By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953)
“Bright romantic comedy… gay with song… to welcome the Spring.”
Director: David Butler
Cast: Doris Day, Gordon MacRae, Leon Ames
Synopsis: The trials and tribulations of the Winfield family in small town Indiana as Marjorie Winfield’s boyfriend, William Sherman, returns from the Army after W.W.I.
By the Light of the Silvery Moon is a sequel to the hit film On Moonlight Bay from 1951, and re-unites most of the cast from that film. Twenty-nine year old Doris Day reprises her role of Marjie Winfield, tomboyish small-town girl avoiding the unwelcome advances of the nerdish Chester Finley (Russell Arms) as she awaits the return of her fiancÃ©, Bill Sherman (Gordon MacRae), from the battlefields of WWI. By the Light of the Silvery Moon contains all the trappings of the archetypal Hollywood ‘family’ movie from this era and, although we all know there never really was a world quite like the one we are watching, it always feels like we are returning to a place we know well. There’s the huge old house and the loving parents (Leon Ames — Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Absent-Minded Professor — and Rosemary DeCamp — 13 Ghosts — in this instance) who never argue seriously but may, on occasion, fall victim to misunderstandings that make innocent situations briefly seem otherwise. There’s also the faithful housemaid (Mary Wickes — The Trouble with Angels), plain but lovable and with a slightly dotty sense of humour. And of course there’s the mischievous but lovable little brother, Wesley (Billy Gray — Bad Men of Tombstone) who gets into all sorts of scrapes.
It’s Gray who provides most of the laughs in this one, and he’s pretty good. Unable to bear the thought of eating his pet turkey for thanksgiving, Wesley steals the turkey of his father’s boss and hides his own, only for it to come flying into the dining room during the meal. It’s quite a funny incident but, worryingly, we never see the bird again. Wesley also likes to play detective, and wrings some honest laughs out of the scene in which he pays a visit on a French actress he believes is having an affair with his father. Doris Day provides the music and the perky energy. She’s quite exhausting at times, but looks fairly cute in that your-best-friend’s-older-sister way that she played on until she was well into her thirties. MacRae, as her fiance, has a strong voice and clean-cut looks to match, but his features are a little bland and, outside of a handful of musicals, he never really carved out a career for himself in Hollywood. Today, he’s almost forgotten as a 50s movie star. Leon Ames, who plays the kindly father who never quite seems to know quite what is going on in his household, always provided value for money and, while he isn’t given too many opportunities to shine, makes the most of the chances he does get.
You don’t have to have seen the first film to watch this sequel but, if the first film is as good as or better than this one then they would make a pretty good double bill. After you’ve watched them you can gather your family around the piano and sing ‘By the Light of the Silvery Moon,’ and ‘If You Were the Only Girl in the World,’ like Doris and Gordon…
(Reviewed 28th August 2005)