This third of four Bear Family Records boxes devoted to Doris Day's career is, in many ways, the least interesting, even though it contains her biggest hit and some of her most well-known material. By this time, there's little trace left of the smoldering jazz and big-band singer that Day had been in the 1940s -- she was devoting herself to pop songs and, even more so, to movies, where her box office numbers began to soar in the wake of Love Me or Leave Me (the music from which -- built on the repertory of Ruth Etting -- is represented on the prior Bear Family volume, Secret Love). That picture, coupled with Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much and the musical The Pajama Game (both represented here), all combined to establish her not only as a star but also as a serious actress and a box office heavyweight, and Day devoted a lot of her energy to the big screen during the final four years of the 1950s, mostly in light romantic comedies and the occasional musical, which combined to make her one of the most popular actresses in the world during that period. And if the music didn't "suffer" from her shifting priorities, it didn't exactly benefit, either -- in the face of the onslaught of rock & roll from 1956 on, Day and Columbia Records retreated to the safety of pop music for her repertoire and output. All of what's here is beautifully sung, and stunningly arranged (and gorgeously remastered, one might add) by Paul Weston and Frank DeVol, her two best collaborators of the period in that department.
It does, though, mostly lack the kind of sultry, daring edge that Day's late-'40s work displayed. It's a bit like a thoroughbred pulling a milk wagon -- a very fancy, clean, and beautiful milk wagon, to be sure, but hardly the challenge that she's capable of overcoming. Still, the range is there, and the power and intonation, and the listening is pleasant in the deepest way possible for this sort of material. The only problem with the 128 tracks on the five CDs lies with some of the post-Hitchcock movie-related songs. By her own account here, Day's husband, Marty Melcher (who was subsequently found -- after his death -- to have left her financial affairs a shambles), was too cheap to spring for some of the genuinely talented veteran songwriters, such as Johnny Mercer, who would have jumped at the chance to compose the title songs for her movies; instead, he opted to use far less talented composers associated with Melcher's publishing company, which would give him ownership of the resulting songs. And the result is that most of the late-'50s movie songs represented here -- apart from "Que Sera, Sera" -- are second- and third-rate compositions, and bust up the quality of the surrounding recordings. But if one makes allowances for that material (which, like the rest of the box, is assembled in chronological order, by recording date), this is still an extremely diverting collection for fans of the singer. The accompanying hardcover book is profusely and beautifully illustrated and exceptionally well annotated, and includes a full sessionography as well.