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Saturday, December 27, 2014

Deanna Makes More Misunderstandings


It's A Date (1940) The Durbin That Warner Owns

A Deanna Durbin from her lushest period, and maybe there's the rub. Universal couldn't spend its way out of a hole an awkward narrative dug, as here where simple misunderstandings drive a long and frustrating second act. Durbin is marginally less pushy than before; she'll even cede a play's lead in deference to actress mother Kay Francis, whose aging past stardom is an issue as it was for Francis herself. Durbin was almost old enough to romantic partner Walter Pidgeon rather than being a pest that slows him down. The story might actually have worked better if they'd waited a year to make it and let Durbin/Francis be love rivals for Pidgeon. Universal wanted Deanna's girl-adult transition to be slow as possible, that understandable for stretch of revenue, though by It's A Date, we're ready to graduate past kid stuff and let DD do a little onscreen of what accounts (like Jackie Cooper's) indicate went on offscreen. Another oddity here is withhold of song; for such a long sit (103 minutes), there's surprisingly little music. It's A Date was bought by MGM for a remake with Jane Powell and disappeared for a stretch till TCM revived it (WB being present-day owner). Now it's the only Durbin they reliably run, but elements look to need a refresher before Warner Archive DVD release.

1 Comments:

Blogger John McElwee said...

Dan Mercer reflects on Deanna Durbin's career:


That divergence between Deanna Durbin's life off-screen and the characters she played in her films is probably why she later said that there was no resemblance at all between her and "Deanna Durbin." It also accounts for the freshness of her "Little Miss Fix It" character in "Three Smart Girls" and how it gradually diminished towards the end of the Pasternak-Koster films, at least for her. Universal, however, would have wanted to have waited longer than a year before pairing her with a Walter Pigeon. When "It's a Date" was made, Deanna was 18 and Pigeon was 43. While that age discrepancy would be flattering, from my perspective, if it made for a plausible romantic coupling, Universal always kept Deanna's age for the public at least a year back from her actual age. They wanted to stretch the precocious childhood of their star for as long as possible. When Joseph Pasternak and director Henry Koster at last allowed her to become a young woman, with a young woman's desires for romance and marriage, it was in the quite charming "It Started with Eve." This was their last effort together with Deanna, as Pasternak left Universal to become a producer at M-G-M. Whatever her growing disregard for the films she was doing, how she must have missed them, especially when she would make something like "Something in the Wind," under Universal-International auspices. The careful integration of character and story, and especially of song, became arbitrary and all the more banal, for that, with a rotund Jan Peerce as a policeman suddenly breaking into an operatic aria in a police station lockup, as Miss Durbin strained to appear amused. It was only to be expected from a studio which had taken yet another direction and made virtually no other musicals, except for hers. The pity is that she was gloriously talented, in voice and as an actress, but had no great ambition to exploit either, except as a means to an end. If film hadn't engaged her--and there was no reason it would have, given her vehicles at Universal--the operatic stage should have, given that voice. The Metropolitan Opera had commissioned a voice instructor, Andres de Segurota, to keep them informed of her progress and enjoined her to audition for them. De Segurota believed that she could have become a major star in that venue, had she wanted it. What she wanted in the end, however, was to retire to a farmhouse in the French countryside with her husband, Charles David, who had directed her in "Lady on a Train," one of her few later films with style and flair. This is what her voice was the means to, so far as she was concerned. She was only 29 then and resisted offers for years afterwards to appear in films such as "Kiss Me Kate" or "The Student Prince." She was also reputedly Allan Jay Lerner's first choice to play Eliza Doolittle in the 1956 Broadway production of "My Fair Lady." More's the pity, but the talent is on record, even through such a film as "It's a Date."

6:17 AM  

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