Lullaby of Broadway (1951): David Butler’s Musical, Starring Doris Day and Gene Nelson

Warner Bros took the popular Harry Warren-Al Dubin tune, “Lullaby of Broadway,” and built a story around it, which served as a vehicle for rising star Doris Day.

Though prosaically directed by David Butler and routinely scripted by Earl Baldwin, “Lullaby of Broadway” is laced with some good production numbers, especially the grand finale.

Doris Day, with short, shiny blonde (actually yellow) hair, plays Melinda Howard, an American musical comedy star who comes back from a successful London engagement to visit her mother Jessica (played by the great actress Gladys George).

A once-great Broadway star herself, Jessica Howard is now living in drunken poverty, a fact carefully concealed from Melinda by the millionaire Adolph Hubbell (S.Z. Sakall), who lives in the mansion once owned by Jessica with his bossy, jealous, unattractive wife, Mrs. Hubbell (Florence Bates, who was so good as Joan Fontaine’s chaperon in Hitchcock’s 1940 “Rebecca”).

Hubbell shrewdly arranges for Jessica to put on a façade, to pretend being the lady of the estate and to host a party in her daughter’s honor.

During the reception, Melinda meets and falls for Broadway dancer, Tom Farnham (the squeaky clean and wholesome Gene Nelson).

The film’s plot is banal, with its predictable breakups and reconciliations, including the expected mother-daughter emotional reunion, all leading to the happy romantic ending—and the big kiss.

While the musical numbers in “Lullaby of Broadway”—including a nice number between Day and Nelson shot through glass doors, with each standing on opposite side, are professionally mounted (even when Day works too hard at tap-dancing), the surrounding script is flat and utterly predictable.

The efforts to elicit some laughs with the bickering Hubbells and the backstage story of trying to put on a show are strenuous, and whenever Doris Day is off screen (which is not often), she is very much missed.

Day, who has always been a great singer, dances in this picture more than the usual. In a few years, she would become the most popular female star of the decade in a series of romantic comedies.

The most fun comic bit is sort of a throwaway. Sakall’s Hubbell has a nocturnal bottle of beer, which in closeup is advertised as “The Beer That Made Cincinnati Famous”–Cincinnati is Doris Day’s real home town.

 

Cast

Doris Day as Melinda Howard

Gene Nelson as Tom Farnham

S.Z. Sakall as Adolph Hubbell

Billy De Wolfe as “Lefty” Mack

Gladys George as Jessica Howard

Florence Bates as Mrs. Hubbell

 

Credits

Running time: 105 Minutes.

Directed by David Butler.

Screenplay: Earl Baldwin.

Released March 26, 1951.