The Archivist #122: Love and the Deep Blue Sea [ROMANCE ON THE HIGH SEAS & CANNERY ROW]

Doris and Debra court seaside romance in this pair of classic Warner titles.

The Archivist — Welcome to the Archive. As home video formats have evolved over the years, a multitude of films have found themselves in danger of being forgotten forever due to their niche appeal. Thankfully, Warner Bros. established the Archive Collection, a Manufacture-On-Demand DVD operation devoted to thousands of idiosyncratic and ephemeral works of cinema. The Archive has expanded to include a streaming service, revivals of out-of-print DVDs, and factory pressed Blu-ray discs. Join us as we explore this treasure trove of cinematic discovery!

We may be saying goodbye to summer, but that doesn’t mean we need to say goodbye to dreamy seaside escapades of love and romance whatsoever. I’m not suggesting at all that the best kinds of love stories tend to take place by the water. Yet there’s something about the vast openness of the ocean which makes it the perfect backdrop for what remains perhaps the most complex of human emotions. Maybe it’s how both the feeling and sensation of love echoes the unpredictable, ever-changing and all-too-powerful nature of the ocean by the way it sweeps away virtually everyone who comes in its path, that links the two forces together.

In the meantime, while we ponder this theory, let’s enjoy two love-soaked titles which take place by the sea from our friends over at Warner Archive. Not only do 1948’s Romance on the High Seas 1982’s Cannery Row feature two of the screen’s greatest American actresses at the beginning of their careers, but both also use their seaside trappings to great effect in telling stories filled with the one emotion men and women will forever try to make sense of.

Romance on the High Seas (1948)

In Romance on the High Seas, a well-to-do housewife named Elvira (Janis Page) convinces a working-class torch singer named Georgia (Doris Day) to take her place aboard a cruise to Rio de Janeiro so that she may stay home and spy on her husband Michael (Don DeFore). Anxious to get away and with hopes that the voyage will lead to an unexpected romance, Georgia agrees. The only catch is that Michael has secretly sent out private detective Peter (Jack Carson) to check on his wife. After Peter naturally believes Georgia to be Elvira, things take a twist as the pair begin to fall for each other.

Betty Hutton and Judy Garland were just some of the names being tossed around for the role of Georgia until Day (then known only as a big band singer) won over director Michael Curtiz in an audition, which instantly landed her the role. Honestly, they just doesn’t get any more fluffy or romantic in classic Hollywood than in Romance on the High Seas. The movie is loaded with farce and sight gags as beautiful people run around until they discover they’re in love with the person that’s been in front of them all along. It all would have been a fun enough romp, but thanks to Day, it becomes something far more special. So rarely has a presence come onto the screen and made the kind of impression Day does in her film debut. Despite never having acted a day in her life, the performer was simply made for the camera as seen by the way she manages wit, timing, delivery and that effervescent quality which would go on to become one of her hallmarks. Romance on the High Seas’ rich technicolor and soundtrack full of gems, including “It’s Magic,” (the song which would further propel Day to fame) ensure that its joys are endless. Still, its ultimate highlight remains Doris and the sparkle she exudes in every scene she’s in showing the undeniable promise of the legendary movie star she would soon become.

Cannery Row (1982)

Based on the works of John Steinbeck, Cannery Row sees Suzy (Debra Winger), a beautiful but aimless young woman arrive in a small Monterrey fishing port off the California coast. Hoping to find some kind of permanence after traveling for so long, the weary Suzy takes a job at the local brothel as she contemplates what to do with her life. Not long after her arrival, she meets the good-natured, but somewhat guarded Doc (Nick Notle), an ex-baseball player who is now an amateur marine biologist. Even as the two frequently clash, Suzy and Doc find themselves the only bright spots in the otherwise dead seaside village.

When 1980’s Urban Cowboy was released, its acclaim and popularity wasted no time in making the novice Winger a star. With her pick of any script in town, it was the one for Cannery Row which struck her eye the most. Most film buffs know about original female lead Raquel Welch being replaced for being too difficult, which led to a highly-publicized lawsuit, resulting in Winger’s casting. Perhaps this was for the best since both she and Nolte enjoy some truly interesting chemistry. The two actors hone in on both Doc and Suzy as truly damaged people whom life has forgotten. Their scenes overflow with a poetry and an explosiveness which makes them strangely impossible to resist. While the romance of the script and the actors’ collective approach to it is grounded in the kind of late 70s realness, everything else about Cannery Row feels so totally classic Hollywood. The colorful, detailed sets are heightened thanks to the manufactured feel given off by the studio fog, while the costumes are wonderfully (and appropriately) gaudy and downtrodden. Nothing beats the beautiful matte paintings however, which populate the background of virtually every scene, adding that extra layer of movie fantasy. Even if Cannery Row doesn’t always work as well as it can, it’s still a worthwhile combination of two eras of moviemaking coming together to make something pretty darn special.

Romance on the High Seas and Cannery Row are both available on Blu-Ray and DVD from Warner Archive.

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