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For most of her movie career Doris Day specialized in musicals and romantic comedies, but there was a brief period in the mid-fifties when her wholesome screen image was placed in a completely different context. Starting with Love Me or Leave Me in 1955 -- the story of Ruth Etting and the singer's relationship with mobster Gimp Snyder -- Day demonstrated a surprising dramatic range that revealed a steely resolve under that innocent facade. And Alfred Hitchcock cleverly exploited her ability to register panic and rising hysteria in his 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. Neither of those two films, however, can hold a candle to the melodramatic excesses of Julie (1956), which could serve as the Hollywood textbook example of the woman-in-peril thriller.
Set on the picturesque coast of Monterey, the film takes a dark turn immediately after the opening credits and we are plunged into a paranoid universe. Julie Benton (Day) is having serious doubts about her second marriage. To start with, Lyle (Louis Jourdan), her new husband, has an uncontrollable temper; during an argument in their car, he terrorizes Julie by holding her foot down on the gas pedal while they race around a curving coastal road at high speed. He's also insanely jealous and eventually reveals to Julie that he killed her first husband so he could marry her. When she attempts to run away from him, Lyle stalks her relentlessly, finally exploding in homicidal rage aboard an airplane where she is serving as a flight attendant.
Doris Day did not want to make Julie. According to the actress in Doris Day: Her Own Story, "Ever since my release from Warner Brothers, Marty [Day's husband and manager] had been trying to find a property he could produce on his own; Julie was what he turned up with....It wasn't a bad script, but playing the part of a woman victimized by a jealous husband washed back the reality of the insane jealousy of Al Jorden [her first husband]...and [husband number two] George Weidler's jealousy of my career. I had had more than enough real jealousy to contend with in my life. I didn't want to act in a film in which I played a woman whose husband was so jealous of her he was trying to kill her. That kind of sick film never has appealed to me and I told Marty so." Despite her protests, Day finally relented and made the film though she later admitted it "was a terrible ordeal, from start to finish -- not the movie itself as much as the events that surrounded it. To begin with, I had to take flying lessons so that I could realistically handle the controls of a disabled airliner which, at the picture's climax, I had to land in an emergency." Prior to her first flying lesson, however, Day, her husband and son were involved in a car accident. Though unharmed, the experience only added to her already agitated state of mind. Even worse was the abdominal pain and hemorrhaging she experienced during the filming -- it turned out to be an endometriotic tumor -- but because both she and her husband were practicing Christian Scientists she didn't consult a doctor until her condition became extreme. As Day recalled, her emergency surgery "was not only a hysterectomy, but...my intestines had to be surgically rebuilt to repair the damage the giant tumor had done to them."
In spite of all her troubles during the film's production, Day did have a few pleasant memories, writing that "Almost all of Julie was shot on location in Carmel, which is a lovely resort town a little south of San Francisco. My costar was Louis Jourdan, whom I liked very much. An amiable man, very gentle, very much interested in the people around him; we had a good rapport and I found talking to him a joy....We would take long walks on the beautiful Carmel beach, chatting by the hour." Jourdan also enjoyed working with Day and for him, Julie was an opportunity to play a different kind of role. He had grown bored with the stereotyped parts he was being offered in Hollywood. "I didn't want to be perpetually cooing in a lady's ear. There's not much satisfaction in it," he once complained, and his defiant attitude got him suspended at least four times when he was working for producer David O. Selznick. Unfortunately, Julie didn't change Jourdan's luck in terms of future casting coups and he continued to play continental lovers and European sophisticates, though his performance in the 1977 TV thriller Count Dracula is a late career highpoint.
Julie won Oscar nominations in two categories; one for Best Original Screenplay (by Andrew L. Stone) and Best Song. Though its merits as an Academy Award nominee seem more dubious now, the film features Day in her most emotionally overwrought performance, which makes for entertaining -- and often unintentionally hilarious -- viewing. It's quite possible that the improbable climax to Julie inspired the absurd scenario in Airport '75 in which air hostess Karen Black has to steer a plane to safety after the two pilots are killed in a mid-air collision with a small plane.
Producer: Martin Melcher
Director: Andrew L. Stone
Screenplay: Andrew L. Stone
Cinematography: Fred Jackman Jr.
Editing: Virginia L. Stone
Music: Leith Stevens
Cast: Doris Day (Julie Benton), Louis Jourdan (Lyle Benton), Barry Sullivan (Cliff Henderson), Frank Lovejoy (Detective Lt. Pringle), John Gallaudet (Detective Sgt. Cole), Jack Kruschen (Detective Mace), Harlan Warde (Detective Pope), Jack Kelly (Jack, co-pilot).
C-98m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.
by Jeff Stafford