When the big box set of Doris Day films (see details below) arrived, I was faced with a dilemma. I knew I wouldn't have time to review them all, so which one to start with? I eliminated two possibilities right away because they weren't really "Doris Day movies" (one stars Kirk Douglas and the other, James Cagney). I'd seen most all of the movies in the set before, and I chose a couple of them for viewing that I remembered liking: "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," a typical Doris Day domestic comedy, and "The Pajama Game," a typical Doris Day musical.
More on "The Pajama Game" in a separate review, but surely I could have chosen better than "Please Don't Eat the Daisies." Over forty years had gone by since my seeing this 1960 release in high school, and either it was always an empty piece of dim-witted fluff and I just didn't realize it at the time, or I've grown into a grumpy old man. (Watch it; I heard that!)
The story is based on a really delightful, best-selling, semiautobiographical book by Jean Kerr, wife of New York theater critic Walter Kerr. I had read it back in the late fifties before originally watching the movie, and I suppose at the time I was just grateful to see the pages jump to life on the big screen. Today, I'm still impressed by the book, but now the movie left me listless.
Doris Day co-stars with David Niven as Kate and Larry Mackay, stand-ins for the Kerrs. Poor Niven, though. He did several of these situation-type comedies in the sixties, and he must have regretted it; none of them are very good. Maybe he was simply in a losing mode; you know, one of those periods in your life when nothing seems to go right. A few years later, Niven thought he was going to be the star of "The Pink Panther" but quickly discovered he was being overshadowed by Peter Sellers. These days people think of "The Pink Panther" as a Sellers movie, with Niven fading into the wallpaper. Anyway, in "Daisies" Niven plays Doris Day's husband in a role that might have gone to Clifton Webb a decade earlier, that of a rather uptight drama critic whose move to the country with a wife, four boys, a dog, and a nightmare of a house is too much for any of them to handle. Frankly, it was too much for me to handle as well, this second time around.
The first people we met in the story are the Mackeys' four kids, aged sixteen months to nine years, all of them brats. They're busying themselves dropping bags of water on unsuspecting passersby under their fourth-floor apartment window. The mother is not pleased, nor are we. The children constantly fight or misbehave. The youngest is so awful he has to be caged. Somehow, we're expected to find the kids cute and the cage bit amusing. The opening scene sets the tone for the unfunny, sometimes mean-spirited antics to come.
Doris Day as the mother spends most of her time reprimanding the children or trying to persuade her husband to move out of the city. Where is the actress's usual lighthearted charm? Niven as the stuffed-shirt critic spends most of his time frowning and scowling. Where's his usual sense of humor? He doesn't even appear to like his own kids; he just wants to get away from them as much possible, not that I blame him.
So, Larry is a former drama professor turned professional drama critic for a big New York newspaper, and his first assignment is to review a very bad play produced by his best friend, Alfred North (Richard Haydn). Larry not only pans the play, he pans the leading lady, too, a glamorous Broadway star, Deborah Vaughn (Janis Paige). By doing so, he makes enemies of both people. But Larry figures he's got his integrity to maintain. Before long, he's secretly reveling in his new reputation as an acerbic critic; in fact, he's becoming famous for it, and the Mackays' normal, sedate lifestyle is turning into a constant succession of cocktail parties, fancy night clubs, high-priced restaurants, and mindless acquaintances.
To liven up the proceedings, the script calls for as many eccentric characters as possible to float in and out of the plot, but nothing helps much. Spring Byington as Kate's mother is a sweet touch; Maggie the housekeeper (Patsy Kelly) is straight out of a television sitcom; and from "Arsenic and Old Lace," we have a cab driver (Jack Weston) who has just written a play and wants Larry to read it. (OK, in "Arsenic" it was a policeman, but who's counting?) Even the Mackays' dog is supposed to be colorful. He has to be carried wherever they go because he refuses to walk. Things turn even dippier when the Mackays move to the country and into a house so creepy not even the Addams family would feel comfortable in it.
Although "Daisies" is not a musical, it is a Doris Day movie, which means it's fair game for song. In this case, she gets to sing two numbers: "Please Don't Eat the Daisies," with a group of school children, and "Any Way the Wind Blows," with a small-theater company. Both are frothy little ditties that just sort of jump in out of nowhere, in particular the one with the kids. In addition, Day gets to hum a few bars of her signature theme, "Que Sera, Sera," in a restaurant.
OK, one funny line: One day when her husband is in a frenzy and demanding to know where she was all afternoon, Day's character replies, "I was having a rendezvous with Rock Hudson!" Or don't you remember those pictures she made (and would continue making) with Hudson?
I'm afraid "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" is all a bit too saccharine for me to handle anymore, but the film (and particularly the book) did well enough at the time to engender a television series that lasted from 1965 to 1967. After watching one episode, it was a TV series I didn't mind missing. As for the movie, it's much too weightless to knock about. Doris Day singing with school kids; what's not to like? It's just so ho-hum, it's hard to stay awake through it. And the title? One of the Mackay kids eats the daisies at the new house. Somehow, in the book that seemed a lot funnier.
The video quality is the best part of the proceedings. The screen size is exceptionally wide, measuring an anamorphic ratio approximately 2.20:1 across my standard-screen Sony HD television. Both the CinemaScope and the Metrocolor come off well, transferred at a fairly high bit rate. Colors are deep and rich, and definition is quite sharp. The only minor points of contention might be a little grain, specifically noticeable in the beginning, and an overall aspect that is a trifle dark.
The Dolby Digital 1.0 monaural sound is unexceptional in every way. While it is hardly unlistenable, it does nothing especially well, either. The frequency range is limited; the dynamics are constricted; and the balance favors the upper half of the register, giving the musical backgrounds a slightly edgy feeling. Dialogue comes across well enough, though, so all is not lost.
The "Special Features" include a widescreen theatrical trailer. They not only include a trailer, they are comprised only of a trailer. Apart from that there are a generous thirty-one scene selections; English and French spoken languages; and English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
"Please Don't Eat the Daisies" is available individually or in an eight-disc box set, "The Doris Day Collection," that also includes, chronologically, "Young Man With a Horn" (1950), "Lullaby of Broadway" (1951), "Calamity Jane" (1953), "Love Me or Leave Me" (1955), "The Pajama Game" (1957), "Jumbo" (1962), and "The Glass Bottom Boat" (1966).
I wish I could have liked "Please Don't Eat the Daisies" more; it was a fond memory for so many years, I was sorry to see it not live up to the test of time. Still, if you're a Doris Day fan, no film of hers is too light or too fluffy. So maybe "Daisies" is just up your country lane.