Musical Monday: Can’t Help Singing (1944)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Can’t Help Singing” (1944)– Musical #137

cant-help-singing

Studio:
Universal Studios

Director:
Frank Ryan

Starring:
Deanna Durbin, Robert Paige, Akim Tamiroff, David Bruce, Ray Collins, Leonid Kinskey, June Vincent, Thomas Gomez, Clara Blandick, Iron Eyes Cody (uncredited), Edward Earle (uncredited)

Plot:
Caroline (Durbin) is in love with Lt. Latham (Bruce), but her father Senator Frost (Collins) hates the lieutenant. When Senator Frost convinces President Polk (Earle) to send Lt. Latham to California to guard gold shipments, Caroline leaves Washington, DC, and heads west with a wagon train to follow Lt. Latham. She ends up sharing a wagon with Johnny Lawlor (Paige) who distracts her attentions from Lt. Latham.

Awards and Nominations:
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (Jerome Kern and Hans J. Salter)
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song (Jerome Kern and E.Y. Harburg)

Deanna Durbin in "Can't Help Singing," her first and only Technicolor film

Deanna Durbin in “Can’t Help Singing,” her first and only Technicolor film

Trivia:
-Deanna Durbin’s first and only color film. A Universal Studios publicity brochure said: “For the last eight years, Deanna has been in a black and white shadow on the screen before them. Now she is being brought to them in all the beauty of her natural coloring.”
-20th Century Fox built a fort for the film “Buffalo Bill” (1944) and Universal Studios rented this fort from Fox to use for this film.
-Filmed in Utah, because the mountains in California are brown and Utah’s green mountains photographed better in Technicolor, according to When Hollywood Came to Town: A History of Movie Making in Utah by James D’Arc
-Film based on the story “Girl of the Overland Trail” by Samuel J. and Curtis B. Warshawsky

Highlights:
-Deanna Durbin in color

Deanna Durbin on location in Utah at the Cedar Breaks

Deanna Durbin on location in Utah at the Cedar Breaks

Notable Songs:
-“Can’t Help Singing” performed by Deanna Durbin and Robert Paige
-“Any Moment Now” performed by Deanna Durbin
-“Elbow Room” performed by the chorus
-“More and More” performed by Deanna Durbin
-“Californ-i-yay” performed by Deanna Durbin and Robert Paige

My review:
Though Deanna Durbin is known for her operatic singing voice, her films made under contract to Universal put music secondary to the plot. For example, where most of Judy Garland’s films were filled with songs that mixed evenly into the plot, Durbin’s films will primarily be a comedy or drama where she sings two or three songs.

“Can’t Help Singing” is one of few Durbin films that is strictly a musical with western elements coming secondary. It’s her first and only film in Technicolor, features multiple songs from Durbin, songs from her leading man Robert Paige (this is also rare in a Durbin film. Many of her leading men were non-singers), and songs featuring other characters that help move the plot along. This musical was one of Universal Studios most expensive films.

This is a fun little musical because it does feature a great deal of humor and a pleasant romance between Durbin and Paige. I really enjoyed Robert Paige as a leading man in this film. My only complaint is that he didn’t sing more and that he wasn’t in more prominent films throughout his career.

Akim Tamiroff and Leonid Kinskey are there as a comedic duo, who thankfully aren’t tiresome or annoying.

Durbin’s film career started in 1936 and she left in 1948. As Universal’s top star, it’s a shame that this is her only Technicolor film, but not surprising. Color was still very expensive and not as common during this time. It really is a treat to see Deanna Durbin in color. She looks gorgeous, her costume are lovely and the backdrop of Utah is lush and colorful.

While not my favorite Deanna Durbin film (that’s 1941’s It Started with Eve) “Can’t Help Singing” is a lot of fun. Durbin’s lilting happiness in her songs will make you want to sing as well.

Robert Paige and Deanna Durbin in "Can't Help Singing"

Robert Paige and Deanna Durbin in “Can’t Help Singing”

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Musical Monday: It’s a Date (1940)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.
In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

date2This week’s musical:
It’s a Date (1940)– Musical #116

Studio:
Universal Pictures

Director:
William A. Seiter

Starring:
Deanna Durbin, Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon, Eugene Pallette, Henry Stephenson, S.Z. Sakall, Charles Lane, John Arledge (uncredited)

Plot:
Georgia Drake (Francis) is a famous stage star and her teenage daughter Pamela (Durbin) wants to follow in her footsteps. Along with wanting the same part in an exciting new play, mother and daughter both fall in love with the same man- John Arlendge (Pidgeon).

Trivia:
-Remade as “Nancy Goes to Rio” (1950) starring Jane Powell, Ann Sothern and Barry Sullivan.
-S.Z. Sakall’s first American film

Highlights:
-Deanna Durbin’s songs
-Kay Francis appearing in the film
-Walter Pidgeon in white dinner coats

Kay Francis and Deanna Durbin play mother and daughter in "It's a Date"

Kay Francis and Deanna Durbin play mother and daughter in “It’s a Date”

Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon and Deanna Durbin in "It's a Date"

Kay Francis, Walter Pidgeon and Deanna Durbin in “It’s a Date”

Notable Songs:
Loch Lomond performed by Deanna Durbin
Ave Maria (Op.52 No.1) performed by Deanna Durbin
Love Is All performed by Deanna Durbin

My review:
“It’s a Date” is a movie date you want to keep.

Deanna Durbin, Kay Francis and Walter Pidgeon as the leads with a Eugene Pallette, Henry Stephenson and S.Z. Sakall as the supporting cast. Could you ask for a better group of actors?

Francis, Durbin and Pidgeon in "It's a Date"

Francis, Durbin and Pidgeon in “It’s a Date”

I saw this movie for the first time in high school and don’t remember being in love with the film. However, I wasn’t as immersed in my Kay Francis film love and not yet in love with Walter Pidgeon, which makes a difference. Now, when I rewatched it, it was such a thrill to see Francis later in her career flanked by Walter Pidgeon as her leading man.

Kay Francis was one of Warner Brothers’ top stars in the early 1930s before Bette Davis came on the scene. According to TCM historian Robert Osborne, to make Francis break her contract, they put her put her in terrible films and filled scripts with words full of “R’s”— a letter she had difficulties with due to a speech impediment. However, Francis didn’t back down and continued acting. With that said, her later film roles weren’t anything to write home about her Francis’s film career ended in 1946. Though “It’s a Date” is towards end of Francis’s career, she is radiant in this film and it’s a wonderful part for her.

S.Z. Sakall and Kay Francis on the set of "It's a Date"

S.Z. Sakall and Kay Francis on the set of “It’s a Date”

The plot is a little goofy: a teenage daughter falls in love with a man more than twice her age. For a little while, the audience is made to believe that he loves her too. But don’t worry, this film has a non-creepy ending.

There are several laugh out loud moments — some coming from S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall in his first American film. The Hungarian actor left Europe due to Hitler and the growing power of the Third Reich and bestowed his comedic talents on United States audiences.

Deanna Durbin plays a teenager with a wish to be an actress like her mother and grandmother. Her character is a little overly dramatic, as teenagers can be, but it’s humorous at the same time. She delivers many beautiful songs throughout the film and you can see tears in her eyes as she sings “Ave Maria.”

For someone not familiar with Deanna Durbin, this is a good film to start with if you are interested in diving in. It’s a wonderful blend of music, comedy that’s filled with handsome Walter Pidgeon in white evening coats and Kay Francis in lavish evening gowns.

Give this one a watch.

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Musical Mondays: “Three Smart Girls” (1936)

It’s no secret that the Hollywood Comet loves musicals.

In 2010, I revealed I had seen 400 movie musicals over the course of eight years. Now that number is over 500. To celebrate and share this musical love, here is my weekly feature about musicals.

This week’s musical:
Three Smart Girls” (1936) Musical #132

Three_Smart_Girls_Poster

Studio:
Universal Pictures

Director:
Henry Koster

Starring:
Deanna Durbin, Ray Milland, Charles Winneger, Binnie Barnes, Alice Brady, Mischa Auer, Nan Grey, Barbara Read, Lucile Watson,

Plot:
Three sisters (Read, Gray, Durbin) living with their mother in Switzerland hear that their father (Winneger) is remarrying. The sisters travel to New York to see their father- who they haven’t seen in 10 years- to stop the wedding so their parents can get back together. The sisters scheme to make the new, gold-digging bride (Barnes) turn her attention to a wealthier fellow

Babara Read, Deanna Durbin and Nan Grey as sisters in "Three Smart Girls"

Barbara Read, Deanna Durbin and Nan Grey as sisters in “Three Smart Girls”

Trivia:
-Opera singing actress Deanna Durbin’s first film
-Louis B. Mayer had Durbin and Judy Garland both tested for MGM Studios. Garland was signed with MGM while Universal signed Durbin. Garland cried when she saw Universal had faith in Durbin to lead in her first films, and MGM was sticking Garland into supporting roles, according to the 2010 book “The Songs of Hollywood” by Philip Furia and Laurie Patterson.
-“Three Daring Daughters” (1948) is not officially said to be a remake, the movies are very similar. Opera singing Jane Powell is similar to the Deanna Durbin role and the daughters are trying to get their newly married mother back with their father. The films end differently, though.
-The plot can also be compared to the Hayley Mills Disney film, “The Parent Trap” (1961).
-Followed by “Three Smart Girls Grow Up” (1939) and “Hers To Hold” (1943)
-Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture of 1936 against films such as “The Great Ziegfeld,” “Libeled Lady,” “Anthony Adverse,” “Mr. Deeds Goes To Town,” “Romeo and Juliet” and “San Francisco.” “The Great Ziegfeld” was the Best Picture winner that year.
-The film was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Sound Recording and Best Writing for Original Screenplay.

Notable songs:
None of the songs are terribly familiar or familiar, other than “Il Bacio,” but they all showcase Durbin’s beautiful voice. Aside from a brief song from Binnie Barnes, the four songs sung in the comedy are all by Durbin.

My review:

Young Ray Milland (Screencap by Michael Troutman at I Shoot the Pictures http://ishootthepictures.com/2011/12/15/my-deanna-durbin-punishment-part-i-three-smart-girls-1936-worth-a-look/)

Young Ray Milland (Screencap by I Shoot the Pictures)

Though I’m not sure how the movie was nominated for Best Picture, I really enjoy “Three Smart Girls” (1936).
The film would have catered to both adult and child audiences in 1936 with the adult and child stars in the film.
It’s also a joy to see young Ray Milland early in this film career. Though he started in films in the early 1930s, “Three Smart Girls” was around the time when he started playing credited roles.
This is not your average musical full of singing and dancing in the middle of the street. “Three Smart Girls” is a comedy serving as a vehicle for up and coming star Deanna Durbin. The plot tells that she is taking singing lessons to become an opera singer, and she will break into song when asked.

Check back next week for Musical Monday.

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For the Love of Deanna: Remembering Deanna Durbin

Deanna Durbin in "I'll Be Yours" (1947)

Deanna Durbin in “I’ll Be Yours” (1947)

The first time saw Deanna Durbin was on the front of a DVD case.

The DVDs that introduced me to Deanna

The DVDs that introduced me to Deanna

I was 14 and gazed at this pretty, young lady happily looking back at me on the front of the “Deanna Durbin: Sweetheart Pack.”

Though I had no idea who Durbin was, I bought the DVDs.

The first film I watched was “Three Smart Girls” (1936) and immediately fell in love with Durbin’s smile, singing voice and charm.

Through the years, I’ve tried to watch as many musicals as possible- now up to 470 movie musicals-and Durbin’s films have been some of my favorite.

Debuting in films at age 15, Durbin’s popularity pulled Universal Studios out of bankruptcy, won her a Juvenile Oscar in 1938 and made her one of the top paid women in the United States.

Her popularity was world wide with fans such as Winston Churchill and Anne Frank. She influenced fashion in “Nice Girl” (1941) with a white organdy, ruffled dress, according to USA Today.

LIFE photo of Durbin

1938 LIFE magazine photo of Durbin

She was considered for the role of Dorthy in “Wizard of Oz” (1939) (as was Shirley Temple) and to be the voice of Snow White in the 1937 Walt Disney cartoon. However her voice was considered too mature at 14.

Similar to fellow child star Shirley Temple, Durbin had dolls and other merchandise created in her likeness. Today, it’s difficult to find a Deanna Durbin doll under $200.

After her first on-screen kiss with Robert Stack in “First Love” (1939) she transitioned into teen and adult roles with leading men such as Joseph Cotton, Gene Kelly and Tom Drake.

But after 21 films and at the height of her popularity, Durbin left films and lived the remainder of her life in France.

“I hated being in a fishbowl,” she was quoted as saying in her New York Times obituary.

Long after she had left films, her influence and sunny disposition continued to spread, this time to fans like myself. Durbin quickly became one of my favorite movie stars and singers as I worked my way through her films. In 2005, she was kind enough to respond to a fan letter with an autograph and even paying for postage from France.

Durbin in color

Durbin in color

My favorite Deanna Durbin films include “The Amazing Mrs. Holliday” (1943) where she plays a missionary caring for World War II orphans, and “It Started With Eve” (1941). Though Durbin has great chemistry with “Eve” leading man Robert Cummings, she has even more impressive chemistry with Charles Laughton. The rumba scene with Laughton is one of my favorite comedic scenes of the English actor.

My favorite songs of Durbin’s include “Amapola” and “Les Filles de Cadiz.”

It was announced Tuesday that Durbin passed away at the age of 91.

Though she is gone, she will forever be singing in our hearts.

Rest in peace, Deanna.

Autograph she sent to me in 2005

Autograph she sent to me in 2005

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The Mystery of the Murdered Movie

I love Nancy Drew.

I have played and solved 21 of the HerInteractive PC games and read most of the original yellow bound novels. I even own a Nancy Drew cookbook, a “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” book and a large Nancy Drew cut out.

Nancy Drew has played a pivotal role for the past 80 years in literature for young girls, as well as in pop culture.

Everyone knows who she is and is fairly respected as a literary character. However, why is there not a flattering movie adaptation depicting everyone’s this important literary character and symbol for American women?

Eight years after the first Nancy Drew novel, “The Secret of the Old Clock,” was published in 1930, the first Nancy Drew film adaptation was released.

Nancy Drew, Reporter,” the first film adaptation of the series, was released in 1938, three more movies were released all in 1939. These movies included “Nancy Drew  Troubleshooter,” “Nancy Drew Detective ” and “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase).”

Film series were not rare in the 1930’s and 1940’s. In fact many studios made a great deal of money off of series such as “Andy Hardy,” “Dr. Kildaire,” “Maisie” and “Boston Blackie just to name a few of many.

I imagine that is what Warner Brothers was trying to do with Nancy Drew. But none of the films followed or resembled any of the Nancy Drew books, except for snippets of “Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase” which I think is modeling itself after the book “The Hidden Staircase.”

In novels Miss Drew is level-headed, fearless and intelligent. She doesn’t goof off and there isn’t much time for romance in her life. Yes there is her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson, but I can count on one hand the amount of times they kissed or flirted in the novels. She was also very talented and fashionable. She could tap dance the Morris code while wearing a freshly pressed tailored suit.

Also in the novels, Ned was concerned about Nancy but never hindered her sleuthing. Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, was a distinguished lawyer. He teased his daughter for her appetite for mysteries and trusted her good sense.

However, the characters in the 1930s Nancy Drew series didn’t resemble Carolyn Keene’s intelligent teens.

Nancy Drew, played by Bonita Granville, was bumbling, scatter-brained and frightened for most of the films. She set out to solve a mystery but would run home before finding any actual clues.

Bonita Granville as Nancy Drew and Frankie Thomas as Ted Nickerson

Ned Nickerson, played by Frankie Thomas, was named TED in the movies for some reason. He was maybe the most tolerable character in the movies, but I wouldn’t run to him to protect me.

John Litel was a very irritating Carson Drew. He forbid Nancy from sleuthing and worried about her constantly. Even Hannah Gruen, the housekeeper, ran away in terror when someone broke into their home. Hannah in the books would have knocked them on their ear.

John Litel as Carson Drew in “Nancy Drew…Reporter” (1938)

The films involve very little mystery solving and an over abundance of silly slap-stick. I’m not asking for a whole detailed novel to be played out in the 68 minute films, but Warner Brothers could have at least been accurate with their character depictions.

Bonita Granville, who was 16 when she played Nancy Drew, was in top-notch films such as “These Three”(1936), which she received her only Oscar nomination, and “Now, Voyager” (1941), giving excellent performances in both but clearly Nancy Drew was not the role for her.

I made a list of who, with some tweaks to the script, could have been the perfect Nancy Drew casting in the 1930s or 1940s.

Nancy Drew: Deanna Durbin (19 at this time) would be my first pick. She sometimes plays silly characters, but also plays serious roles beautifully. Nancy Drew was also supposed to be very attractive. Miss Granville wasn’t ugly, but Deanna Durbin is decidedly prettier. I’m sure they would have to fit in a song or two for Deanna. She would have been old enough by this time, because “First Love,” the film that she received her first on-screen kiss came out the same year as the series.

Carson Drew: John Litel is generally a character actor with small roles. I’m not sure why they chose him to play the distinguished lawyer, Carson Drew. I can’t think of anyone else who could play this role more perfectly than Walter Pidgeon. Mr. Pidgeon is the definition of distinguished and sophistication. With his fatherly and friendly acting style, along with his pipe, I can picture him now giving Nancy advice.

Ned Nickerson: I would either say a teen-aged Jackie Cooper (17 at the time) or Robert Stack (20 at this time). Both boys were attractive and would have seemed more protective of Nancy Drew than Frankie Thomas. Stack was also in the 1939 film “First Love” with Miss Durbin and would have been of a suitable age.

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Star Collector

 

Anita Page in the 1920’s. At one point she had more fan mail than Greta Garbo.

Not only am I old-fashioned in my movie tastes, but I am also pretty passe as a movie fan.

I write fan mail.

You may be thinking, “Who does that anymore?” A surprising amount do continue to write to stars like Debbie Reynolds, Tony Curtis and Elizabeth Taylor. No one writes the stars of today, though, like Angelina Jolie, Orlando Bloom or Jennifer Aniston. Why is this? Because they won’t answer…that is if you can even find an address to write to.

I get my fan mail addresses from an autograph database called StarTiger.com. On the website you can search virtually any movie star, singer or sports player. Each star has their own profile page. On this page there is a list of addresses that you can contact them.

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