A Sunny Tribute…THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966)

When the classic film community discovered the sad loss of a beloved fellow blogger recently, Paddy aka Patricia Nolan-Hall of CAFTAN WOMAN, ANOTHER OLD MOVIE BLOG and LADY EVE’S REEL LIFE mobilized to create a blogathon to honor her memory.

When I think of Paddy, I am moved by her generosity and kindness. She was very committed to not only participating in nearly every single blogathon of her fellow bloggers, but she was also the most reliable blogger in our community to actually read all of our articles and reply with positive feedback. Her consistently kind and generous comments brought sunshine into all of our hearts. So, how do I possibly pick a theme or classic film to reflect her spirit?

It’s likely no secret that Doris Day is my favorite classic era actress. When I think of Doris Day, I would describe her as possessing many shared qualities as Paddy. I think they’d both appreciate a tribute via Frank Tashlin’s THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT (1966).

In the midst of the Russian/American space race (1957 – 1969), this film emerged, which reflected the pulse and the styles of the day, all with a light-hearted, comic twist. The silly premise involves Doris Day as a bubbly, clumsy widow, “Jennifer Nelson,” who works PR at an aerospace research lab while also working part-time on her dad’s (Arthur Godfrey) glass-bottomed boat as a “mermaid.” In one of her entertaining dives in the Catalina bay, she gets tangled up with Rod Taylor as “Bruce Templeton” – who turns out to be the genius inventor at the lab where she works. Romance blossoms and slapstick ensues as Taylor works to keep his top secret formula hidden from Russian spies. But could his new girlfriend be a space age Mata Hari herself?

Here’s my top reasons this film brings joy, worthy of Paddy’s sunny smile…

Physical Comedy. Director Frank Tashlin was no stranger to slapstick. His background prior to this film was directing cartoons for Warner Brothers from the 1930s and several Jerry Lewis films. When THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT runs through frenzied scenes of chaotic comedy and pantomime, it was by the director’s design. One such example is a silly, crazed scene between Doris Day and Dom DeLuise. He’s a technician up on a ladder. She’s carrying in a banana cream cake. You can imagine where it goes from there. Both Day (a PRO and veteran in physical comedy) and DeLuise (a relative newbie at this point) play this out with brilliance.

Character Actors Galore. For me, one sign of a great film, especially a classic comedy, includes a treasure trove of reliable supporting actors that really make a movie sing. In the 1960s and 1970s, many favorite character actors from the big screen found a plethora of work on the small screen, too. In this film, many are recognizable from popular tv series of the day including “Bewitched” and “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” You’ll recognize John McGiver (too many to list), Ellen Corby (of “The Waltons” fame), Edward Andrews (in addition to a ton of tv roles, he worked with Day in both THE THRILL OF IT ALL (1963) and SEND ME NO FLOWERS (1964)), Dick Martin (a comedian on the rise who would premiere “Laugh-In” two years later and eventually directed comedy tv series including “The Bob Newhart Show”), Paul Lynde (who co-starred with Day in SEND ME NO FLOWERS), plus George Tobias and Alice Pearce. They essentially reprised their “Bewitched” roles as Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz, with Pearce again as the neighborhood snoop. Both Tobias and Pearce worked frequently across stage, film, and tv. Alice Pearce began her on-screen career as the sniffling, chinless character in ON THE TOWN (1949) and ended it just 2 weeks after her final performance on the tv series “Bewitched,” losing her battle to ovarian cancer. She won an Emmy posthumously for her beloved nosy neighbor character. There’s also a Robert Vaughn cameo with a nod to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” He pops in and out quickly, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

Paul Lynde in drag. In this era of Hollywood, drag was a gag. While used for humor, you just know Lynde was having the time of his life because he does it so well. He and Day pull off a rather funny bit in the ladies’ bathroom. Paul Lynde is one of the funniest comedy actors in the biz and he always delivers. Side note: I thought it was witty to use the “Templeton” name as Rod Taylor’s role because Day’s role in LOVER COME BACK (1961) is named “Carol Templeton.” And later, Lynde’s role as the gluttonous rat in the animated feature CHARLOTTE’S WEB (1973) was also named “Templeton.”

Spy spoof. This film was made when America was on course to reach the moon, with a contentious rivalry with Russia. Not unlike today, America was racing to master technologies first and held a deep mistrust of their biggest contender, Russia. The theme of the day was not only space age, but also of espionage. While the Cold War was an era of geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States from 1947 to 1991, the James Bond books and subsequent films (first film, DR. NO released in 1962) were introduced, reflecting the tone of this time. As pop culture often dictates, comedies and parodies followed. While not as farcical as the spy parody CASINO ROYALE (1967), this film takes on these themes with a burst of comedic punch.

Homes of the Future. If the inventor of the “roomba” robotic sweeper tells you they weren’t inspired by this film, they’re outright lying. Well, perhaps they were inspired by the Jetsons cartoons first. At the center of this space age spy comedy is a very futuristic house. It’s supposed to be a reflection of its owner, the future-thinking inventor, Templeton (Rod Taylor). As a fan of Mid-Century Modern architecture and design, this concept was very on trend across America. In post WW2 America, housing was booming and practical. As we entered the space race era, designers/architects/home builders took it a step further by creating homes that captured both the aesthetic and high tech function of what they perceived to be the future. From the egg beater that pops up from below the counter to the robotic sweeper that goes rogue, these gadgets went on to be in everyday homes in real life but were first met with slapstick fodder with clumsy “Jennifer” (Doris Day), not unlike her character “Cathy Timberlake” in THAT TOUCH OF MINK (1962) when she creates punch card chaos.

Another draw to this funny flick are the costumes. Always impeccable in her fashions, Doris Day looks incredible in a bright sunny yellow. But even in the more casual outfits befitting this character, Day manages to squeeze in some stellar looks in array of offerings. The costume designer was Ray Aghayan, who was nominated for multiple Oscars and famous for his costumes in FUNNY LADY (1975), LADY SINGS THE BLUES (1972), and “The Judy Garland Show” just to name a few. He was also the lifetime partner of Bob Mackie, who famously worked on “The Carol Burnett Show” and dressed stars, such as the iconic gowns of Cher.

This comedy was a film I discovered later in life. I’m not sure how I somehow missed this gem earlier in my Doris Day collection of classics. But it’s worthy of screening, in case you’ve overlooked it, too. Of course the number one reason to see THE GLASS BOTTOM BOAT is Doris Day herself, paired with hunky Rod Taylor doesn’t hurt the eyes either. If you believe in heaven and such, I like to imagine that Paddy is reading this and it brings her a smile. I wish I could read the sweet and delightful commentary she would undoubtedly leave here, too.

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