Films to watch in winter: On Moonlight Bay (1951)

A note from Lindsey: Since the holidays have now passed, today I’m recommending a film for general Winter viewing: On Moonlight Bay. Only a portion of the film takes place during Winter, but I think it’s a great selection to watch during this time of the year! Buy this film or stream it on Amazon and a small donation will be made to TMP :)

(Image: Musicals Blog)
(Image: Musicals Blog)

George Winfield (Leon Ames) is the vice president of a local bank. He has decided to move his family across town in hopes that his tomboy daughter and roughhousing son will shape up and become the respectable members of society that he has always hoped they’d be.

Marjorie (Doris Day), giving into the fact that she must become a proper young lady, takes up a romance with neighbor William Sherman (Gordon MacRae), who lives across the street from the Winfields’ new home.

But George Winfield won’t get his way that easily. William has some pretty unconventional views – including not believing in marriage or banks – which may cause George’s plan to backfire on him.

Roy Del Ruth directs 1951’s On Moonlight Bay, written by Jack Rose and Melville Shavelson as an adaptation of Booth Tarkington’s “Penrod Stories.” It is followed by a 1953 sequel, By the Light of the Silvery Moon.

On Moonlight Bay is a “love it or hate it” film for one single reason: it is a very obvious attempt to capitalize on and replicate the success of the magical, adorable 1944 family musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Leon Ames even appears as the father in both films! (And yes, he is wonderful in both.)

Those who fall on the “hate it” side of the spectrum will dismiss On Moonlight Bay as a bit of a rip-off, but I think it’s a wonderful effort that captures much of the same romantic charm of Meet Me in St. Louis. Nothing will ever be quite as good as Vincente Minnelli’s masterpiece, but On Moonlight Bay works because it follows the same formula as its predecessor (a “through the seasons” story, a mischevious younger sibling, a neighborhood romance, parental misunderstandings) while maintaining its own unique mood.

A beautiful title song opens the film, grabbing the viewer’s attention and setting the mood for what’s to come. Wonderful art direction/set design accompany the music to build a world of loveliness. (Can we talk about how pretty that carnival is? I want to live in it!)

(Image: Heck Yeah Doris Day @ Tumblr)
(Image: Heck Yeah Doris Day @ Tumblr)

Day and MacRae have a wonderful, slightly awkward chemistry, especially early on. Both give great performances.

Doris perfectly portrays her character’s try-hard efforts to come off as a “proper lady” when she’d much rather be playing baseball. It’s easy to forget that she’s Doris Day and instead see her as a girl who is completely out of her element when she goes on a date with William for the first time.

Doris also does a great job of squashing her chemistry with the other actors who portray her “gentleman callers” in the film. She seems completely preoccupied by William, which certainly adds to the film’s believability, making her chemistry with MacRae stand out and in turn making the viewer become emotionally invested in them as a couple.

The film’s sense of fun is bolstered by the use of a silent black and white portion around the 50 minute mark followed by a kooky dream sequence. The short, silent portion of the film is an unexpected and clever inclusion to what would have already been a highly enjoyable film, making me like On Moonlight Bay even more.

There is a bit of drama and conflict in the mix here, but for the most part On Moonlight Bay is all cuteness and comedy. It’s just what you’d expect from a typical Doris Day film: charming, romantic, adorable… and that ain’t a bad thing. It’s a delightful watch that gets wrapped up in a nice, happy ending, making it a perfect choice for heart-warming movie time during the chilly winter season. The score: 4/5

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7 thoughts on “Films to watch in winter: On Moonlight Bay (1951)

    1. I agree! People shouldn’t dismiss it just because the studio was trying to replicate another film’s success – that has always been common practice and probably always will be! On Moonlight Bay is a lovely film regardless of its similarity to Meet Me in St. Louis, and I can’t wait to watch the sequel. :)

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  1. I love On Moonlight Bay & By the Silvery Moon:))))) I live in Indiana,does anyone know where these movies were filmed ? My Daughter attended University of Indianapolis LOL

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  2. It’s making me cray,I’ve looked on IMDB.com,google,etc….for the filming location/s of these afore mentioned movies….anyone know ?? Deb Strother

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