization process, you may check that box now.

Immediately we have another *regrettably relevant* Wesley subplot where basically he goes to the movies and watches a reel called:

wherein an upstanding family man gets led astray by a carousing crowd, starts slutting it up in saloons, and then goes home to beat his kids.
Phase One: Moulin Rouge
Wesley is watching nervously because he may have a conscience somewhere? I'm not convinced.

"BOOOO!" yells Wesley, with a mouth full of gumballs.
So that was disturbing. When Wesley falls asleep in class the next day and talks in his sleep, mumbling something rude that his teacher overhears and takes as an insult, he is so afraid of being punished that he comes up with a super elaborate excuse for why he was falling asleep in class in the first place -- it's because HE COMES FROM A BROKEN HOME and HIS ALCOHOLIC DAD IS BEATING HIS MOM AND SISTER and WHILE HE TRIES TO KEEP FROM WEEPING SOMETIMES IT'S JUST TOO MUCH FOR A LITTLE RASCAL TO BEAR!! Super nosey teacher is lovin' the gossip and just eats it up. Yes, this is the relevant part. 
What happens next is that Bill wants to surprise Marjorie by coming to visit anyway, and when Nosey Teacher Lady is leaving town for whatever reason she bumps into him at the train station and, knowing he's courting Wesley's older sister, spills all the stupid not real beans about Mr. Winfield's abusive nature and the terrible cloud of despair over the Winfield home.
More importantly, it's wintertime and Bill is wearing this:
Naturally Bill loves having something to be righteously furious about so he runs to the Winfields', storms inside in a protective rage (all the more entertaining because of how massive he looks in that enormous fur coat) and, spying Marjorie's (wholesome and hardworking) father "passed out" (asleep after a long day's work) in the couch, and seeing Marjorie's foot in a cast, he wastes no time in shouting "SO THIS IS WHAT THE INSTITUTION OF MARRIAGE HAS DONE!" and flinging a pitcher of water on poor Banker Man's face.
Of course there's shouting and, as Marjorie brokenly explains that her dad is totally not like that and Bill has just really offended everyone, Bill gets kicked out, totally humiliated, and only manages to sputter through the door "But his teacher said -- that Wesley said --!"
The family quickly puts two and two together and, while Mr. Winfield goes upstairs to wallop Wesley, Marjorie follows Bill out into the snow.
"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME ABOUT YOUR ANKLE" he growls endearingly.
Marj: "William, I was throwing snowballs and fell. I didn't want to tell you because you think I'm so feminine. Won't you please come back?"
Bill: [snootily] "I only make a fool of myself once a night." [flounces off]
M: "Why, you pompous old --!" [flings snowball with unfeminine might]
Tense pause, growly bear slowly turns and approaches Marjorie, and

BEAR HUG! All's well that escalates well. Now everyone gets to sit on the porch and watch Marjorie/Doris sing about Christmas
Meet me in St. Woo-ey, Doe-eyes, Meet me at YOUR PANTS

and then they kiss like this


You guys, Gordon is so cute!!!

So basically right after that it's summertime and Bill is graduating and he looks like this, all earnest and upstanding -

when I look at this picture my brain makes the sound-effect "ding!"
- and, during the commencement speech he delivers to his graduating class, all about learning not to "sneer at institutions" and to "outgrow callow philosophies," he makes the dramatic announcement that he and his fellow male graduates are officially renouncing their pompous anti-institutional ways and joining the army to Do Their Duty!
Unfortunately, sometime during this speech, which Marjorie and her family are attending, Marjorie's dad is like "Betcha can't wait for Bill to graduate and marry you" and she's like "Pshyeah except Bill doesn't believe in marriage and neither do I!" and Predictably Overreactionary Dad goes all "NOT ON MY WATCH!" and hauls Marjorie out mid-speech, so that they just barely have a chance to catch a glimpse of this over their shoulders as they depart -
- and Marjorie weeps.

Flash forward again however many weeks/months and a troop train is passing through Indiana with Bill on it! Marjorie sneakily packs a suitcase and goes to meet the train, asking a sleazy soldier for assistance.
"You gotta help me get on!" "Wouldn't it be simpler if I... got off?" bblleeeeccchh
When she finds Bill, she declares her everlasting love for him and he says, No, you can't come with me, but more importantly, will you marry me instead?
"But you don't believe in marriage!"
"Right now I don't know anything I believe in more."

Oh that's awesome. Go for the impulsive overhaul of long-held opinions. But nevermind because look how cute his floppy hair is when they're squealing about it:

Unfortunately Wesley tells on Marjorie though and her dad runs over to the train, accuses Bill of kidnapping his daughter, and hauls her away in tears AGAIN.

Springtime is up next and again we have a Wesley subplot OH MY GOSH where it is Wesley's birthday and somebody STUPID has given him a knife. Seriously, you guys, I am so worried about Wesley and Wesley's loved ones right now. To celebrate his birthday the Winfields invite boring ol' Square Music Teacher to play songs and lead dances, and when he asks sad Marjorie to dance Wesley does a surprisingly cool thing and is like "No, I wanna dance with my sister."
Sad Hubert is saaaaaaaaad.
"Everything is calm once more," observes the mean dad.
"Cyclone weather," says the increasingly sassy housemaid we've grown to love.
Sure enough Bill comes pounding at the kitchen door - he's on 24-hour leave and has come to hastily marry Marjorie! - but ONCE AGAIN Captain Cockblocker is like "UNH UNH UNH NO you do NOT just *change your mind* and marry my daughter, Mr. Institution-of-Marriage, and then change your mind BACK someday and leave her BROKEN-HEARTED!"
The only thing broken-hearted right now is me looking at that studly personage, but to proceed with the plot, ONCE AGAIN a tearful Marjorie has to separate from her beloved William, this time with the most romantic line ever delivered:
"I'll knit you some socks. I don't know how to knit, but I'll knit you some socks."
Now finally Mommy Dearest decides to make herself useful and hasten this movie to a close. "YOUNG LOVE!" she bleats at her husband. "REMEMBER WHEN WE USED TO HANKY PANKY? HMM?"

As far as I'm concerned these children are the product of a properly furnished house, three warm-ish meals a day, and nothing else, madam.

In the middle of this talking-to young Wesley flings a stone through the window with his dad's old slingshot and when Perma-Angry Dad goes out to chastise him, ON THE BOY'S BIRTHDAY NO LESS, he has a sudden change of heart when sighting the old slingshot for the first time in so many years. "Yes, I was a young scamp once too," he ruminates hypocritically. A warm moment is shared between father and son.
This moment of reconciliation brought to you by Unregulated Weapons of Violence.

"I love you, son," he says after already indulging in his furious rage. "I love you too," says his sociopathic son who cannot feel love.
Tooooooootally getting laid tonight, Dad.
So in this rosy glow of "love" feelings, Mr. Dad takes it upon himself to phone up Bill's house, tell him that while twenty minutes ago he was totally pissed about Bill's about-face on the long-contentious issue of marriage, he has now about-faced on his long-held disapproval of Bill himself and would like him to come on over and wife his damn daughter already.

And he does!
Running-down-the-street-arms-outstretched reunion shot also a la State Fair!

Now you can stop here if you like but it would only be fair to inform you of the parting shot Wesley offers the viewers. Super Square Music Teacher Hubert, whom you've probably forgotten about, has obviously witnessed this entire thing since he was at the birthday party. It's a bit sad for him since he liked Marjie but oh well Gordon was cuter in the end. When Wesley kicks him out of his party and hands him his hat, however, Hubert finds the rim sliced off all the way 'round and the hat falls to pieces in his hands. As he looks up in frustration, Wesley is staring at him like this.


Which is why, love story aside, the real question this movie leaves us with is not Will Their Marriage Last Happily Ever After, but rather Will Wesley Kill Again?*

*(Don't be naive. We haven't seen his dog since the first half of the movie.)

Stars: 3.5 of 5 because budget, Gordon, Technicolor.