The Glass Bottom Boat (1966)

Country: United States
Director: Frank Tashlin
Starring: Doris Day, Rod Taylor, Arthur Godfrey, Dom DeLuise, Dick Martin, Eric Fleming, Theo Macuse
Music: DeVol
Songs: ‘The Glass Bottom Boat’ by Joe Lubin, ‘Soft As The Starlight’ by Joe Lubin and Jerome Howard

Has the world changed so much in forty years? The Glass Bottom Boat is a lightweight romantic comedy that has dated badly. The fact that it has dated, is probably a sad reflection on the state of the world. We should be still able to laugh at Doris Day’s silly pratfalls, but today’s audience has seen all this before. This sort of shenanigans can be viewed on any night by watching re-runs of Bewitched or I Dream Of Jeannie – not that there’s any hocus-pocus in The Glass Bottom Boat – I am referring to the style of comedy. In fact there are a few very subtle similarities between The Glass Bottom Boat and I Dream Of Jeannie. First both of them are centred around NASA and the space program, and in Jeannie Larry Hagman’s character was Tony Nelson and in The Glass Bottom Boat Doris’ character is Jenny Nelson. Purely co-incidental, I am sure.

The film opens at sea, off Catalina Island. A Glass Bottom Boat carrying a group of tourists is sailing over the undersea gardens of coral and kelp. The tour guide, Axel Nordstrom (Arthur Godfrey) cheesily suggests that the tourists keep an eye out for mermaids. That’s the cue for Jenny Nelson (Doris Day) to dive into the water dressed in a mermaids costume, much to the delight of the passengers. But on this day, Bruce Templeton (Rod Taylor) is doing a spot of fishing in the area. His hook snares the tail end of Jenny’s costume and he reels it in. Rather unhappily, Jenny surfaces and gives Templeton a verbal spray. He is in a ‘no fishing’ area.

After a poppy animated title sequence, with Doris singing the theme song, we head to NASA headquarters and a press conference. It seems that Templeton is a big shot scientist and he has just invented a gravity device which will help astronauts in space. Also working at NASA as a girl Friday is Jenny. As she leads a gaggle of reporters through the facility, she gets her high heeled shoe caught in a grate. Who should happen along to help her? Templeton tries to assist, but she refuses to have anything to do with him after the mermaid incident. Strangely, Templeton becomes infatuated with this clumsy, hot tempered girl.

Jenny is in fact a widow and her only companion is a dog named Vladimir which stays locked in the house all day. Vladimir goes berserk when the phone rings in the house, so to give the pooch some exercise, Jenny calls the house about three times a day. When the phone rings, the dog starts to run around excitedly jumping over all the furniture. One of the security guards happens to witness Jenny’s calls and finds it all rather suspicious. She counts to ten and then says ‘that’s all for now Vladimir’. The guard thinks it is a code.

Outside of work hours, Jenny fills in her time with night courses at the local college. She studies everything from ceramics to map making. She is also studying creative writing. Templeton sees Jenny’s writing abilities as an opportunity to drag her into his life. As his new gravity device (Codenamed G.I.Z.M.O.) is about to launch him into the ‘big time’, he wants Jenny to act as his biographer. This entails following him around all day.

At this point, you’re probably thinking this doesn’t sound very ‘spy’ – it sounds like ‘schmaltzy’ romantic comedy – and you’d be right. But now the spy stuff starts. Templeton’s intends to hold a party at his swinging, hi-tech bachelor pad. After a security check by the CIA, Templeton’s plans go into action. Hired to install a P.A. system to pipe music throughout the house is Julius Pritter (Dom DeLuise). As Pritter connects the wiring, he has a little accident with a banana cream cake which Jenny has brought to the house.

Pritter is in fact a dirty spy, and as he recovers from the banana cream cake incident, he ransacks the house searching for Templeton’s top secret equation. Inside Templeton’s jacket pocket, he finds a mathematical equation scribbled on a piece of paper. Pritter produces a miniature camera and takes photographs of the information. Next link in the spy chain is Theo Macuse. Pritter hands over the microfilm at a carnival shooting gallery. As each of the spy sequences takes place, the music changes to big ‘bombastic’ Bond style music.

The villains of the piece, transmit the equation to their superiors, but the signal is intercepted by the C.I.A. The blame, naturally enough as you would have guessed, falls on Jenny. After all, as Templeton’s biographer, she has access to the latest advances and secrets that NASA has developed, and she has been making coded telephone calls to a man named Vladimir.

At the end of the day, the The Glass Bottom Boat is a lightweight affair. But it does go to show how pervasive the James Bond influence was. Even America’s favourite light comedienne, who at the time of this film’s release was entering her eighth consecutive year as a top 10 box office draw, felt the need to make a spy film. Okay, it isn’t a hard core spy film, but none-the-less it features spies, more gadgets than you could poke a stick at, and a glamorous leading man and lady. Now if you’re a fan of Doris, and to a lesser extent, Rugged Rod Taylor, you’ll find a lot to enjoy in The Glass Bottom Boat. Although the film isn’t a musical, Doris sings a couple of numbers, including a brief comical snatch of Que Sera. However, those seeking sixties Bondian style thrills will be sadly disappointed.

5 Comments Posted in Film and Cinema
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5 Comments

  1. I need to re-watch this one sometime. I’m a fan of Rod Taylor.

  2. I remember seeing this on television back in the ’70’s, and finding it a lot of fun. Its still fun forty years on. I agree about it having a sitcom feel though. Loved the brief cameo by Napoleon Solo ( Robert Vaughn ) and the snatch of the Season 1 theme!

  3. When writing the review, I wasn’t sure if I should mention Vaughn or not – figuring it would be a nice treat for spy fans who sort out the movie – but seeing that most other reviews on the net mention it, I guess I should have mentioned his cameo…

    I think out of Doris’ spy comedies, ‘Caprice’ is slightly better, attempting to re-create a ‘Charade’ type feel.

  4. I remember this having one great joke from Dom DeLuise where he is interrogating Doris. He reads his questions off a card – “I have two questions – Who are you? and Who are you (pause then turns the card over) working for?”.

    Still cracks me up.

  5. Years from now this film will still be regarded as a “comdy classic”, just look at all who are in it , at the best time of their careers.

    I always wonder why the critics are so obessed with saying, “It is dated”. Of it is, that was over 50 years ago! But who cares? Its still FUN!

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