Day's Lullaby Lacks Hip Hooray and Bally Hoo
When it comes to Doris Day's musicals "Lullaby of Broadway" is another which comes across as mostly functional. There are a few song and dance scenes and a touch of humour which makes it pleasant enough but there is little about it which is overly memorable. None of the songs other than "Lullaby of Broadway" stay with you and the performances are all a little on the hammy side, with a lot of playing to the camera. But as is so often the case "Lullaby of Broadway" also has a dull, limp storyline which functions purely to provide a reason for all the song and dance scenes.
Having been living and performing in England, Melinda Howard (Doris Day - Tea for Two) decides to return home and surprise her mother who she believes is a successful Broadway star with a big house in Manhattan. What Melinda doesn't know is that her mother is now a washed up, drunk who sings in 2-bit gin joints and has sold the house to Adolph Hubbell (S.Z. Sakall - Casablanca) a business man and show producer. When Melinda rolls up to the house, Lefty (Billy De Wolfe) the butler realises that Melinda knows nothing about her mother's decline and along with Hubbell set about protecting her from the truth till they can set up a brief reunion. At the same time Melinda meets a handsome dancer and singer, Tom Farnham (Gene Nelson - Oklahoma!) who falls for her.
So as already mentioned the storyline to "Lullaby of Broadway" is limp and although there are various elements going on such as a romance, a Broadway show, the semi estranged mother and so on none of them end up mattering. They all sort of come and go so at various points a song and dance scene can be squeezed in which loosely relates to the storyline and then before you know it things have jumped to another element. But it's not really a criticism as such because you don't really watch a musical, or not one of the almost mass produced sort such as "Lullaby of Broadway" for a storyline which will keep you riveted, you watch for the song and dance and the comedy.
Talking of which "Lullaby of Broadway" does quite well on the comedy front with both S.Z. Sakall as Adolph Hubbell and Billy De Wolfe as Lefty Mack on fine form delivering much of the movies funnier moments. In their scenes together, as well as those apart, both Sakall and Wolfe display brilliant comic timing making the most irrelevant thing, such as pinning a flower to a lapel funny. But it is the comedy musical number "You're Dependable" which Billy De Wolfe shares with Anne Triola which really lifts the comedy and will have you laughing.
As for the song and dance side of things, well the final performance of "Lullaby of Broadway" is probably the most memorable musical number in the movie, with many others ending up pretty forgettable. It's a shame because Doris Day sounds great and Hal Derwin who dubs the songs for Gene Nelson is equally good; it's just a shame that none of them leave any sort of last impression. The same can be said for the various dance numbers, they're all well choreographed and watching Gene Nelson tap dance his way round a room with a moving piano is entertaining, but none of them are that stunning or will leave you wishing you could dance like Nelson or Day.
As for Doris Day and Gene Nelson well like the movie their performances are mostly functional with both seeming to play to the camera a little too much. Neither put in a bad performance so to speak but it all boils down to being unmemorable, there is no chemistry or spark to make you believe that they are falling for each other as you are meant to. The actual best scenes for Doris Day are those with S.Z. Sakall which are the only ones which have a warm naturalness to them, with both stars appearing comfortable with each other.
What this all boils down to is that "Lullaby of Broadway" is a very functional musical. It entertains with various song and dance scenes and will get a few laughs from the performances of S.Z. Sakall and Billy De Wolfe but once it's over it's easily forgotten. Even the dancing of Gene Nelson and the singing of Doris Day fails to make it any the more special and thanks to too much playing to the camera it feels a little amateurish in places.