Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

Gasser

Please Don't Eat the Daisies (1960)

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies (1960)

I have never really loved Doris Day as an actress and so do not often seek out her movies. In Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, however, she is ideally cast and stellar in her part. I think the star sort of grew into her attractiveness, as I tend to find her on the frumpy side in her earlier roles. In this flick, she is both sexy and a mother, a part that suited her well on screen at a time when she was reigning at the box office.

Day is Kate, mother of four and married to David Niven‘s Larry, all of whom live in an apartment in New York City. With all boys, Kate has perfected the art of child wrangling, thanks in part to a literal baby cage for the youngest. Larry has just left his position as a drama professor to become a prestige dramatic critic. The man promises his students upon his departure that he will not become like the other handful of critics who relish in the opportunity to tear apart a production because of the literary and comedic opportunities it affords.

The first play on Larry’s docket is one produced by his friend Alfred North (Richard Haydn) that happens to be horrible, a circumstance exacerbated by a sexy leading lady “who is no actress.” Alfred is very upset with Larry –as he expresses at the family’s kitchen table the next morning– and the actress is even more incensed. This Deborah Vaughn (Janis Paige) slaps Larry while he is out to dinner with Kate, and does so a second time for the camera.

The additional publicity leads Larry to write a column about how the show’s success is dependent on Deborah’s rear end. Not too much later, while at a party at which Kate finds herself exceptionally bored, Deborah sidles in to give Larry a glance and a chance to reconsider the value of her back side. From here a “friendship” forms between the feuding duo and Deborah begins her attempts to seduce the loyal husband.

In the midst of Larry’s success and transition into a writer of scathing reviews and attendee of snobbish parties, the couple are reminded of their intent to move to a home in the country. The transition comes rather forcefully when they are notified a new tenant will occupy their apartment in a matter of weeks because they indicated their intention some months ago not to renew. Larry is resistant to leaving the city because of the social status he has achieved, but the family nevertheless selects a dilapidated mansion in a small town.

Larry and Kate’s relationship is strained by the commute to and from the city for Larry’s work and the constant state of construction the home presents. Larry’s time away is regularly spent with Deborah.

Please Don’t Eat the Daisies is based on a book by Jean Kerr about her life with her husband Walter and their move to a suburban locale. Similar moves were becoming a trend for many families in the 1960s, so the subject material was apt. Although very amusing, the movie really could have been split into two –one about the strains on a marriage when the husband becomes consumed by fame and the desire to make people laugh and one about the strains on a marriage of moving to a suburban locale while maintaining a life in the city. In fact, the subject of moving to the country is mentioned at the beginning of the film and then not acted on until halfway through the picture at which point we have nearly forgetten about that conversation.

While Day is quite delightful as a capable mother and boy wrangler, deriving plenty of laughs from her interaction with the children, Niven is stiff. He is a suitable dramatic critic and pulls off the transition into an ass well, but his performance makes him quite unlikable in stark contrast to Day. I have never particularly loved Niven in comedies, as he relies on witty dialogue to drive the humor rather than any physical or facial affectations. But that is not to say the role of Larry did not necessarily call for someone on the straight-man side of things, he just does not become someone we root for.

Day managed to fit in a couple songs in Please Don’t Eat the Daisies despite it not being a musical. She throws in a few lines of “Que Sara, Sara” that she popularized in Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much and sings a song, “Please Don’t Eat the Daisies”, while playing with children in a school yard. The title pertains to a scene in which one of the boys takes off with a bouquet of daisies and we later learn he ate them. The movie was also the last for actress Spring Byington, who plays Kate’s mother.

Source: Ben Mankiewicz

Walk Softly, Stranger

Gasser

Walk Softly, Stranger (1950)

Despite the variety of films Joseph Cotton made, his persona such as that in Citizen Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons are the ones that stick with me. It is for that reason that I always find myself surprised to see him playing a bad guy; although it was not an uncommon part for the star. Between attempting to murder Marilyn Monroe in Niagara and “allegedly” killing old women in Shadow of a Doubt, he played the nice guy with a sinister undercoat quite well.

In Walk Softly, Stranger we again find a likeable Cotton playing a criminal. He is re-teamed with Alida Valli (or in this billing, just Valli) known to audiences from The Third Man made with Cotton the year prior. This was a selling point used in the poster to the right. Cotton’s “Chris Hale” arrives in a small town and wanders up to a house where he tells the old woman within that he ran away from the home as a boy. This Mrs. Brentman (Spring Byington) shows the boy around the home and takes an instant liking to the man, therefore accepting his invitation to be her first tenant.

We know despite Hale’s convincing manner that something is not kosher. When he arrived at the house, he glanced at a note that indicates the home is occupied by a single old woman. His next activity sends him to a party at a mansion where he runs into Valli’s Elaine Correlli. He tells her that he was in love with her as a girl, also revealing details about his days working as a caddy at the country club. We, too, are quite convinced of this truth and Hale’s deserved surprise when he sees the beautiful woman is wheelchair-bound.

After a time living with Mr. Brentman, Hale goes out of town and reunites with a friend, Whitey Lake (Paul Stewart). Here we get to some truth as we witness the men pull off an ambitious robbery of a mobster at his gambling den. Hale returns “home”, plenty of cash in pocket.

The man forces his presence on Elaine until she really starts to care for him. When things get too serious, however, she leaves town, but Hale remains faithful. The situation becomes complicated, however, when Whitey shows up at Hale’s house and stays awhile. He has blown all his dough and is fearful the duo will be hunted down, and indeed they are.

Walk Softly, Stranger is a decently written story. It has a nice dual plot as it could have been a good movie either as a romance between a man and his childhood sweetheart now in a wheelchair or as a suspense following a criminal’s attempts to go straight and keep hidden. As it happens here, the romantic plot serves to drive Hale’s desire to be good and convinces us he is genuine about the transformation as well. Valli brings the soft, sympathetic emotions out in us while Cotton drives our fear and anxiety about an uncertain future.

Both our stars, as well as Stewart and Byington, give suitable performances. We know who to like and who to think twice about. As mentioned, Cotton does a fantastic job of conveying trustworthiness and gentleness that make it difficult to picture him as a villain. He nevertheless fills the shoes of a card shark and thief well, although drawing plenty of sympathy in doing so.

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