Fans of Doris Day (count me in that group) will no doubt greedily pick up MPI's release of Doris Day Today, the 1975 TV special that marked the end of Doris' commitment to CBS, and her final onscreen appearance until her aborted cable series, Doris Day's Best Friends a decade later. Guests for Doris' include John Denver, Tim Conway and Rich Little. That line-up should give you some idea of where Doris Day Today goes; typical of its time, this very mixed-bag of songs and comedy skits will no doubt please Day fanatics, but others, unfamiliar or unappreciative of the mid-70s variety format, may very well groan.
Doris Day Today was the final contract obligation that Day had with CBS, in a deal arranged by her late husband, Marty Melcher. According to Day, she never knew of this contract prior to her husband's death; her subsequent bankruptcy (due to shady dealings by Melcher and her financial advisor) forced her to honor this CBS contract, which included a five-year commitment to a sitcom (The Doris Day Show) and two variety specials. Day, loathing working in television, nonetheless honored the contract, with Doris Day Today effectively ending her mainstream mainstream Hollywood/movies/television career.
What one immediately notices with Doris Day Today is the conscious effort on the part of the producers, writers (Digby Wolfe and George Schlatter, the latter of Laugh-In fame) and director (Tony Charmoli) to firmly place Day in the center of 1975's "now," "happening" culture. Sex, and Doris' willingness to discuss it and engage in it, is almost constantly referenced here (watch her paw at, kiss, and even slap John Denver's ass). It's well known that Day herself disliked her image as "America's Sweetheart Virgin," and she certainly seems willing to dispel that image with her sexy songs and patter in Doris Day Today (Day, always one to make sure she "shot the moon" in her TV series as well as several celebrated moments in her various movies, doesn't let us down here, either). The show opens, ham-handedly ironic, with Day made up like Lillian Gish on a swing, singing, Anything Goes while a truly bizarre montage of exploding rockets, X-rated theatre marquees, a picture of Sammy Davis, Jr. (over which Doris sings, "And black's white today!"), as well as images of Mick Jagger, Elton John, David Bowie and Alice Cooper (over which Doris sings, "And guys today are really...who knows?"). Evidently, the 70s are here, and Doris is up for the challenge, as she transforms into a form-fitting pantsuit, and does a few locks with The Lockers group (yes, that's Fred "Rerun" Berry and Toni Basil). The rest of the cast comes out for an awkward dance and away we go.
The main problem with Doris Day Today isn't Day at all. As usual, she's a total pro, effortlessly charming, with a voice that's still pure and expressive, particularly when she's just allowed to sing a song without interference from a guest star or a stupid visual gimmick. Unfortunately, there are far too many of just such obstacles in Doris Day Today, weighing down the proceedings in a corny, dated, 70s variety package that even I found difficult to take at times - and I openly love that format. There are a few, isolated moments where Day, alone in front of the camera, just sings a song. And it's quite thrilling. She has that certain something, that "X-factor," that nobody can really describe, that immediately translates into a connection with the viewer. It's not just her singing style - which is impeccable, if not as strong, at this later point in her career - it's her savvy in front of the camera, and her indescribable pull that marked her as one of the most influential performers of the 20th century.
But those isolated, solitary Day moments don't come often enough in Doris Day Today. Too much, Day is saddled with ridiculous, even insulting comedic material that degrades her talent. Singing a duet with Tim Conway on Behind Closed Doors, the writers fashioned a tasteless skit involving Conway's constantly impregnating Day (hence, all the kids), as he appears in various fantasy roles when he gets her "behind closed doors." When Denver and Day do a "Sunshine Medley" number, it's not bad enough that they shoot these double-exposure dissolves that look like all those feminine deodorant spray commercials from the 1970s, they go even further by having Doris and John chroma keyed onto a daisy, kicking up their heels. Day and Rich Little do a skit where he impersonates the various leading men from her films while they both sing selected songs (with Little, it's lucky they had pictures up of the guys he was trying to impersonate). And horrifically, the final segment features an extended (read: ungodly, never-ending mess) comedy skit of Doris and Tim trying to live in a motor home, complete with heads banging on doors, and rumps frying on stoves. Seriously, what is an artist like Doris Day doing cavorting around with mediocre talents like these, enacting the most lame, bland TV material imaginable?
It's too bad they didn't have the faith in Day's singing abilities and her connection with the audience, to leave all that fourth-rate Laugh-In and Love, American Style comedy garbage out, and just let her sing. The moments she is allowed to do so, such as her Memories number, or Day by Day, are quite good. But filler was the name of the game in 1975's TV musical/comedy/variety special world, and she gets more than her fair share, from the ridiculous Midnight at the Oasis number with the Lockers (I've never seen a more poorly choreographed number), to having to engage Tim Conway in uncomfortable patter while he's in full drag. As Conway totters off the stage on his heels, Day, with forced enthusiasm, says, "Well, that's today for you," a linking refrain she'll repeat throughout the show. Unfortunately, she was more than right.
The full screen, 1.33:1 video image for Doris Day Today, considering the age of the source material, is pretty typical. The generally soft picture tends to have hot spots, and the colors are at times muted, but overall, it's not out of line from what you'd expect considering the source.
The English mono audio track accurately reflects the original broadcast presentation. Subtitles or close-captions are not included.
As with other MPI offerings, there are some attractive bonuses included on the Doris Day Today disc. First, there's Doris' extended appearance on The John Denver Family Special, from 1974. Next, there's a rare musical short Doris performed with Les Brown and His Orchestra (My Lost Horizon). Next, there's an episode from Doris' TV show, The Doris Day Show, included here, where Doris goes to Hollywood. Next, the original "billboard" for Doris Day Today is included, brought to you by Kraft!. And finally, there's an animal shelter promo that Doris shot on the set of her sitcom, which already appeared on the fourth season DVD set.
Lovers of all things Doris Day, as well as vintage TV fans (particular variety specials), will no doubt want to include Doris Day Today in their DVD collection. It's an historical record of a time long since past (some of that for good reason), that includes some great Day moments. The comedy is, to be kind, dated, as is the visual look of the special, so casual viewers may not find much of interest here.
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 .