One of three new Doris Day DVD releases from Fox's Cinema Classics Collection (Do Not Disturb and Caprice are the other two -- click on the titles to see my reviews), Move Over, Darling is a pleasant enough vehicle from Doris' early sixties period, marking the second and last time she worked each with co-star James Garner and director Michael Gordon. A recast of the notorious, ill-fated Something's Got to Give, the aborted final film of Marilyn Monroe, Move Over, Darling benefits from the smooth playing of its stars, as well as a super-glossy production, but for straight-out laughs, it could have been much funnier, and it doesn't hold a candle to its original inspiration, the classic screwball comedy My Favorite Wife, starring Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.
By now, most film fans are aware of the backstory on Something's Got to Give, the intended remake of director Leo McCarey's beloved My Favorite Wife, which was to star Marilyn Monroe, Dean Martin, and Cyd Charisse. 20th Century Fox, filming Something on the Hollywood lot at the same time that Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra was eating millions of Fox dollars over in Italy, decided to pull the plug on the Monroe comedy remake when Monroe pulled her usual shenanigans with sick-outs and delays (this contention has been challenged recently by scholars who say she wasn't absent enough to be fired). Regardless of the real reason, Monroe was unceremoniously canned (perhaps, it has been suggested, to send a message and warning to Liz - who would have laughed it off, anyway), and the picture, with only about 30 minutes of usable footage, was shelved.
Though scholars now assert that Monroe was actually hired back by a desperate Fox, who realized that they needed Monroe back to recoup their losses on the aborted project, Monroe died before filming resumed. Despite earlier efforts to recast the picture with Lee Remick (Martin had refused), Something's Got to Give was finally dumped for good when Monroe died. A year later, Fox decided that enough of a respectful period of time had passed since Monroe's death to dust off Something's script and sets, and revamp the project for America's number one female box office star, Doris Day. Something was now Move Over, Darling, and popular TV and movie star James Garner (who had just finished filming the soon-to-be released The Thrill of it All with Day) was signed to co-star.
On the morning of his wedding day, Nick Arden (Garner) must have his current wife, Ellen (Day) declared dead. Ellen, missing at sea for five years and long presumed dead, is the only obstacle to Nick getting married and moving on with his life. His fiancé, Bianca (Polly Bergen), is a brittle, childish knock-out who spouts Freudian jargon at the drop of a hat. After navigating the choppy waters of cranky Judge Bryson's (Edgar Buchanan) courtroom, Nick gets his death decree and his new bride. Little does Nick realize that while on his way to his honeymoon - at the same picturesque hotel he honeymooned at with Ellen - Ellen has been rescued off her island paradise by the U.S. Navy, and has docked in California that very day. Returning to her sumptuous home after five years, Ellen spies her two little daughters, Jenny and Didi (Pami Lee and Leslie Farrell) swimming in the backyard pool. Overcome with emotion, but mindful not to let them know who she is, Ellen goes inside to confront her mother-in-law, Grace Arden (Thelma Ritter). After the initial shock of seeing her daughter-in-law seemingly return from the dead, Grace fills in Ellen on what has happened with Nick and Bianca. Giving her new clothes and hairdo, Grace urges Ellen to confront Nick at the hotel before anything happens to "cement" the new marriage.
At the hotel, Ellen confronts an astounded, overjoyed Nick, and demands that he tell Bianca. But Nick is essentially a coward, and through a series of comedic bedroom farce sequences, manages to keep both Ellen and an amorous Bianca at bay, ultimately faking a back injury so he can return home with Bianca without compromising his first marriage to Ellen. Ellen also returns to the house, and, posing as Eva Swensen, a Swedish nurse, tries to force Nick's hand with Bianca. Soon, Ellen has more trouble than she can handle, when Nick finds out that Ellen has been fibbing, too. She was stranded on her desert island with Stephen Burkett (Chuck Connors), whom she called "Adam" (and of course, he called her Eve). Not helping matters is Ellen's attempt to pass off nerdy shoe clerk Don Knotts as the real Adam, to fool Nick. Will Nick and Ellen be able to get back together as a family, or will Ellen go off with Stephen, and Nick stay with Bianca?
"Amusing" is probably the best way to describe Move Over, Darling, and that's not necessarily a backhanded compliment. Certainly with this cast, the viewer is going to be entertained. Day, an effortlessly charming and instinctive actor, does well in the slapstick moments, and excels in her more emotional, dramatic scenes. Her first encounter with her daughters is really quite touching, and it reminds you of what a fine dramatic actress Day was - and unfortunately, how infrequently those dramatic talents were utilized in her increasingly fluffy but enjoyable vehicles like Move Over, Darling. Garner, smooth and assured as Nick, doesn't have much to do here but act alternately torn and exasperated, but he's more than up to the relatively easy challenges of the script. Bergen has the tough role, and she's very effective, enacting a character that has to be simultaneously sexually desirable and immediately off-putting, to make the mechanics of this sex farce work. If she was too nice or too sympathetic, we'd hate Nick for rejecting her, and if she wasn't sexy enough, we'd never feel Nick's conflict in wanting to sleep with her on his wedding night, while wanting to stay true to Ellen. Bergen pulls off this tight-rope act very well.
As for the supporting cast, it may be one of the best of any Hollywood comedy of the early 1960s, but that's one of the big problems with Move Over, Darling. Comedy pros like Thelma Ritter, John Astin, Fred Clark, Elliott Reid, Max Showalter, Pat Harrington, Jr., Eddie Quillan, Alvy Moore, Alan Sues, Pat Moran, John Harmon, and Sid Gould manage to elevate the audience's anticipation level through the roof, giving us hope of some knock-out comedy scenes. But they just don't come. These pros are obviously raring to go, but they're given little if anything to do that's laugh-out-loud funny. And that's the general air of Move Over, Darling: pleasant, amusing, genial - but not a knockout. Now, I'll take a genial Doris Day comedy any day over most of what passes for "comedy" today, but Move Over, Darling never really takes off into the stratosphere as it should, considering the talent involved. The film's central bedroom farce mechanics at the hotel fail to find a coherent rhythm, and the "Adam" part, crucial to the success of the earlier My Favorite Wife, is whittled down considerably here, and miscast as well with bland Connors. Day and Garner's previous pairing, The Thrill of it All, which was released about five months before Move Over, Darling and which sported a funny script by Carl Reiner, certainly came closer to having a sustained comedic approach, and is now the better remembered - and better wearing over forty years later -- of the two pictures.
20th Century Fox has done an amazing job of restoring Move Over, Darling to its former CinemaScope glory. The anamorphic, 2.35:1 letterboxed widescreen image has been digitally restored, correcting color fading and print anomalies. Bright and vivid, it looks better than I've ever seen it on TV broadcasts.
Several audio options are available on Move Over, Darling. There are two English soundtracks: 2.0 Stereo and single mono, which are quite strong, as well as French and Spanish mono audio tracks. Subtitles in English and Spanish are offered, as well as close-captioning.
20th Century Fox went all out with these Doris Day Cinema Classics Collections, offering a wealth of extras for Move Over, Darling. First up are two featurettes looking at the film's production. The Amazing Road to Move Over, Darling is an informative ten and a half minute featurette discussing the background of Something's Got to Give and the Day recast. Doris vs. Marilyn is a nine minute featurette comparing the iconic images of Doris and Marilyn, contrasted by their appearances in this remake. Plenty of shots of Marilyn in the Something footage is a bonus, but these two featurettes really skew towards favoring Marilyn -- curious for a disc about Doris Day -- and I'd question some of the conclusions drawn by the commentators about both actresses (I'd hardly call Marilyn -- nor would anyone else back in the 1950's -- the "girl next door" and "innocent" in her sexuality). A Conversation with Polly Bergen is a five and a half minute interview with Polly Bergen, who has some great insider info about Move Over, Darling's production. Enoch Arden: Part II is a thirty-three and a half minute portion of D. W. Griffith's silent 1911 feature that was the basis for My Favorite Wife. It's amazing that Fox included this silent film in their extras, and shows their commitment to going the extra mile in giving customers something unusual. Kudos for that, Fox. Next up is a restoration comparison for all three of the new Doris Day Fox DVDs (Caprice and Do Not Disturb), as well as a fun photo gallery for this production. Several versions of the trailer for Move Over, Darling are included, as well as trailers for all three of the new Doris Day Fox DVDs.
Move Over, Darling is a slick, fun, amusing Doris Day vehicle from her heyday as America's favorite female movie star. While not reaching the heights of Pillow Talk or Send Me No Flowers -- and certainly not challenging the original My Favorite Wife -- Move Over, Darling still delivers a light, charming comedy experience, and fans of Day will welcome Fox's efforts to make it look as good as possible. I recommend Move Over, Darling.
Paul Mavis is an internationally published film and television historian, a member of the Online Film Critics Society, and the author of The Espionage Filmography.