Set in small-town Indiana in the years immediately before America entered the First World War, On Moonlight Bay (1951) is a gentle, nostalgic musical in the mode of Meet Me in St Louis. Well, mostly gentle. Except for when they shot this scene…
The story begins as the Winfield family move into a new district of town. Their banker father wants to be closer to his work, but he also wants to separate his tomboy daughter Marjorie (Doris Day) from her childhood friends and enable her to meet a better class of young man (or, putting it more directly, a better class of future son-in-law). Or at least encourage her to become more feminine, and stop dressing for baseball.
His plans seem at first to have very limited success. In an early scene, Marjorie is seen carrying out one of her feminine chores, beating the carpets, in the style of Babe Ruth. Then she persuades the local boys to let her into their ball game, and wins approval by getting to third base on the first strike, followed by a home run. Her acceptance as one of the lads is signified by the smack of the pitcher’s glove on her shapely rear end as she arrives:
There is one clear sign of her maturity: seeing her younger brother and a new friend, Jimbo Sherman, going into a barn with a cocked pistol, she intervenes to stop them doing something silly. Moments later, the slightly priggish university student William Sherman (Gordon MacRae), is doing much the same thing: he’s out looking for his errant kid brother when there is a discharge and the barn doors behind him are blown off their hinges. Picking himself up, he sees Marjorie holding the smoking gun, with the two boys at her side. ‘I’m going to teach you kids a lesson,’ he says, whereupon suddenly Marjorie no longer has two boys at her side. William disarms her, deftly aborts her efforts to escape…
… then bends her over like a jack-knife and begins to spank her.
He hesitates after the second slap. She twists round and looks up at him, and he does a double-take.
And with that, the scene changes to him arriving at the Winfield front door that evening, dressed up and bearing flowers for Marjorie – who is busy getting dressed up herself, and in a dress, too. Which her mother says is a first!
And so romance blossoms. But this is quite unlike the way spanking usually works in a romantic plot, as a way of crystallizing sexual tension between two people who are on course for one another. When William starts to spank Marjorie, it is on the assumption that she’s a boy, and the spanking comes to a premature and embarrassed end when it emerges – it seems from the evidence of both ends of her – that actually she’s a girl.
For William, it seems, that ain’t no way to treat a lady.