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Doris Day - Star of the Month
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,The Tunnel of Love

The Tunnel of Love

Sunday August, 12 2018 at 04:00 PM

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At first glance The Tunnel of Love (1958) might seem like a departure for perpetually perky Doris Day. The sometimes dark comedy, based on a play by Joseph Fields and Peter De Vries, isn't exactly a song-filled romance. Instead, the movie, which Variety called racy and risque, touches on serious subjects like infertility and adoption. Day plays Isolde Poole, a dedicated housewife and the neighborhood's Brownie troop leader. But something is missing in her life. Isolde wants to have a child with her husband Augie (Richard Widmark) and their attempts haven't been successful.

Enter the Rock-A-Bye Adoption Agency. And a big misunderstanding that involves a pretty Rock-A-Bye employee, a wild night on the town for Augie, and a baby that looks suspiciously like its adopted father. Isolde eventually learns of her husband's apparent philandering, but for the most part, she's oblivious to the problems surrounding her. So, even though The Tunnel of Love occasionally raises serious marital issues, Day's screen character remains the optimistic innocent with lines like "we're happily married and we're gonna stay that way forever." She even works in a song or two including the title tune and Run Away, Skidaddle Skidoo.

At the end of The Tunnel of Love, everything is happily resolved. Unlike the play, which leaves the baby's paternity in question, Hollywood chose to tidy things up and create a more likable husband for Isolde. Though not a popular success, The Tunnel of Love did earn Doris Day a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress. And it allowed another big star - Gene Kelly - a chance to escape his stereotyped image as a song-and-dance man and try his hand behind the camera. The Tunnel of Love is notable as the first directorial effort from Kelly in which he didn't also star.

By the late fifties, the accomplished actor/singer/dancer/choreographer had pretty much done it all in Hollywood. He'd starred in what would arguably be considered the greatest musicals of all time, Singin' in the Rain (1952) and An American in Paris (1951). He'd received an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Anchors Aweigh (1945). And he had begun co-directing (with Stanley Donen) some of his own movies starting with On the Town (1949). Kelly and Donen would successfully team up again to direct Singin' in the Rain and It's Always Fair Weather (1955). But Kelly's first solo outing as director proved less than promising. The film, Invitation to the Dance (1956), was essentially an experimental dance film with no dialogue. Filmed in Europe in 1952, the movie won Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival, but it was shelved by MGM as unwatchable and not released until four years later. His next directing job, The Happy Road (1957), which was also shot in Europe, was a more successful if modest effort.

Kelly's pinnacle years at MGM came to a close with The Tunnel of Love, which was the final film in his contract. He had been looking for more opportunities to direct and new MGM chief (and Kelly fan) Benny Thau needed someone to tackle The Tunnel of Love, so it was a beneficial collaboration for both of them. But there were conditions. Thau stipulated that Kelly had to make the movie in black & white, using only one primary set, shoot it in just three weeks and for a cost of less than $500,000.

Kelly succeeded, bringing The Tunnel of Love in on time and within the budget. Yet, it didn't perform well at the box office, for reasons which Kelly later revealed in The Films of Gene Kelly: Song and Dance Man: "This is no criticism of Richard Widmark, who is one of the finest film actors we have and who actually started his stage career playing light comedic parts. It's simply that the public fixes an impression of an actor, they accept him in a certain guise and they don't like him to stray too far from it. Widmark had established himself in serious material and they weren't prepared to accept him in this light, sexy part. The public creates type-casting, not the actors - unfortunately." Kelly would go on to direct several other features after The Tunnel of Love, most notably Hello, Dolly! (1969) starring Barbra Streisand, which would win Kelly the New York Film Critic's Award for Director and be nominated for Best Picture by the Academy.

One final note on The Tunnel of Love. The film's cast of Richard Widmark, Doris Day and Gig Young had been played on stage by Darren McGavin, Nancy Olson and Tom Ewell. But for a brief period, Ewell's part (the Gig Young movie role) of the ladies' man next door was actually played by late night talk show host, Johnny Carson.

Producer: Martin Melcher, Joseph Fields
Director: Gene Kelly
Screenplay: Joseph Fields, Peter De Vries
Art Direction: Randall Duell, William Horning
Cinematography: Robert J. Bronner
Editing: John McSweeney, Jr.
Music: Ruth Roberts
Cast: Doris Day (Isolde Poole), Richard Widmark (Augie Poole), Gig Young (Dick Pepper), Gia Scala (Estelle Novick), Elisabeth Fraser (Alice Pepper).
BW-99m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by Stephanie Thames



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