On Moonlight Bay, The Winfield family moves into a new house in a small town in Indiana. Tomboy Marjorie Winfield begins a romance with William Sherman who lives across the street. Marjorie has to learn how to dance and act like a proper young lady. Unfortunately William Sherman has unconventional ideas for the time (setting is during W.W.I, but the war does not play a major part for most of the movie). His ideas include not believing in marriage or money, which causes friction with Marjorie’s father, who is the local bank vice president.
On Moonlight Bay, Though it doesn’t match the captivating staging of Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St Louis as a nostalgic period musical, both this charmer and its sequel By the Light of the Silvery Moon, based on Booth Tarkington’s delightful Penrod stories, are very much in the same mold as the Minnelli classic; both films provide ideal vehicles for the multi-talented Doris Day, seen here at her most fetchingly tomboyish with her frequent on-screen partner at the time, Gordon MacRae. Their combined vocal talents bring genuine class to the turn of the (last) century tunes, providing a veritable cornucopia of some of the era’s most recognizable standards. The pair create an easy chemistry mercifully free of the self-conscious projection so prevalent in many contemporary “feel-good” movies. Billy Gray, as Day’s younger brother in his pre-Father Knows Best days was a likable and unspoiled child performer, who brought terrific comic timing in the delivery of his misplaced energies. Mary Wickes as the no-nonsense maid who acts as a kind of chorus to the action, is another notable scene-stealer, in a film which like so many of the early Doris Day musicals leaves this viewer with a warm glow.
A loving tribute
This is a collection of warm, human and often humorous Booth Tarkington stories, strung together, of a perceived or recalled pre-WWI America. It had all happened half a century before this mid-20th Century production. It was, perhaps, the last clarion call of the sweet, sentimental ballad of the turn of the last Century as Rock and Roll was starting to impact as the popular music of the West.
The production values of this film are strictly 1950s studio. It was shot on tri-exposure Technicolor with the lighting a bit flat but, all in all, a loving tribute to the era complete with many of the top song hits of the time, some that are still celebrated today, in the 21st Century.
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