Appellate Judge James A. Stewart doesn't preside over weddings. If you want to know why, check out this movie.
"Your wife wasn't dead till I said she was dead."
Perhaps the most fabled movie of the 1960s, this one was meant to be a comeback vehicle both for Marilyn Monroe, whose career was reeling from three years of flops, and Fox, which was reeling from big budget overruns on Cleopatra. The blonde bombshell was to be teamed with laid-back swinger Dean Martin for some risque business—including a few modest glimpses of a skinny dip on camera.
However, it was not to be. Monroe was fired from the movie for absences due to sinusitis. The actress went on a publicity offensive to win back the role, but died before she could return to the set. Thus, it became Marilyn Monroe's last, unfinished movie—a permanent reminder of a comeback that might have been. The project was buried, but since Fox had a script and was still under financial pressures, they decided to resuscitate it with Doris Day and James Garner as the couple reunited by fate.
Of course, you might not remember those things immediately, since the movie was fabled as Something's Got to Give. When it finally hit theaters in 1963, it had been made over as Move Over, Darling.
It's a comedy reborn from a tragedy in another respect as well, since it was inspired by 1911's Enoch Arden, a silent drama based on Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem about a man lost at sea who returns to find his wife remarried. If you're paying attention when Doris Day talks with Polly Bergen about an old movie she recalls, you'll realize that this one had a previous comic treatment—as My Favorite Wife, with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne.
Facts of the Case
"Wasn't I supposed to marry somebody?" the judge (Edgar Buchanan, Petticoat Junction) asks repeatedly as Nicholas Arden (James Garner, The Rockford Files) tells him a complicated story before the bench.
The story's the backstory of the movie, so Nicholas has to tell it a few times to make sure the judge—and the audience—get it straight: Nicholas and his wife Ellen were on a plane forced down in a storm five years ago. Ellen was swept overboard and, after exhaustive searches, is believed dead. Now Nicholas wants to have Ellen declared dead so he can marry Bianca (Polly Bergen).
Finally Nicholas gets through to the judge and gets to marry Bianca. Too bad he doesn't know that, as he's tying the knot again, Ellen (Doris Day, The Thrill of It All) is headed back to him, having spent five years on a desert island. She arrives at the Arden homestead just after her Nicky has left for his honeymoon. When mother-in-law Grace (Thelma Ritter) finds out that Ellen's back, she urges Wife No. 1 to go down to Monterey, where Nicky and Wife No. 2 are staying in the hotel where Nicky shared a honeymoon with Ellen. Ellen's upset because Nicky can't find a good way to say "My wife is alive" gently to Bianca.
As you'd expect, it's no honeymoon for Nicky, but when everyone gets back home, it turns out that Ellen shared that island for five years with musclebound Stephen Burkett (Chuck Connors, The Rifleman). Now, Nicky's the one who's upset. Will Nicky and Ellen ever get back together?
A small piece of comic business won me over to Move Over, Darling early on. When Doris Day as Ellen tries to call Nicky from a pay phone, she first finds that the price of a call has doubled from a nickel to a dime, then discovers that the operator is nothing more than a recording. Yeah, Day can get laughs from a slapstick battle with Polly Bergen or a trip through a car wash in a convertible, but the small stuff is trickier, and she handles it well, too.
James Garner's familiar cowardly-con-artist persona gets put to use in a different context here as he tries to break the news of his first wife's return to Bianca, then tries to engineer a confrontation with Ellen because she didn't tell him about her musclebound island mate.
These two also are adept at warmer scenes, such as when Day mists up as she sees her daughters again for the first time or when Garner tells Ellen about the memorial service he had for her. Their pairing doesn't make the unlikely plot real, but gives it more of a grounding in reality than you'd expect for a risque 1960s farce.
The supporting cast plays it broader than the two leads, bringing in most of the silliness you'd expect. Polly Bergen (Commander In Chief) isn't sympathetic—she's cast as the unworthy "other woman" from the moment she jangles a noisy bracelet in the courtroom in the opening scene—but she has good comic timing in her reactions as the bewildered bride Bianca. The best of the bit players is Edgar Buchanan as the judge who just wants to get this bizarre case out of the way, though Thelma Ritter (Pillow Talk) as Nicky's mom who can't help butting in, Chuck Connors as the vain muscleman, Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show) as a shoe clerk who tries to help Ellen out, John Astin (The Addams Family) as the insurance agent with shocking news for Nicky, and Fred Clark (Boys' Night Out) as a moralizing hotel manager all shine in small roles.
The picture has been digitally restored. I saw a brief flicker of a spot on the film once, but otherwise it appeared to be a pretty good job. Same with the soundtrack. If you want proof, the DVD offers a restoration comparison for this movie and two other Doris Day flicks.
Two featurettes—"The Amazing Road to Move Over, Darling" and "Doris vs. Marilyn"—offer a few glimpses of Marilyn Monroe and Dean Martin in Something's Got to Give as film historians talk about the differences between the two blonde movie sweethearts. You'll want more, though, if you know there's a chunk of that lost movie pieced together somewhere out there. On the other hand, you do get a chunk of the silent Enoch Arden, which shows its title character stranded on the island. A short interview with Polly Bergen reveals that Doris Day had a soda fountain in her trailer.
The little booklet that accompanies the DVD has some good trivia fragments, including the scoops on Doris Day's injury on the set and the title tune, which was banned on the BBC for being too suggestive back in the 1960s, then made a reappearance on the U.K. charts in 1987. It's doubtful you'll find anything too naughty in the lyrics to "Move Over, Darling" if you're listening with relatively contemporary ears, though.
The extras also include three original trailers, including one in Spanish. With selling lines like "Watch them unscramble the torrid triangle," these promise a lot more naughtiness than the movie delivers.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While this movie has a lot of good moments, there's a Rockford-style car chase near the end that'll shift the MST3K part of your brain into overdrive.
Speaking of driving, you'll also notice a lot of process shots—moving stock footage in the background as the stars stay stationary in the studio—whenever characters are in cars. When you take a look at the cheesy fake island set, you'll be aware that most expense was spared by Fox.
Although the backstory in the booklet accompanying the DVD and two featurettes point to the legend behind Something's Got to Give as a reason for buying this movie, Fox doesn't give us enough of Something to let movie buffs make the comparisons. Thus, Move Over, Darling has to stand on its own merits.
What hit the screens in 1963 was a mild, likeable movie with a convoluted story that's predictable but still manages to leave you laughing, thanks to a strong cast. It's a product of the 1960s, from the animated opening to the pat ending that forgets all the farcical disasters in between.
Both the fabled movie that wasn't made and the movie that actually hit the screen were star vehicles. While Dean Martin and Marilyn Monroe would have delivered a crackling farce and risque lines that stuck in your mind, James Garner and Doris Day, who worked together in The Thrill of It All, play more like a married couple caught in a bizarre situation, making the movie more romantic than the typical 1960s farce. If you haven't seen a few of these 1960s farces on the afternoon movie, you might find the gentler Garner-Day coupling more to your liking than the Martin-Monroe version would have been.
If you really had your heart set on seeing Marilyn Monroe—or Doris Day—skinny dipping, you'll be disappointed (though you'll see Day in a bikini—if only in Nicky's jealousy-fevered imagination). But if you're a fan of Doris Day or James Garner, this one's worth a look.
Old movies aren't dead until I say they're dead, and I say Move Over, Darling still has some life in it. Not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Amazing Road to Move Over, Darling"
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