powered by AFI
April in Paris (1952), a lightweight Warner Brothers musical, was made as a typical vehicle for the hugely popular star Doris Day. It even opened on Christmas Eve, clearly designed to be a frothy holiday entertainment. While not among Day's best films, it remains a tuneful, if frivolous, piece of Technicolor candy with some enjoyable numbers courtesy of composer Vernon Duke, lyricists Yip Harburg and Sammy Cahn, and uncredited choreographer Donald Saddler.
Day plays Ethel "Dynamite" Jackson, a Broadway chorus girl who mistakenly receives an invitation meant for Ethel Barrymore to represent American theater at a Parisian arts festival. The State Department diplomat responsible for the mix-up, played by Ray Bolger, tries to rectify the situation but quickly realizes inviting a chorus girl is actually not a bad idea. He accompanies her on a cruise to Europe and they fall in love as comedy antics ensue.
The musical highlight of the picture is probably "I'm Gonna Ring the Bell Tonight," performed in the ship's kitchen, but other memorable numbers include Bolger dancing with full-length portraits of himself dressed as George Washington and Abe Lincoln, and a number with numerous French poodles all dyed to match the pastel colors of their handlers' clothes.
The credited choreographer is LeRoy Prinz, but that was due mainly to his position as head of that department at Warner Brothers. (It was common practice at the time to credit certain technical department heads even when underlings did the actual work.) In her memoir (as told to A.E. Hotchner), Day writes that LeRoy's brother Eddie Prinz did the choreography, but a more recent biography by David Kaufman reveals that Donald Saddler actually choreographed Day's numbers. Saddler is quoted at length speaking of the strong relationship he enjoyed with Day on this and two further films.
"There was instantly a nice rapport," Saddler said. "And after a while, I could think ahead, because I knew how she moved, and it proved a great asset. I always made her feel that if a step wasn't right, then I'd just give her another one. And she was Warner Brothers-trained, where sometimes they would just go on the set, improvise the number, and shoot it.
"Of all the stars and principals I've ever danced with, I think she was one of the most gifted. I don't think she ever had any idea of how great she was. She just thought that was the way she was supposed to be. But when she was working, she was in her own world.... She could do anything.... If she couldn't take a step I gave her and make something out of it -- or make it her own -- then it was the step's fault, because she had perfect rhythm."
Saddler also said that LeRoy Prinz warned him to always praise Day's takes because "we only do single takes here" (meaning - at Warner Brothers). Saddler and Day got around this by developing a system of hand signals, so that if Day felt she needed another take, she would secretly signal Saddler, who would then say that he had made a mistake and needed to redo the shot.
Day later recalled in her memoir how difficult it was to learn to dance for the camera: "A film dancer does not have the freedom of a stage dancer. She must dance precisely to a mark. Her turns must be exact. She must face precisely in the camera direction required while executing very difficult steps... I would drag myself home at night, too tired to move another step, but I kept practicing -- in my head. It was a trick I learned early on that was of great help to me. I could rehearse a dance routine in my head, watching myself perform, and that did me almost as much good as getting up on my feet and doing it. I rehearsed songs that way, too. Not just the lyrics, but the actual rendition of the song, the phrasing, breathing, all of it, without singing a note."
Biographer Tom Santopietro was one of many to heap praise on Day's vocal talents, writing of her performance in April in Paris: "Her silken rendition of the beautiful title song lifts the film to an entirely different level, if only briefly. The emotional directness of her singing, which only the very best vocalists ever achieve, is what matters here and what the audience responds to. This is true artistry and why even a trifle like April in Paris is worth examining."
Critics of the time basically agreed. The New York Times found the film predictable and the clowning tiresome, "but the dances and musical numbers are fortunately on a higher plane and offer some cheerful entertainment in the light and tuneful line. Mr. Bolger makes lots of magic with his educated feet, especially in one lively number called 'We're Going to Ring the Bell Tonight.' And Miss Day puts her skill at rhythm singing to frequent and favorable use."
From Day's perspective, April in Paris was just another assembly-line product. "I didn't like the movie and I certainly didn't enjoy making it," she wrote. She also said that Bolger and director David Butler had some serious clashes on set, with Butler angry that Bolger was upstaging Day by positioning his body so that the camera would favor him. Day professed not to be aware of the upstaging or even how it could be done.
April in Paris was Day's fourth of six pictures with Butler, whom she described as "urbane, considerate, witty... genial."
Producer: William Jacobs
Director: David Butler
Screenplay: Jack Rose, Melville Shavelson (story "Girl from Paris," written by)
Cinematography: Wilfred M. Cline
Art Direction: Leo K. Kuter
Music: Ray Heindorf, Howard Jackson (both uncredited)
Film Editing: Irene Morra
Cast: Doris Day (Ethel S. 'Dynamite' Jackson), Ray Bolger (S. 'Sam' Winthrop Putnam), Claude Dauphin (Philippe Fouquet), Eve Miller (Marcia Sherman), George Givot (Francois), Paul Harvey (Secretary Robert Sherman), Herbert Farjeon (Joshua Stevens), Wilson Millar (Sinclair Wilson), Raymond Largay (Joseph Welmar), John Alvin (Tracy).
C-101m. Closed Captioning.
by Jeremy Arnold
A.E. Hotchner, Doris Day: Her Own Story
David Kaufman, Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door
George Morris, Doris Day
Tom Santopietro, Considering Doris Day