Romance on the High Seas (1948): Michael Curtiz Directs Doris Day in her Oscar-Nominated Feature Debut

The romantic musical, Romance on the High Seas, marks the feature film debut of Doris Day (billed in fourth place), who would go on to become the most popular star in America in the 1950s.

I wonder how Bosley Crowther, critic of the New York Times felt when Doris Day became a global star? Unimpressed with her debut, he stated in 1948: “Day has no more than a vigorous disposition which hits the screen like a thud.”

Grade: B (**1/2* out of *****)

Romance on the High Seas

Theatrical release poster.

Over the next 20 years, Day would make 39 pictures, in various genres (including dramatic musicals, biopics, and thrillers), most of which extremely popular at the box-office.

Director Michael Curtiz, working with a screenplay by the Epstein brothers (Julius and Philip of Casablanca fame) and I.A.L. Diamond (later a reliable collaborator of Billy Wilder), cast Day as Georgia Garrett, a substitute traveler on an ocean cruise.


Georgia’s friend Elvira Kent (Janis Paige) had scheduled the cruise, but at the last minute, she changes her mind and cancels.  Suspecting that her husband is cheating on her, and wishing to stay home and check up on him, she asks Georgia to go on the cruise in her place.

Meanwhile, the husband himself becomes suspicious of his wife’s cheating and hires a detective to watch Elvira while on the cruise.

Do I need to tell the rest of the plot, based on the familiar subgenre of a comedy of errors.

The detective falls for the substitute Elvira, making a somewhat complicated scenario with all kinds of possibilities.

What really saves this pedestrian film is Day’s lovely voice and melodic tunes, by Jule Styne and Sammy Cahn, including the beautiful tune, “It’s Magic,” which was nominated for the Best Song Oscar.

The supporting cast includes Oscar Levant, S. Z. Sakall, Fortunio Bonanova, Eric Blore, and Franklin Pangborn.

The movie was released in the U.K. under the title, It’s Magic.

Despite the change in star and the late casting of Janis Page, the film was moderately successful at the box-office.


A brief clip of the movie appears in the 1951 Bugs Bunny cartoon, “Rabbit Every Monday,” directed by Fritz Freleng.

How Doris Day Got the Part? Luck or Fate

Originally conceived as a star vehicle for Betty Hutton, the film had to be recast when Hutton became pregnant, and thus unavailable. Other established stars like Judy Garland and Jane Powell were considered, before Michael Curtiz was persuaded to audition Doris Day.

Then known as a band vocalist, but hitherto not considered an actress, Doris Day also was experiencing a turmoil in her personal life, as her second marriage to musician George Weidler was ending. This, combined with her nervousness, led her to deliver a teary, emotive version of “Embraceable You” at the audition. Impressed by her singing ability and fresh-faced good looks, Curtiz cast her in the lead role of Georgia Garrett.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Song: “It’s Magic,” music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Sammy Cahn.

Scoring of a Musical: Ray Heindorf

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winner of the Best Song Oscar was “Buttons and Bows,” by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, from the movie “The Paleface.”

The Scoring Oscar went to Johnny Green and Roger Edens for the Judy Garland musical, “Easter Parade.”

Jack Carson as Peter Virgil
Janis Paige as Elvira Kent
Don DeFore as Michael Kent
Doris Day as Georgia Garrett
Oscar Levant as Oscar Farrar
S. Z. Sakall as Uncle Lazlo
Fortunio Bonanova as Plinio
Eric Blore as Ship’s Doctor
Franklin Pangborn as Rio Hotel Clerk
Leslie Brooks as Miss Medwick
William Bakewell as Travel Agent
John Berkes as The Drunk (as Johnny Berkes)

“Put ’em in a Box, Tie ’em with a Ribbon, and Throw ’em in the Deep Blue Sea” – Doris Day and the Page Cavanaugh Trio
“It’s Magic” – Doris Day
“It’s You or No One” – Doris Day
“I’m in Love” – Doris Day
“The Tourist Trade” – Avon Long
“Run, Run, Run” – Jack Carson
“She’s a Latin from Manhattan” – Doris Day
“Romance on the High Seas” – The Samba Kings
“Brazilian Rhapsody” (aka Cuban Rhapsody) – Oscar Levant


Directed by Michael Curtiz
Produced by Alex Gottlieb
Screenplay by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein; additional dialogue by I. A. L. Diamond
Music by Jule Styne; Lyrics by Sammy Cahn
Musical numbers orchestrated and conducted by Ray Heindorf
Cinematography Elwood Bredell, A.S.C.
Edited by Rudi Fehr

Production company: Michael Curtiz Productions

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures

Release date: June 25, 1948

Running time: 99 minutes
Budget $2,532,000; box-office $3,225,000