By the end of the 1960s, Doris Day’s film career was about over. Reluctantly, she took on the television series her husband had obligated her (without her knowledge), and it would last for five successful years and close out her show business career.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Day often teamed up with the same leading man for several films. Rock Hudson (3 films), James Garner (2 films) and Rod Taylor (2 films). Unfortunately for Taylor, his two films with Day were not among her best films. Of the two, The Glass Bottom Boat was the better and most memorable. The other, Do Not Disturb, is quite forgettable. Never heard of it? Do not lose any sleep. Day made 14 films from 1960-1968, how many of her films do you remember?
For the record, I like The Glass Bottom Boat, it is mindless fun and has a great supporting cast. Of her frequent leading men, the chemistry with Taylor is lukewarm. Taylor made some very good films (The Birds, The Time Machine), but light comedy was not where he shined. Day was best with co-stars that could match her energy and where there was a spark between them. Taylor is not a bad actor, but he seems to have one speed and one tonal quality. While he was believable as the research engineer for the space program, as Day’s love interest, nope.
Day plays Jennifer Nelson, a widow who works at a NASA research facility in public relations and helps her dad by pretending to be a mermaid for his glass bottom boat sightseeing business. While being a mermaid, a fish hook removes the bottom part of her costume. The fisherman is actually her new boss, Bruce Templeton (Taylor), an exec at the research facility. She doesn’t know that when he hooks her costume.
Templeton pursues her, offering her a job writing his biography. Naturally, Day gets to display her talent for physical comedy, including one scene with Dom DeLuise as an electronics expert, where they get stuck together and destroy a cake.
This film allows Day to do what she does best, mix romance with singing and exaggerated comedy. Realism goes out the window, as well as logic, but you do not seem to care.
Director Frank Tashlin previously worked as an animator on Merry Melodies and Bugs Bunny cartoons. He went on to write for Bob Hope, Lucille Ball, the Marx Brothers and Red Skelton, before getting the chance to direct films in the 1950s. His films included Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Girl Can’t Help It. He then worked with Martin and Lewis, then Jerry Lewis on his early solo films. That’s a great background for working with Day on this film; at times, the comedy is like a cartoon.
So, the storyline is that security at the research facility suspect Nelson is really a spy for a foreign government, because she calls someone on the phone named Vladimir, who is really her dog. The sound of the telephone makes the dog excited to run around and get his exercise. Not exactly Shakespeare, but acceptable 1960s comedy.
For the rest of the film, Nelson is pursued by security agents that include DeLuise and Paul Lynde. Meanwhile, real spies are out to steal Templeton’s secret formula.
While some of the gags are silly, others are quite entertaining. The entire party scene at Templeton’s home is clever and funny with listening devices that look like hors d’oeuvres (DeLuise is force to eat one) and Lynde in disguise as a woman, to get close to Nelson.
Mistaken identity and a car chase are required ingredients, which occur in the third act. Somehow, Nelson and Templeton manage to negotiate the confusion and reveal their true feelings for each other, which one would expect in a romantic comedy.
Much of the comedy heavy lifting is done by the stellar cast including Lynde, DeLuise, Dick Martin, Edward Andrews, Arthur Godfrey, Eric Fleming, John McGiver, and George Tobias and Alice Pearce (the Kravitz couple from Bewitched).
Day made better comedies than The Glass Bottom Boat, although I would put this on par with Send Me No Flowers, her last film with Rock Hudson. Day would make several more films over the next two years before moving to television. Her final film, With Six You Get Eggroll, very similar to Yours, Mine and Ours, released the same year, was a box office success as a finale to her film career.
One can only wonder what Day would have done with the Mrs. Robinson role in The Graduate. Apparently, she was offered the role, but turned it down because it ran counter to her values. One cannot fault her for that, but America was changing and the type of films she preferred was dwindling in the new cultural landscape.