Doris Day

6 Degrees of Film: March Round Up: Celebrating Women’s History!

Greetings Film Fans! The month of March has brought us lots of good news from the world of film. We are celebrating Women’s History month here at 6 Degrees, and the spotlight is on the rising number of women who are directors of both independent and major Hollywood films. To be fair, there have been many powerful women in Hollywood working behind the scenes at the studios for decades. But the role of auteur and the vision and focus that a director can bring to a picture is one that has not been explored by enough women throughout the history of film. Rotten Tomatoes has a post on the 165 Best Movies directed by women in the 21st Century. Other notable news is the mixed reviews received for Eddie Murphy’s anticipated comedy sequel Coming 2 America-which was described several times as a ‘retread.’ There’s also an interview with the director of the film Craig Brewer. Another anticipated film released is Raya & the Last Dragon, which is reviewed on Rogerebert.com And there’s a question now being floated around about the true meaning of the cinematic experience and if that is achievable if movies are going to be streamed from now on?  Martin Scorsese asks the question, and we also hear from Forbes’ film critic Scott Mendelson. Mendelson looks at the consequences of Hollywood prioritizing the streaming services over the existence of a successful film opening at the box office as they did in the ‘old days.’ (Pre-Covid!) Meanwhile, back at the Turner Classic Movie place, there is a new era where the old films that were written and produced in the ‘bad old days’ of big studios and the so-called Golden Age of Hollywood are getting a new look and some much-needed analysis. The scrutiny is part of the screenings going forward at TCM, so this should prove interesting!  Turner Classic: Strong Women at the Movies The women in movies come from different backgrounds and work in various genres: Musicals, westerns, comedies, all sharing This month the strong women who were pioneers of Hollywood film share the same common denominator-a strength of character that permeates the scope of the film, whatever genre be it a Western, a musical or a comedy. They include this month’s ‘Star of the Month”- Doris Day, as well as Olivia de Havilland and Katherine Hepburn. Westerns In three of the featured westerns: The Westerner, Calamity Jane and Red River, the women are not always center stage (with the exception of Calamity Jane), but the roles are written for smart women who are tough and can survive in the old west. The Classics Lawrence of Arabia is one of the films often seen on the top ten lists of famous critics (In 6 Degrees, it comes in at Number Four!) We have it described as such: “A not so simple tale based on the real-life exploits of T.E. Lawrence, the famous English adventurer. The deceptively simple quality of this complex man is introduced at the beginning of the film when various people try to describe him with each coming up with a different description” A Man for All Seasons swept the Oscars with multiple wins for Best Actor and Best Picture. The 6 Degrees Connection in our top 100 list has A Man for All Seasons at Number sixty-six. The film has a basis in true historical events- It’s from a play based on the true story of Sir Thomas More, a man who stood on his principles and refused to use his influence to obtain an annulment for King Henry VIII and paid for his refusal with his life. The de Havilland Decision Olivia De Havilland is featured in Adventures of Robin Hood with Errol Flynn. This was an early role for De Havilland before she put her foot down about accepting parts in films that were not to her liking. Here’s an excerpt from 6 Degrees of Film talking about the landmark case brought by Olivia de Havilland and known as the ‘de Havilland Decision.’ Olivia de Havilland also fought studio bosses, winning a landmark decision against onerous hiring practices in what became known as the de Havilland Decision. She began her film career at the age of nineteen starring in Captain Blood with Errol Flynn. She was under a seven-year contract with the Warner Brothers film studio, a standard contract for all performers, who signed their lives away when they agreed to the terms. She was “loaned out” to David O. Selznick for her memorable part in Gone with the Wind, which earned her an Oscar nomination in 1939. After that, she demanded better parts beyond the same old sweet-young-thing roles she had been playing. The studio not only refused but slapped her with a six-month suspension, another standard practice of those who wielded absolute control. The last straw came at the end of her seven-year contract, when Warner Brothers informed her that she had to make up the lost six months from her suspension. Adding time to contracts was another standard operating procedure to keep actors in line. This time, de Havilland sued. The court ruled in de Havilland’s favor, stating that not only did she not have to make up the suspension, but all future seven-year contracts had to hold to the intent and not force extra time from suspensions on the contracted actor. The de Havilland Decision paved the way for better treatment for actors from the omnipotent studio bosses. Olivia de Havilland was right in her decision to hold out for more quality roles. She won an Oscar for her performance in The Snake Pit, one of Hollywood’s early attempts to portray serious subject matters such as mental health problems. As one of Hollywood’s pioneering women, she has paved the way for all female actors and for all women working in Hollywood Comedy Murder by Death is the Neil Simon film adaptation notable for its stellar all-star cast.  Overboard was remade recently, but the original is the best.

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About Doris Day

Note: Originally Published in 2012 Her roles have been stereotyped and her acting dismissed for decades. She has become a parody of herself, with songs like “Look at me, I’m Sandra Dee, Lousy with virginity…” and the famous Oscar Levant quote, “I knew Doris Day before she was a virgin”. But she is part of the mythos of Hollywood and is indelibly linked with the fifties persona of the American Dream. She was a major part of Hollywood box-office business for almost two decades and she was a powerhouse who shaped her image and influenced many women who have followed in her footsteps. She knew how to craft an image and to give the public what they wanted. And in the fifties, after two World Wars and the Cold War in progress, America wanted to be entertained. They wanted to be “bathed in banality” at times, the way Marshall McCluhan described the newspaper we “slip into” in the mornings. People often go to the movies to absorb nothing more than beautiful images and to relax in much the same way one goes to get a massage. That is the point of the Doris Day era. She was better than a relaxing massage at times and the public loved her. She was definitely “cornball” and “hokey” and “banal” and eventually syrupy sweet, but she did have talent and made the most of it and some of her films were quite good. My picks for the best of Doris Day: 1. Love Me or Leave Me: With Jimmy Cagney, she plays the real-life Ruth Etting and she is never better belting out the bluesy theme song, “Love Me or Leave Me”. 2. Pillow Talk: She made several movies with Rock Hudson, and this is the best of the lot. Rock Hudson makes fun of himself in this and that is usually a good thing with movie stars. Day plays a strong, determined woman who in the end, will always “get her man”. Her image is shaped from the first frame to portray a “modern” female who works as an interior decorator and doesn’t like the way the smooth-talker on her party line treats women. That, in a nutshell, is a good reason for women to champion Doris Day’s characters. 3. Calamity Jane: A favorite of mine, she is a frontier woman who is portrayed as a loveable tomboy. Her quirks and comic turn as a rough and tumble pioneer with a characteristically feminine side is one of her best roles 4. Please Don’t Eat the Daisies: Doris Day is surprisingly good with David Niven in all of their scenes together. She doesn’t ham it up as she tended to do in later years. And the sophisticated Niven was equally effective as her mate in this adaptation of the popular bestselling book of the same name. There is a touch of schmaltz that went into overload in her later projects, but in this film the couple is believable and her part as a wife and mother who is navigating the sophisticated world of New York Theater is a nice touch. 5. That Touch of Mink: No self-respecting critic likes this movie. It does look like Cary Grant, the lodestar for all sophisticated male leads, is simply walking through and collecting a paycheck in this part. However, the role suits him and there are some great comic turns. Doris Day is working at one point in the film at an early-fifties era computer company and the size of the computer is so outdated and hilariously large that it, by itself, is enough to make anyone laugh! But the comic overtones tend to wear well even in this day and age. This film almost has the feel of one of those British sex comedies that someone like Terry Thomas would have played in. John Aston has a small but extremely funny part as the “louse” that is used to make Grant jealous. This is not intended to be rocket science, therefore, if you see this on the small screen, it is not to be dismissed so lightly. Day made many pictures far worse than this piece of fluff. Other films worth seeing with Doris Day are her one Hitchcock film, “The Man who Knew Too Much” with Jimmy Stewart and the James Garner film, “The Thrill of It All”. The scenes in the latter are funniest when they spoof commercials and mass marketing early in the film. And with Hitchcock, Day is never allowed to run away with the syrupy goodness that was a trademark element and a fatal flaw in her later films. Today, some of the actresses linked to Doris Day by 6 Degrees are Renee Zelwegger, of Bridget Jones fame, plus Drew Barrymore, who has her own production company. Goldie Hawn, who shaped her image as the loveable and kooky ditz used that image to carry her to many successes at the box office. And there’s also Sandra Bullock, who has shaped an image, formed her own successful production company and starred in many light comedies that should make Doris herself proud!

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