Normally I don’t take much notice of the seemingly endless cycle of Doris Day flicks that get wheeled out on TV in the afternoons, but my curiosity was piqued when I read that On Moonlight Bay (1951) centred on a sports-loving tomboy… though, sadly, she doesn’t stay that way for very long!
When the Winfield patriarch decides to move his family to a classier part of town, there’s a lot of grumbling from his young son ‘Wesley’ (an obnoxious, sociopathic “scamp” in the Dennis-the-Menace mould), and teenage daughter ‘Marjorie’ (a scruffy, mud-splattered tomboy, who bemoans being separated from her baseball-playing pals back in the old neighbourhood). Luckily for her, there’s a large playing field situated in her own backyard (as far as I can tell… her house seems to be on a studio back-lot, while the field is a real location, so it’s kinda hard to figure out the geography), and she wastes no time in showing the local boys that she can round bases with the best of ‘em. The boys are much impressed with her skills, and are eager to have her on their team… but then she’s distracted by the sight of her younger brother and his new chum bonding over a heavy pistol they’ve liberated from the latter’s home! She hurries after the incorrigible little shits, to stop them accidentally shooting each other in an adjoining garage… and in the struggle for control of the loaded firearm, she inadvertently lets off a stray shot that brings the garage door down on the boy’s elder brother, ‘William’ (an eligible college senior who’s visiting for the hols). Mistaking Marjorie for a mischievous lad, the angry William slings her over his knee and spanks her… then realises his kinky error.
We’re now ten minutes into the movie, and so far, so good… all very entertaining, I’m sure… but in the very next scene Marjorie is gussied up in front of a full-length mirror, determined to be a “proper” girly-girl, in order to snag William, who she’s fallen inexplicably in love with… despite the fact they have absolutely nothing in common (beyond a zip code), and she’ll have to change every aspect of her appearance and lifestyle, in order to appeal to him! Although we do see her win a creepy baby doll at a fairground by knocking multiple pins down with her fast-ball, and engage in a spirited snowball fight with her almost-team-mates, she never again dons the baseball uniform she was sporting in the first few scenes, and seems deeply ashamed of her athletic prowess, preferring to spend her spare time locked away indoors learning all the latest dances, so she can sweep her beau off his feet. Feh! To be fair, the story was set in the early 1910s, thirty years before women would get a league of their own, so there was never any chance she’d be able to compete professionally… but I was still deeply disappointed by how quickly she bought into the prevailing gender roles (and off-screen, between-scenes, at that!) Apparently there was never any question that she would conform… her rough-and-tumble ways were simply a childish folly, that’s forgotten the moment she feels a strong man’s hand firmly striking her buttocks!
Equally egregious is her crazy aunt’s assertion that “No man believes in marriage… until a woman traps him into it!”… which is emphatically repeated by the mother, and forms the central thesis of the entire film. Oy vey!
So… er… it is quite an amusing old-timey musical rom-com, with some funny performances and gags, assuming you can overlook the unintentionally hilarious/horrifying wrongness of its politics. If nothing else, it might give you a little more insight into what the first wave of Feminists were so angry about!