The 60s is not my favorite decade for Hollywood comedies - the screwball comedy was largely defunct and the romantic-comedies were usually too sexist for my taste. In spite of that, I can be occasionally induced to watch 60s rom-coms for my favorite actors, and Doris Day is definitely one of them (Rock Hudson is another, but that’s a post for another day!). So it’s a good thing that I did follow Ms. Day into this film, because it is hilarious.
When the debonair scientist Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) goes fishing in the Catalina island, the last thing he expects to catch is a real-life mermaid! But that is exactly what he does land up reeling in - a mermaid tail! It’s actually the tail end of a mermaid-suit, with a very angry de-tailed mermaid (Doris Day) close behind. Jenny was doing a mermaid act as a stunt for her father’s glass bottom boat business, in waters that Templeton had no business fishing in.
Back at home, Templeton turns out to be a hot-shot space inventor! He’s invented the GISMO - Gravity Inertial Stabilised Manned Observatory. It is an instrument that simulates gravity electronically so that astronauts in space will never have to suffer weightlessness. He heads a research and manufacturing facility, about to win a contract for 75 million dollars!
Jenny turns out to be Jennifer Nelson, the “campus widow” and the newest recruit on Templeton’s staff! Dispel the thought that's crossed your mind. Jenny is NOT a scientist. What an absurd idea! It’s the 60s for goodness sake!! Women couldn’t add two and two to come up with four, in the good old days. Jenny is a tour guide who gives conducted tours of the research facilities that Templeton heads.
On one of her tours, Jenny gets her high-heel stuck in a metal grating. And then, to her horror, she encounters Templeton, aka The Tail-Thief! Unwilling to prolong her contact with this madman, she turns tail and runs, leaving behind her
glass slipper shoe for Templeton to extract from the grating. When he runs after her to restore her to a shoe-full state, she seeks refuge in a friend’s office and hides under a desk (where else would a dumb blonde hide?). So Bruce Templeton and Jennifer Nelson are finally, formally introduced to each other, at desk-side, so to say.
Jenny is properly abashed to find that her maniacal shoe-snatcher and tail-thief is a responsible scientist and her boss to boot. (I am amazed that he is neither absent-minded nor works in a lab with coloured test-tubes!) He, on the other hand, is instantly smitten with her, in spite of her kookiness. (Of course intelligent scientists prefer dumb blondes - especially if they are Doris Day!)
Templeton may find Jenny kooky, but he does not know the half of it! Jenny, it turns out, has a dog called Vladimir, whom she likes to call up on the phone, several times a day! OK, this isn’t quite as kooky as it sounds at first, but it will get her into a lot of trouble. Vladimir tends to run around the house, barking madly, when the phone rings. So she calls him to give him some much needed exercise while she is at work. Her usual modus operandi for these calls is to ring her home phone, say hi to Vladimir, count to 5 or 10, and hang up. Unfortunately for her, the lab’s security chief - Homer Cripps (Paul Lynde) - hears her talking to “Vladimir” in “code”. His suspicions are roused. Is she in league with Russian spies to steal GISMO? He mounts a watch on her, and finds that she has these “coded” conversations 3-4 times a day!
Unaware of her potential links with a Russian spy-ring, Templeton makes plans to get closer to Jenny. He would like to take her off to a desert island for a long time, but work beckons. He must have his GISMO ready to be put into orbit soon, and can’t afford time off for a romantic getaway. So, he decides that she will be his biographer. She will shadow him all day and record all his reminiscences as he goes about his work! He also takes the precaution of checking out her personal dossier to find out everything about her. He discovers her likes and dislikes, and claims to share them! (Whoever thought an astrophysicist could be so sneaky!) What is even worse, he commits his wooing strategy to a scientific formula meant to bring Mars and Venus in the same orbit - a formula that later creates more trouble.
The biography serves it’s purpose. Jenny and Templeton spend their days in each other’s pockets. He rescues her from the pitfalls of navigating an advanced astrophysics facility, while she is impressed by his intellect and overwhelmed by his attentions. As their romance grows and blossoms, so do Cripp’s suspicions about Jenny's possible spy links. She sees a poster exhorting lab-staff to burn any documents that may fall into the wrong hands, and foolishly burns some worthless documents in her office. Cripps spies her paper-burning, and coming as it does, on top of her “coded” conversations with “Vladimir”, his suspicions take firmer root. He finds further fodder for his suspicions at her home. She has a radio transmitter in her house, with a twenty foot antenna on the roof! AND the CIA has picked up a radio transmission of Templeton’s romantic formula of bringing Mars and Venus closer together! Put together, the evidence is damning. But Templeton is unconvinced that his personal Venus is a spy.
On the other side of the fence, the local Russian spy network hears of her spying activities, and her mysterious “Vladimir”, with suspicions of their own. Who is is this “new” unknown spy? How come she is muscling in on their spying territory?! Then they find that the “formula” they transmitted was bogus.That puts the cat among the pigeons, well and good! They send out their man to investigate poor Jenny. The CIA and the lab security also have her under surveillance. And Templeton keeps a close watch on her for a different set of reasons altogether. So one way or the other, Jenny is attracting a great deal of attention!
Blissfully unaware of her growing fame in espionage circles, Jenny is happily basking in Templeton’s attention. And then, one unfortunate phone call blows everything wide-open. Jenny finds out that not only is she suspected of being a spy by her own people, Templeton refuses to believe them because he does not think she has the brains for it! What can she do but set out to prove him, and everybody else, wrong? As if matters weren’t already tangled enough! What with spies, suspected spies, pretend-spies, nationally important formulae, and “Vladimir” at large, it’s no wonder that things are soon out of control. All this confusion can lead to only one thing - lots of fun-n-games. And believe you me, the movie does not stint on them. It’s a roller-coaster of fun all the way through! (If you want spoilers, check out the review on The Films of Doris Day.)
Doris Day looks a bit too old to be playing the ditzy blonde, but she is as charming as ever. So it does not exercise my suspension of disbelief too much to see her do the clumsy blonde act, or do a complete about turn, later, and surprise everybody around her. She sings only two songs in the film, one of which (The glass bottom boat) is now officially on my favourite Doris Day songs list.
I saw this film mainly for Ms. Day, but was surprised at how much I liked Rod Taylor. He gets to play the only normal character in a film that goes over-the-top with it’s lunacy, so naturally one is inclined to sit up and take notice. But the way he plays his part - taking all the comedy in his stride with patient good humour, and without ever indulging in slapstick himself - I couldn’t help but like him enormously. Which is not to say that I did not hugely enjoy everybody else’s comical antics - I did, but Rod Taylor’s twinkling eyes and patent good humour went a long way towards making this film a whole lot more memorable! Did I mention his Bruce Templeton’s other attractions? He has this fully automated kitchen that I am dying to lay my hands on. No washing, no cleaning, and food ready in a few minutes instead of hours? Yes, please!
The only thing that I think the film could have done without is Doris Day’s strange bob. The hair over her cheek were clearly making her as uncomfortable as I would feel with a similar hairstyle! For the rest, its a great watch and guaranteed to perk you up for hours.