What better time to look at Doris Day’s big cinematic debut than during the month TCM honors her? Even better? Warner Archive just put out a beautiful transfer of this film that you can now buy on Blu-ray. Romance on the High Seas is a loose remake of a Kay Francis feature called The Keyhole. I didn’t immediately know that and was fortunate to see both versions close together. This Michael Curtiz-directed feature highlights both Day’s comedic timing and her musical talents that, alongside the supporting cast, makes for quite the high sea adventure.
Michael and Elvira Kent (Don DeFore and Janis Paige, respectively) are a couple at odds. Michael believes his wife is stepping out on him, so when she decides to go on an ocean liner he believes it’s his chance to prove it. He hires a private investigator to follow her, but Elvira is one step ahead. She enlists the help of a musician named Georgia Garrett (Day) to act as Elvira on the ship. But when Georgia attracts the PI, the two start a romance that could complicate everything more than it already is.
The plot here is a bit more convoluted than The Keyhole. That feature eschews the musical numbers in favor of being a more straightforward romantic feature. But the basic tenets of the plot are retained in both films. That being said, because of the addition of musical numbers (and dazzling Technicolor), it’s hard to not love Romance on the High Seas more than its original iteration. Much of that has to do with Doris Day as Georgia Garrett.
Compared to Kay Francis, who played both the Georgia and the Elvira roles, Day makes you immediately sympathize with her. She’s a woman who’s happy with her life, but dreams of travel. Unfortunately, being a struggling musician means travel ain’t exactly happening for her. Pretending to be a wealthy woman of means allows her the opportunity to travel, but it limits who Georgia is. Much of the humor that derives once Georgia gets on the high seas comes from her attempts to do what a classy woman should do, whether that’s (not) dressing up on the first night, or trying to take on some form of career while on the boat.
Day’s first musical performance shows why she’s so magnetic but, interestingly, I thought this feature gave her far more spunk than in her some of her other roles. When she sings for the first time it comes with a wink and a wave that feels so saucy. Once her and Jack Carson, who plays private investigator Peter Virgil, start to pitch the woo there’s an immediate chemistry. It’s easy to see why the two were paired up regularly. Carson, more than anything, was the surprise for me. I’ve seen him play a supporting player, and I’ve seen him play a cad, but watching him in a leading romantic role felt different. He has such a physical presence that ends up being as dominating as Day’s. Where he always felt like reliable back-up, here he’s an incredibly engaging leading man.
One of the big things I was so thrilled by was the color, which pops on-screen in Warner’s new Blu. Whether that’s Day in her light blue dress when she performs for the first time, or everything Janis Paige is wearing, it’s so elegant and breathtaking. It’s not nearly as opulent as a costume drama, but I want to live in every frame of this movie.
If you’ve been looking for an entry into Day’s canon of work Romance on the High Seas is an amazing start.
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.